Budget Crunch Bites Taxpayers
-Esquimalt residents brace for 2011 property tax increase.
By Tim Morrison
Two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Both are bad news, but we can all live with the latter while not being able to live at all with the former.
We have just finished filing our income taxes and, next up, it will soon be time to pay our property taxes.
And, regardless of the fancy footwork you and your accountants can pull off with Revenue Canada, there is no avoiding property taxes. Esquimalt Council is getting close to finalizing its 2011 budget and it looks like Esquimalt residents can expect a 3.9% tax increase.
But, in calculating your taxes, it is not a simple process of simply adding 3.9% to the amount you paid last year.
“I would like to clarify that the municipal budget is to be increased by 3.9% which is not the same as a 3.9% property tax increase,” says Esquimalt Councillor Lynda Hundleby. “In fact, due to changes in individual (property) assessments…many residents could find a small decrease in the municipal portion of their taxes.”
The average 2011 property assessment increase in Esquimalt (as released in January) was about five percent. If your property’s assessment was above that average, then you are likely to be paying a larger chunk of the municipal budget increases. But, if your property value did not increase or increased lower than five percent, then you may have less of a shock when your tax bill arrives.
Now, brace yourself for the rest of the story.
“The 3.9% increase applies to the provision of municipal services only and Esquimalt Council has no control over other tax entities like School District 61, the Hospital Region and Transit Services,” clarifies Councillor Hundleby, who has seen her fair share of municipal budgets since first being elected in 1999.
All reports indicate that all of the above will be increasing their portion of the tax bill as well, so taxpayers shouldn’t be too fast to spend their recent federal income tax returns before the July deadline to pony up for their property taxes.
“Council has attempted to ensure that we have not reduced service levels, and have looked at ways of maintaining services, or increasing them, where possible,” adds Hundleby.
During the lengthy budget deliberation process, Esquimalt Council invited input from both residents and businesses to specify services that could be reduced or that required additional resources.
“Staff provided Council with three scenarios for tax increases as specific percentages,” explains Hundleby. “The preliminary budget scenarios gave three possible options: 4.43%, 3.79% and 2.59%. With each scenario, staff outlined what additions and cuts were made, the impacts to the public and changes to service levels, staffing and maintenance of infrastructure. Council also asked staff to consider new and innovative ways of increasing alternate tax revenues to keep budget increases as low as possible. Using the scenarios as a starting point, Council reviewed all of the information over a number of weeks and concluded that a 3.9% increase in the municipal budget was the amount required to manage the Township at current levels.”
While it is true that Esquimalt enjoys some excellent services such as our top-notch parks and recreation, it is also true that Esquimalt is becoming an increasingly more expensive place to live with some of the highest tax rates in the region.
Long-time Esquimalt residents will tell you that year after year, decade after decade, Esquimalt property taxes consistently have an annual average increase of five percent. This year is looking like it won’t be any different.
Our homes tend to be older and require constant and costly maintenance. Add to that, expected increases in BC Hydro rates and on and on the list goes. Before you know it, “affordable Esquimalt” is an oxymoron.
Key Dates remaining in the 2011 budget process:
April 18 – Council meeting – a public information meeting and the last opportunity for public input. Council will also review proposed business increases since they appear to be somewhat higher this year. This meeting will determine the ratios for residential, business and industrial classes.
May 2 – First three readings of the budget bylaw.
May 9 – Final reading and adoption of the Financial Plan and Tax Rates Bylaw.
May 15 – Approved Financial Plan and Tax Rates must be submitted to the Province by this date.
Third Week of May – Local municipal tax notices mailed out.
July 4 – Property taxes due at Municipal Hall.