Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria is encouraged that Mayor Lisa Helps thinks that the City could easily hold taxes at zero or even decrease taxes – but puzzled she won’t be taking her own budget advice during an election year.

Victoria council is aware it increased operating spending per person by 24 per cent from 2005 to 2015, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, as detailed in the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 10th Annual B.C Municipal Spending Watch released a few days ago. This spending pattern of ‘not living within our means’ has continued.

“During an election year people would be deliriously happy if they saw no increases in taxes – Grumpy Taxpayer$ can guarantee that,” says Stan Bartlett, Chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$.

“But instead, taxpayers are extremely disappointed that after a decade of unbroken tax increases council has failed to reduce spending in the fourth year of its mandate.”Finding $345,000 in savings during the preliminary budget preparation, doesn’t even represent a rounding error in a $233.3-million budget, says Bartlett. There are many other savings to be found in the 1,118 pages of the draft financial plan.

City council must consider using all the tax revenue from new developments and properties, selling land and assets that are costing money and not contributing revenue, using less costly staff to handle non-traditional police roles such as doing morning wake-ups, or bringing in a voluntary retirement scheme to reduce the workforce.

Salaries and benefits are the major driver behind these proposed tax increases in 2018, accounting for 1.3 percentage points of the total 2.8 per cent increase.

In the 2017 Municipal Spending Watch report, CFIB concluded that excessive compounded wage increases and a broken bargaining system are the main reasons for tax increases in Victoria and B.C., says Bartlett.

“When unions (such as CUPE, police, and firefighters) and municipalities are unable to agree on year-over-year wage increases, negotiations go to arbitration for an independent third party to settle the contract,” said the CFIB.

“However, arbitrators have been known to replicate recent settlements from bigger cities, resulting in significantly large annual wage increases for unions in smaller municipalities. Arbitrators often fail to reasonably consider a municipality’s economic conditions, or even their ability to pay when settling wage contracts.”

In recent weeks the City of Victoria has been under fire for both severances and generous wage and benefits contracts.

It was revealed that the City of Victoria paid $2.475-million in severance to 26 senior managers between 2013 and 2016, resulting in a turnover of half of the senior management staff.

This total excludes several hundred thousand dollars paid in salary and benefits as severance to departing city manager Jason Johnson in September. This total excludes any severance and legal fees associated with the former police chief.

A few weeks ago the City of Victoria and its largest union – CUPE Local 50 –  reached a new four-year contract paying 1-2-2-2 per cent increases (compounded) plus improved benefits. Inflation during the past four years has averaged 1.4 per cent.

RELATED

Broken arbitration system causing unsustainable rise in municipal costs, CFIB Press Release, Oct. 25, 2017.

10th Annual B.C. Municipal Spending Watch, CFIB, 41 pages, Oct. 25 2017.

Draft 2018-22 Financial Plan, City of Victoria, 1,118 pages Nov. 2018.

Grumpy Taxpayer$ is a non-profit, unaffiliated, non-partisan, citizen’s advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable municipal government. DONATE & JOIN US?