Regular as clockwork, Property Tax Notices appeared in the mail this week. In the wake of an unprecedented pandemic, most municipal governments took a good, hard look at their proposed pre-pandemic budgets and analyzed alternative strategies to reduce their expenditures and the property tax burden on their residents before coming to a final decision about their property tax rate. Not so in Qualicum Beach.
Unlike councils in other communities, QB’s Council passed the COVID-19 era property tax levy with lightening speed, and without any apparent deliberation.
In a classic ‘let them eat cake’ moment, Councillor Westbroek, in rushing to get the tax rate bylaw adopted, stated: “When it comes to taxes, nobody wants them. If you open that up, people will have all kinds of recommendations…
Let’s take Comox as a comparative example. The Town of Comox considered three property tax rate scenarios presented by their Director of Finance: the initial (pre-COVID) suggested increase of 5.5%; 0.0% i.e. no increase; and, an in-between 2.0% increase over and above the 2019 tax levy.
Comox Council opted for the 2.0% increase, postponing all non-urgent capital purchases and staff hiring. The 2.0 % increase will enable replacement of a Parks Tractor (26 years old and barely functioning); addition of a new garbage truck to the fleet; and allows a 1% contribution to asset replacement reserve.
The three Comox options, presented within a context of COVID-19 realities, had been included as information with their Apr 1, 2020 Council agenda. This gave Comox taxpayers two weeks to discuss these options with their councillors or staff before the April 15, 2020 council meeting decision.
Meanwhile, here in Qualicum Beach, Town staff actually increased by $90,000 the Municipal Property Taxation revenues over that which had been presented in last fall’s pre-COVID draft 2020 budget ($9,280,000), to $9,370,000. In his documented submission to Council, John Marsh, Director of Finance claims that this new figure of $9,370,000 is only a 4.5% increase over the 2019 property tax levy of $8,880,097. By my calculation, this is a 5.5% increase over 2019.
At its April 22, 2020 Council meeting, no alternatives were considered by Qualicum Beach Council. The single property tax levy option as proposed by the Finance Director was quickly rubber stamped. In fact, the taxation by-law went through its three readings as well as adoption all in the same meeting. Councillors Walker and Filmer suggested Council might consider giving the public a week to provide feedback after third reading and prior to adoption. They were voted down.
In a classic ‘let them eat cake’ moment, Councillor Westbroek, in rushing to get the tax rate bylaw adopted, stated: “When it comes to taxes, nobody wants them. If you open that up, people will have all kinds of recommendations as to why you shouldn’t collect any taxes. I think what we’re doing is entirely reasonable, timely and takes into account the situation we find ourselves in with this COVID.”
The latest available month end financial statement (April 30, 2020) continues to report that in 2020 the Town of Qualicum Beach plans to spend $5,314,000 more than it receives in revenues.
[Previously published article reviewed actions by other communities to reduce their expenditures and the property tax burden on their residents in response to the unforeseen challenges of COVID-19.]