Start right here with this year's excellent video explainer, a smartly assembled production featuring District staff step-by-stepping it through the budget . It's complemented by an in-depth budget page on the Let's Talk Sooke website. (Aside: This is pinch-me wonderful, exceptionally timely communications from a local government that not many years ago was sharing little but formal budget documents and a double-sided flyer included with our tax bills. Sooke five-year plans were also typically finalized in the spring not long before the legislated May 15 deadline, not at this super-efficient early date as has been the case in recent years.)
Quotes from Mayor Tait, Director of Finance Raechel Gray and CAO Norm McInnis all capture the rationale for council's unanimous vote in favour of the provisional budget. For my part, Sooke News Mirror editor Kevin Laird wrote me last week asking for emailed quotes on the budget and its climate-action component. I responded as follows ...
Budget: "We're asking more from Sooke taxpayers this year and yet the hike is in service to what council rates as truly essential needs -- new firefighter and RCMP recruits, a Climate Action Coordinator, new hires in the planning and operations departments and, perhaps above all, the fast-tracked implementation of Sooke's Transportation Master Plan with its primary focus on the long-overdue Phillips-to-Grant Road W. bypass.
All credit to Director of Operations Jeff Carter and the District's leadership team for a strategy that ensures current projects are completed on schedule and that we have the necessary reserve funds to bid for future grants. As they and council recognize, it's vital that we complete the bypass ASAP. It will dramatically improve our road and stormwater infrastructure while also lessening traffic congestion in the town centre and providing safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists. Wins all around, but it's true they come at a price."
Climate action: "The 2022 budget marks the first time the District has invested significant funds in direct climate action. The volunteer Climate Action Committee has worked astoundingly hard and smart this year to develop a 7% annual GHG reduction strategy along with a companion citizen engagement campaign. Relatively modest ($109k) funding is now secure to launch these initiatives as well as hire Sooke's first Climate Action Coordinator to work with the community, the CRD and the Province's CleanBC team as we chase the daunting goal of 50% carbon cuts by 2030."
For my own future reference, I'll share a few highlights here that you'll either find through District sources or in Tuesday's night's special council budget agenda:
* 2022 property tax increase: 6.09% (approx. $100 or $8.33 per month on an average 2021 assessment)
* Tax hikes over the last decade total 21.32% prior to this latest increase ...
2021 ~ 3.31%
2020 ~ 0.00%
2019 ~ 7.18%
2018 ~ 2.79%
2017 ~ 5.58%
2016 ~ 0.85%
2015 ~ 0.00%
2014 ~ 0.02%
2013 ~ 1.59%
2012 ~ 0.00%
Perspective on Taxes
Paraphrasing local government consultant Tracey Lorenson, one of the speakers at the 2019 Local Government Leadership Academy workshops in Parksville ...
- A zero percent tax increase effectively reduces municipal funds by 2 to 3 percent given average annual inflation. Generally speaking, there is under-investment by local governments in essential infrastructure. Future taxpayers will shoulder the bill sooner or later to replace failing road networks, sewers, etc.
- Residents get what they pay for with their taxes. Whether a community receives gold, silver or platinum service is a direct reflection of tax rates. Less cannot deliver more.
Budget 2022 Highlights
- Ongoing funding for District of Sooke operations as delivered by (as of now) 51 employees + 13 RCMP officers + 28 paid-on-call firefighter volunteers. And what do these folks do precisely, you ask? See the 2021 Service Review report starting on page 72 of this Oct. 18 Committee of the Whole agenda. In an appreciative word: Plenty.
- The District's share ($276k) to complete the $3.2m Church Road roundabout at Throup adjacent to the new Wadams Farm development + final shovel-(and grant)-ready designs for the Church, Throup, Charters, and Philips stretches of the connector-route bypass.
- DOS contribution ($75k) to an otherwise Ministry of Transportation-funded design of the multi-use trail/sidewalk on the West Coast Road as far as Whiffin Spit Rd.
- Year four of the Five-Year Road Program ($700k) to repave secondary streets at an as-required pace (likely an everafter annual expense in lesser amounts beyond five years, of course) + a "patch-and-pave" budget for unexpected potholes and problems not covered by the District's maintenance deal with Victoria Contracting + District share of repaves of Connie and Manzer pending negotiations with MOTI.
- Hiring of a new IAFF Local 4841 firefighter by the Sooke Fire Rescue Service + introduction of the third and final phase of the paid on-call program for Sooke's volunteer firefighters, thereby boosting us to provincial norms for composite union/volunteer forces of our kind.
- Addition of a 14th District-funded officer to the Sooke RCMP detachment (two more are needed in the coming years, as Staff Sgt. Sinden told council in answer to my questions on Monday night.)
