Once a busy hive of work

Langford edging taxes lower

Mayor pushing to restart Spencer interchange

Langford is looking to reduce its property taxes this year, but it’s still planning a number of big-ticket projects, including restarting the Spencer Road interchange.

The City is shooting for a 0.23 per cent tax decrease, which would knock a few dollars off the bill for the average $421,000 home.

It’s a turnaround from the past two years of recession, where Langford homeowners faced 3.9 and 3.65 per cent increases respectively. Home and business owners will likely see a net increase in property taxes due to other taxing authorities, such as the Capital Regional District and BC Transit.

“We cut from our programs where we could and utilized new revenue from new construction,” said Steve Ternent, Langford city treasurer. “We didn’t cut any particular programs, but when you make a lot of small cuts, they start adding up.”

Langford typically aims for a zero to two per cent increase, Ternent said, making the past two years particularly frustrating for council. Direction this year was to hit zero or better.

“It’s a challenge. It means spending more time looking at everything that you do and where you spend and see where you can get cost savings,” he said.

The City has an operating budget of about $27 million and a 2011 capital spending plan worth about $20 million. More than half of the capital budget going into the ice rink and bowling centre at City Centre Park.

“There are still a lot of projects. A lot more bike lanes and sidewalks,” said Mayor Stew Young. “We aren’t cutting it to the bone.”

Langford is banking on a steadily recovering housing and property development market, and new businesses setting up shop.

Indeed, the city is now absorbing about one-third of all housing starts in Greater Victoria, according to the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corp. In 2010, applications to subdivide land shot up to a potential 953 lots, far surpassing mid-2000 peak years of development. New commercial and industrial floor space increased 13 times last year compared to 2009, according to a Langford staff report.

“This is a development and business oriented community,” Young said. “We want families moving to Langford, into housing that is affordable. We’re building recreation and want to make it easy to get around. The only puzzle is getting the train going.”

In the meantime, Young is pushing his engineering staff to get the Spencer interchange moving again. The $27 million public-works project has largely sat idle since the summer of 2009.

The mayor wants work to restart at least on the south side of the interchange, which would involve finishing the connection to Leigh Road, finishing the northbound on ramp onto the Trans-Canada Highway and building an off ramp from the highway onto Leigh Road.

Young said exploratory discussions have started with various Skirt Mountain landowners that are funding the interchange project.

“I’ve instructed staff to finish off the south side (of the interchange). It’s just how much and to what extent that’s within the budget and without raising taxes,” Young said. “I think we’ll have a better understanding (of what we can do) in a few months.”

Langford engineering manager John Manson said for the interchange to move ahead, co-operation is necessary with the Skirt Mountain landowners and developers, and the provincial government. Talks are early on at this point.

“We are working through ‘what if’ scenarios about reactivating the project this year,” Manson said. “If we completed Leigh Road and Savory Road (portion), it would be a big plus for the community.”

With the south side of the interchange as the focus — meaning the north-side Bear Mountain Parkway would remain unfinished and unconnected to the interchange, it remains unclear if the landowner group will be eager to commit funding.

“I’m not sure if we’ll be successful at this stage,” Manson admitted.

Also in its capital budget, Langford is starting a $2 million initiative to connect the city’s neighbourhoods with paved walking and cycling trails. The project is aiming to give people safe, easy access to downtown through trails separated from the road.

Langford’s final budget discussion is scheduled for a committee of the whole meeting on April 4.



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