The Cowichan Valley Regional District’s draft budget for 2023 proposes a tax increase of an average 12.19 per cent before any supplemental requests for funding are even considered.
But directors at the special committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 5 said they would work hard to drive those numbers down before the final budget is expected to be approved in March.
A total of 4.57 per cent of the proposed tax increase is due to the fact that the CVRD is now requisitioning for regional recreation.
More than $2 million of the almost $7 million annual costs for regional recreation was previously collected by other local governments before the successful referendum was held during the municipal elections in October.
The CVRD’s tax increase in 2022 was 4.09 per cent.
Mike Wilson, director for Cobble Hill pointed out at the meeting that if the board approved all the supplemental requests in the draft budget, the tax increase for 2023 would be almost 16 per cent.
“That’s a big number,” he said.
Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, who is also chair of the CVRD, said he’s talked to mayors across B.C. and found that tax increases of up to 10 per cent are not unusual this year.
He said that’s a tragedy because it comes at a time when residents and businesses in the CVRD can’t afford it.
“I’m a resident and business owner and after two years of losses, I know I can’t afford it,” Stone said.
“I know our staff is aware of that as well so I hope there are ways we can find some savings because I don’t think we can move forward with a tax increase of between 10 and 15 per cent. Hopefully, we can work together collaboratively between staff and directors to bring these numbers down.”
Ben Maartman, director for North Oyster/Diamond, said taxes in his area are already hard on residents and businesses even before this year’s tax increase kicks in.
“I’ll be looking to find savings,” he said.
North Cowichan director Debra Toporowski said the pandemic is ongoing and people and businesses are still trying to recover financially from it.
“We need to bring this draft budget back to staff to see if there are any savings that we can find to bring this number down,” she said.
“I know it will probably catch up to us later on, but I think this will give some relief to everyone all around.”
Lake Cowichan Mayor Tim McGonigle said the proposed tax increase in the draft budget would cause angst across the district if adopted, particularly in its western regions where house assessments have increased by 23 per cent in some areas this year.
“People are wondering how that will impact their taxes as well,” he said.
CAO Danielle Myles Wilson said she found the discussion refreshing and staff were taking notes.
“I think that we can read between the lines of what you’re thinking and where you want to go with this budget,” she said.
But Wilson pointed out that the CVRD’s core budget is very tightly managed and well thought out.
“There’s not a lot of nipping and tucking that can be done,” she said.
“It’s a very frugal budget, but I think staff are already thinking about opportunities for where little wins can be had with reductions, but the impact of a reduction of one per cent of requisitions means we have to cut $500,000. For small functions across the board, that’s a difficult task. These will be very tough discussions, but we will be prepared to help you through this process.”
Drafting budgets for the CVRD is a complex process as its budget is made up of 178 individual budgets.
These budgets include regional services paid by all district residents, electoral area services such as planning and service-specific budgets like water and utilities.
The sometimes big differences in tax rates across the CVRD stems from the amount and types of services each region in the district has agreed to participate in and pay for.
This is different from municipal budgets where the costs are shared equally across the municipality.
As well, the impact on taxes for individual properties will also vary depending on the change in assessment for those properties relative to property assessment changes throughout the region.
The draft budget for 2023 can be found at https://www.cvrd.ca/2016/2023-Draft-Budget.