EDITORIAL: Municipal budgets are what you make them

Municipal budgets are perhaps the most democratic of all the forms of taxation

It’s been said that the only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time politicians meet.

While that glib assessment may evoke some chuckles at the local coffee shop, the truth is discussions about taxes, especially at a municipal level on Vancouver Island, should be far more nuanced.

No one likes taxes. But municipal budgets and their resultant tax rates are perhaps the most democratic of all the forms of taxation we are forced to endure.

By now, Ladysmith council is into the home stretch on formulating its annual budget. In all likelihood, the administration has heard direct feedback from residents as it develops its spending plan.

Make no mistake about it, running a municipality is not an inexpensive enterprise and, on the most part, it’s the residents who directly benefit from a well-crafted financial plan.

Will additional staff members to help to reduce the time needed to turn around building permits and other civic services, provide a direct benefit to the community that outweighs their cost?

What other grants, capital purchases, services, and initiatives — that will contribute to the health of the community — can we afford?

And then there is the question of the business tax rate; in most Island communities, businesses shoulder a higher tax burden compared to homeowners.

READ MORE: Taxing Vancouver Island: which communities are paying the most?

The average resident of Sooke, for example, will pay three times the tax bill on a business than they would for a property of equal value. While rates may vary from community to community, the differential is not unique to Sooke, and not out of line with other Island municipalities.

Lowering that ratio may help business and attract investment, but it would most likely shift more of the tax burden to homeowners or affect the livability of the community do to reduced services.

It’s a very complex issue calling for some equally tough choices.

But, given that most public budget meetings generally draw less than a handful of participants, Shakespeare’s line that “the fault is not in our stars (or councillors)… but in ourselves” comes to mind.

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