Property taxes in North Cowichan and everywhere else are on the increase yet again.Past Councils and senior management have favoured a tax approach that has seen tax revenues and spending more than double in the last decade, and that appears to be continuing. And even though recent assessment notices for many are higher, that’s not what drives municipal taxes higher.
Spending, budgeted or un-budgeted, is what drives taxes. Early indications are that taxes, the amount you pay the local authorities for services, will be higher again this year. In the case of North Cowichan the amount the politicians are suggesting is double the usual prediction. As our analysis in this paper shows, those predictions are predictably low when the dust settles.
Property taxes are not rocket science. They should be a simple and impartial process reflecting valuation; a process that should be applied with consistency. It should not be a means to pay the bill for the things you’ve already ordered before drawing up the budget.
In the corporate world, management is expected to examine performance and structure a budget before the year, not during. What we have in North Cowichan’s case is a bit like making it up as we go along; or, in this case, as the budget year unfolds.
The 2019 budget year will be almost half over before the final draft is approved. In the private sector, management would be looking for new jobs with such performance.
A good analogy to the process we have seen over the past decade would be having an employee whom you were required to pay a salary based on their personal spending habits. If they spent more this year because they decided on a more lavish vacation, you would be required to give them a raise. It’s easy to see there would be little incentive for the employee to decrease spending. That’s the way municipal bureaucracy works.
One potentially worrisome thing for the 2019 budget process: we have a brand new Council. It remains to be seen how the newly-minted Council will behave this year, but anyone who follows local politics will agree the flavour has swung left politically and that, almost invariably, means bigger tax increases.
At this writing, they are in the midst of the financial planning and budgeting process where the predicted increase is already double the amount of previous years. Time will tell.
We have only three members of council returning from last term and only two, including the Mayor, who have been there over the past ten years of tax increases. One would expect no surprises, especially since during the election only one who was elected made any noises about tax restraint.
Of the three incumbents, only the Mayor has any tax restraint bona-fides; he campaigned on it in the past and sometimes in between as well. His hands will be tied on this, and any other issue, as the balance of the votes are not in his favour.
Despite our power to elect, voters do not have a hammer over Council. We cannot hold them accountable because, unlike provincial or federal politics, there is no ‘them’, no Party to throw out of power. There is only a changing cast of councillors in front of the implacable and grinding bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy, like the example employee described above, has no incentive to change its behaviour.
As local voters we elect candidates, fellow citizens, who we hope will do their job responsibly.
One can only hope that our new Council will.