The City of Duncan is considering a 3.16 per cent tax increase in 2020.
If the budget is adopted at that rate of tax increase, it would mean that the average homeowner in Duncan will be paying approximately $45 more in taxes in 2020 than last year, and the average commercial property will pay $190 more than last year.
The proposed budget for the year was given the first three readings at the council meeting on April 6, with the understanding that council still has the opportunity to pull the budget back for further review due to issues around the ongoing COVID-19 crisis before its final adoption.
Mayor Michelle Staples said the city, as well as most other local governments in B.C., has been in discussions with the province to determine if there are measures that can be taken to reduce some financial pressure off taxpayers, many of whom have been laid off or have had their work hours cut, during the pandemic.
The Municipality of North Cowichan was considering a 4.4 per cent tax increase in 2020 but, during a council meeting late last month, council decided that, given the economic implications to North Cowichan’s taxpayers of the ongoing health crisis, the municipality may consider scaling that back.
North Cowichan’s staff are currently reviewing the proposed budget for 2020 to identify where cost savings can be made.
But Bernice Crossman, Duncan’s director of finance, said the city has little to cut from to save costs.
“Council has done a great job of making decisions that minimize expenses which, in turn, minimizes tax increases,” she said.
“There’s not a lot more in this budget than just standard inflation.”
Crossman said there are no more items to cut from the city’s operating expenses without cutting a service permanently.
“Even if we cut service levels back somehow to find a two per cent reduction, that would save the average residence approximately $25 per year, and the average business approximately $110 per year,” she said.
“That’s not going to cause a great impact, and whatever service we would have to cut to achieve that minimal impact may be detrimental to them anyway.”
As for capital projects, Crossman said they are planned five to 10 years in advance and follow the path of the city’s asset-management plan.
“Consistent infrastructure planning and management is vitally important and crucial to the daily lives of residents and businesses in the city,” she said.
“Removing infrastructure projects from the capital plan would be detrimental to the financial management of the city. We understand that residents and businesses in the city may be struggling to pay their bills right now, but the unfortunate fact is that the city has actually been incurring additional costs as we struggle to maintain service levels and staff safety through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Crossman also said if there were cuts to the operating or capital budgets, they might have a small impact to taxes in 2020, but would result in larger increases next year to get back to a sustainable level of annual property taxes.
She said there has been some talk about the province possibly allowing residents and businesses to defer their taxes due to the COVID-19 crisis, and it is the hope of city staff that the province announces a program for taxpayers to do so.
“That would mean that taxpayers would ‘borrow’ money from the province and pay that money to the city for their tax bill,” Crossman said.
“If that is the case, there would be no lag in tax payments to the city.”
Crossman said the final adoption of the budget is scheduled for April 20, but adoption could be deferred until May 4 as long as it is adopted before May 15.
Some of the major capital projects that the City of Duncan is considering during 2020 are the new Cairnsmore roundabout, at a cost of $790,000; a reservoir replacement at Eagle Heights, with a cost of $600,000; water main work, paving, and pedestrian improvements on Duncan Street, at a cost of $412,500, and $355,000 for improvements on the Trans Canada Highway corridor.