Highlands residents may see a tax increase this year, the first one in 15 years.
A potential tax increase would ultimately be part of a domino effect from increases made in the West Shore Parks and Recreation budget, and falling construction revenue in Highlands.
Highlands has been asked to contribute $185,259 to the recreation centre, a nearly 7.5 per cent increase from last year. “This has been one of the bigger hits that council has to face,” said Chris Coates, the district administrator.
In previous years the District used tax money from other sources, such as the construction of Hannington Creek Estates, a residential subdivision. Now with that project nearly finished and no new large construction projects in the works, the additional revenue will be gone, Coates explained.
“When you look into the future, the costs of operations are not going down, they are going up,” Coates said. Increasing requisitions from the recreation centre and other issues such as road maintenance will be adding more costs to Highlands taxpayers.
The amount of this year’s possible tax increase isn’t yet known – the District budget hasn’t been set. “(Fourteen) years in a row without no tax increase is something that is not sustainable,” Coates said.
Coun. Ken Williams, who sits on the recreation centre board of directors, said compared to municipalities across Greater Victoria, Highlands contributes significantly less than others to recreation.
“It’s pretty middle of the road per household,” Williams said, adding that West Shore recreation is a great facility that is well used.
While this council and previous councils have worked hard to give residents a zero per cent tax increase year after year, Coun. Allen Dobb suggests it may be a good thing to have the residents feel the impact to understand what recreation costs.
“I don’t see any options here. I will do the ugly and with regret I recommend we approve the (recreation) budget,” said Coun. Sigurd Johannesen.
While council passed the recreation budget, with Couns. Marcie McLean and Karel Roessingh opposed, it will be compiling a letter with concerns.
McLean said she would like to see a recreation budget that is easier to follow and have the recreation society create a business plan.
“What other business can have a fall and not cover its costs?” McLean said, referencing Bear Mountain arena’s $500,000 deficit last year.
Money lost this year at the rec centre had most of council concerned with how the facilities are run.
“I do struggle with some of the projections … I see some of them as lofty,” said Mayor Jane Mendum. “I very much hope this society gets it in gear. I’d like to see some options get discussed. I don’t know if this is as lean as it gets.”
“When we voted for the arena (may years ago) we thought it would pay for itself,” Roessingh observed.
Williams explained that the recreation centre is looking into other avenues to generate income, such as selling the naming rights of facilities.
“We have a four per cent ownership in a society that is being driven by a larger population,” Dobb said. “What can we do? How much control do we really have?”