- New Manager of Operations (aka an essential right-hand associate to Director of Operations Jeff Carter, whose plate is beyond full with current/incoming road projects and the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant, among other to-do priorities.)
- New Manager of Planning & Community Economic Development to work with Director of Planning Matthew Pawlow. This hybrid position incorporates the CED Officer role held this year by Sue Welke (who regrettably has now left the District to care for family back in Alberta, yet leaves a fine legacy including the Sooke CED Strategy & Action Plan.) Certainly makes good sense to blend the CED worldview into planning in the wake of a new OCP and with new town-centre commercial/residential applications pending.
- Consultant funding ($20k) for an Employment Lands Strategy to augment seed money from the Province and the federal Community Investments (CECI) program. Action item 1.1 of the CED Strategy states: "Using the new draft OCP and the climate action/Low Carbon Resilience lens, encourage new investment on Employment Lands and in the Town Centre." Jumpstarting activity on our modest inventory of commercial and /industrial zones is a short-term priority of the DOS Economic Analysis (2019).
- Salary for a permanent Climate Action Coordinator (to begin in August at the end of a nine-month grant for the intern coordinator position made possible through funding sourced by the aforementioned Ms. Welke and filled a fortnight ago by Maia Carolsfeld, a gifted young East Sooke woman newly graduated with a master's degree in carbon management from the University of Edinburgh).
- A budget ($45k) to launch the Climate Action Committee's social mobilization campaign with lift-off planned for Earth Day 2022. Along with a climate-smart OCP and DOS commitments to lead by example through the Low Carbon Resilience model (see Oct. 2021 handbook), citizen involvement is vital in the drive to reduce local carbon emissions by 7% annually through 2030 -- primarily through heat-pump and EV uptake (if 250 of us in each category do so each year, we're on course for our target 50% cut in conventionally measured emissions.)
- Additional contract, seasonal parks labourers to assist the current team in managing, maintaining and improving Sooke's growing network of 80 parks, 50km of trails, boulevards, trees and washrooms.
- Continued community support through the Community Grants ($65k) program + annual service agreements with the Sooke Food Bank, SRCHN, the Sooke Community Association, Sooke Region Tourism Association, Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, the Visitor Information Centre and, new for 2022/23, the Sooke Family Resource Centre ($30k to top-up other grants funding SFRS's youth navigator and adult counselling programs.)
- Much else!
Borrowing (2022 payments on outstanding debts)
- Sewer plant ($3.3m, matures 2026)
- Fire Dept. water tender ($230k, matures 2024)
- Fire Dept. Engine 1 ($735k, matures 2025)
- Fire Dept. ladder truck ($258k, matures 2027)
Future borrowing guidelines
- District revenue in 2020 was $13.7m
- Municipal Finance Authority sets an interest-repayment limit of 25% of local government annual revenue (i.e. $3.4m)
- Given current loans, we have an extra $2.4m available for yearly interest payments; this sum is currently earmarked for use as District contributions to any future successful grant applications for transportation, parks and sewer priorities.
Big ticket Items identified in future years of the Five-Year Plan
(As anyone who has followed these plans over time will know, capital spending line items in years two to five are entirely subject to change based on many factors, but they do provide a rough guide to where your local government and this council is heading.) Here's what you'll find pencilled in for future years:
- Charter Corridor North (Phase 1) ($1.5m)
- Charters Throup stream culvert ($900k)
- West Coast Road sidewalks ($2.5m)
- DeMamiel Creek bridge crossing ($1m)
- Municipal Hall building repairs ($1.5m)
- Fire Engine 204 ($900k)
- Charters/Throup Rds. ($15.6m; an aspirational sum heavily dependent on successful grant applications)
- Final phase of DeMamiel Creek bridge crossing ($1m)
- Charters at Hwy 14 intersection ($1.2m)
- Charters corridor south ($1.5m)
- Town Centre Plaza ($1.2m)
- Complete Streets Pedestrian buildout as per Transportation Master Plan ($3.6m)
The District of Sooke Financial Services page
Iterative updates to this page in recent years by Director of Finance Gray has generated an All You Wanted to Know About Taxes But Were Too Overwhelmed To Ask one-stop. Included is a pie-chart of how your total tax bill is divvied up among other parties (i.e., CRD, BC Transit, VIRL, SD #62); a chart (see below) showing Sooke taxes relative to other South Island municipalities; separate pages dedicated to the District's budget and property taxes; and a personalized property tax calculator that identifies what precisely your municipal contributions fund (to be updated in the New Year once this latest plan is adopted.)
Earlier budget summaries from this blog:
- CRD (2019)
Image: From the District's Property Taxes website page, a chart titled "Putting Sooke Residential Taxes in Perspective" and based on annual data (in this case 2020) compiled by the Province of BC.