Financial Stewardship / Taxation
One of the biggest frustrations I hear, when discussing North Cowichan with other homeowners & business owners, is the ever-increasing property tax burden. Taxes seem to increase every year with no end in sight. But there is an end, and it's coming soon... land owners just cannot afford any more! So what's the solution?
North Cowichan's budget has increased 40% in ten years (2012 to 2021), with the tax burden on property owners increasing from 54.5% of the budget in 2012 to 63.5% in 2021. These numbers are not sustainable, in any way. As a direct comparison, my own house had a tax bill of $3,600 per year in 2012 that has increased to $5,800 in 2021 - an increase of 61.1% from my 2012 bill. Ouch.
Most North Cowichan property owners do not have the time, some don't have the ability, to read through 63 pages of financial statements and analysis. I have taken the time to compare the municipality's 2021 annual report back to the 2012 one, on many line items inside the budget, and I am worried. We continue to build up reserve funds and operate with surpluses, even though our tax burden increases annually. There is an ability, although it takes serious fortitude and stewardship, to stop the increasing taxes and, potentially, decrease our tax bills. There is also the possibility of providing a tax refund to property owners, based on a financial forensic audit of the spending patterns of the municipality, and passing bylaws that permit adjustments to reserve fund uses. It can be done. It needs to be done.
The solution is to tear apart the budget line by line and find savings. Adjust the rules regarding reserve funds and challenge the province on what reserve funds can be used for. Reduce the amounts each year topping up these reserve funds. One of the frustrations I have as a taxpayer is hearing of spending excesses and sometimes even "spend the money before the year-end, or our budget will drop next year" type comments. We also hear about excessive expenditures on capital items (one example is the speed bumps along Drinkwater Road from Somenos Road to Highway 18 - those four speed bumps were allocated $60,000 to complete). We need to be true financial stewards of our taxpayers' hard-earned monies, and I'll be sure to be front and centre to make this a council priority.
Implement a one-time only external forensic fiscal audit, not by expensive tax accountants, but by North Cowichan citizens who are of CPA designation, of which there are many, perhaps on a volunteer basis. Discuss "cutting the fat" and turning North Cowichan into a lean machine, to serve all taxpayers in a financially prudent manner. Review employment positions on the fringe, to determine if those sort of positions are truly required for a municipality our size. We can get to a more sustainable level of tax burden and still run our municipality effectively, without sacrificing services.