It’s not easy to part the so-called ‘Tweed Curtain’ if you are one of the 6,700 or so taxpayers in Oak Bay trying to figure out what’s going on.

But, after recent budget estimates meetings and the release of an infrastructure assessment report, taxpayers now know the problem of aging infrastructure is much worse than thought and that addressing this challenging issue should not be delayed or downplayed by council. It’s quickly shaping up to be the main issue during the municipal election in 2018.

An estimated $200-million is needed to replace the district’s crumbling sewer ($65.5-million), water ($57-million) and stormwater ($82-million) infrastructure, according to a consultant’s report by Opus International. (Water infrastructure is funded through water utility bills). Money will also be needed to update the vehicle fleet, street furniture, parks and recreation.

On top of that and within five years, tens of millions of dollars are needed to replace or upgrade the police, fire and public works buildings, municipal hall and library, as recommended in a previous report on municipal buildings in 2015. Few jurisdictions in the province need to upgrade most of their main municipal buildings.

Although the consultant’s infrastructure analysis by Opus International was completed in July 2016, the document wasn’t released until Mar. 20 at midnight. While the district website has press releases about proclamations for Toastmaster’s Month, Human Values Day, and Intergenerational Day, council didn’t see fit to highlight this seminal report and its budget implications.

With an eye-popping 28 per cent increase in tax base largely due to increased property values, the 2017 property tax levy and solid waste charge will increase about 2.8 per cent. About 95 per cent of the Oak Bay tax base is collected from residential taxpayers.

Council has yet to table a five-year forecast to include addressing the major infrastructure deficit. Tabled in Dec. 2016, the 2016-20 financial plan forecast a need for only an 11.5 per cent increase in property taxes during that entire five-year period.

Oak Bay council has directed staff to hire a consultant to develop an asset management plan to look at financial and asset information, and to set up an annual funding program for building renewal to address upgrades and renovation in the 2020s.

BACKGROUND: 2016 Asset Management Report, Opus International Consultants.
Projects and Initiatives, District of Oak Bay, July 2016
Canadian Infrastructure Report Card 2016, www.canadianinfrastruture.ca

Dawn of a new era?

Time will tell if it’s the new way to do business or just a head fake.

So far three municipalities in the capital region have come in with tax increases of less than one per cent: Esquimalt council decided to increases taxes by 0.5 per cent in 2017, partly thanks to a hike in federal monies for the naval yard. View Royal signed off on 0.47 per cent, but look for substantial hikes in the next four years. A few weeks ago, Sidney set a rate of 0.66 per cent, largely due to prudent and business-like management.

Since its inception, Grumpy Taxpayer$ has advocated restraint in municipal tax rates after increases for years well beyond inflation and population growth. It’s argued for fiscal discipline, thriftiness and some good old-fashioned restraint in budgeting.

Grumpy$ can only speculate why councils are starting to come to their senses: push back from a tax weary public, substantially increased assessments, and an election looming on the horizon.

Tax deferrals rise to 7,046

In 2016 some 7,046 taxpayers – about equivalent to the number of dwelling units in Fairfield – deferred $24.9-million in property taxes in the 13 jurisdictions of the Capital Regional District (CRD), according to a freedom of information request Grumpy$ filed with the B.C. Ministry of Finance.

With taxes in the Capital region often exceeding inflation by two or three or four hundred per cent, house prices increasing, and the population aging, it’s expected the tax deferral program will only increase in popularity. Compared to last year, deferrals increased 11 per cent.

The three largest participants in the program were Saanich with 2,327 deferrals ($8.3-million), City of Victoria with 1,370 deferrals ($4.7-million), and Oak Bay with 792 deferrals ($3.9-million).

Hope springs eternal

Grumpy Taxpayer$ has filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for a copy of the Capital Integration Services and Governance Initiative (CISGI) report.

In June 2016 the province contracted a local firm to review the governance and operation of the Capital Regional District. After agreeing to the framework in March 2016, originally the report was due for release in the summer or fall of 2016 – by Peter Fassbender, the former Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. The deadline for a final report was then put off to early January 2017.

It’s now April 2017 and the province has still not released the CISGI report – although it’s been shared with local municipal councils – which was paid for with about $85,000 in tax dollars.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS
Whitey Mitchell of Victoria is the new treasurer and Denny Gelinas of Sidney is Grumpy$’s new secretary…. The CRD has issued a request for proposals for non-binding dispute resolution services for the Regional Growth Strategy. After five years of effort and an estimated $1.8-million, municipalities in the region had failed to ink a Regional Growth Strategy agreement to guide CRD activities….The fixed cost for the new bridge had been $106-million….ka-ching! But, this final cost continues to escalate, with another $6.8-milion for the ‘public realm’ which includes landscaping and a plaza. Plus there will be an unknown additional amount for fendering of the north side to protect the bridge from the impact of boats….After nearly six years as the BC Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Jordan Bateman is leaving his position to take up the position of communications director with the Independent Construction and Businesses Association….. Saanich councillor Dean Murdock will replace Vic Derman, who passed away recently, on the CRD board ….