Rate 'out of our hands', say school board chair, mayor
Chief Staff Writer
Tax bills that went out to property owners in Squamish this week contain a nasty surprise - an increase in school taxes.
Property assessments went up significantly for many residents this year, and Squa-mish council made an effort to keep the actual tax increases for individual property owners as low as possible while maintaining local government services. This was accomplished by passing what was described as a zero per cent increase budget.
The taxation rate on municipal taxes this year is 27 per cent lower than it was last year - 3.954218 mills (dollars of tax per $1,000 of assessed property value) this year compared to 5.346570 last year.
However, the school tax rate this year, which is set by the provincial government, was lowered only 9.5 per cent (2.3501 mills down from 2.599) - not enough to offset the significant property assessment increases experienced by many Squamish residents.
As a result, anyone with an assessment increase of more than 10 per cent is facing a school tax increase. Many residents with assessment increases in the 30 per cent range were hit with significant school tax increases.
At that school tax rate, 32.8 per cent of the total tax rate for Squamish residents is for school taxes. Last year, school taxes accounted for 28.7 per cent of the final tally.
John Erickson wasn't happy with his $140 property tax increase and attended Squamish Council meeting Tuesday (June 1) to ask about the 2004 budget. The angry resident stood on a point of order in the middle of the meeting and asked to be heard; however, Erickson wasn't following the proper procedure for addressing council. Erickson's frustration level rose and he was ordered out of the meeting when he refused to sit down and allow the meeting to proceed.
The morning after the council meeting, Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland and School District 48 Board of Trustees Chair Amy Shoup both noted that the school tax rate is not set locally.
It is out of our hands and not in our control," Shoup said.
Sutherland echoed Shoup's comment and chose not to say anything more on the tax rate set by the province.
"It is not for me to comment on their rate because I'm not privy to how they come up with their rate," Sutherland said. "They have their own issues and set their own rates and it isn't ours to comment on."
Sutherland added that he wouldn't want the province passing judgement on the rate set by the district each year.
According to Nancy Edwards, the School District 48 secretary/treasurer, the Ministry of Finance sets the school taxation rates around the province and the ministry has a set formula for calculating the rate in each district.
A report was produced in 2002 for trustees by Edwards' department to explain how the province sets the school tax rates each year.
According to that report, School District 48 enjoys one of the lowest tax rates in the province. Edwards confirmed that the province does not consult the local school districts or municipalities when determining school tax rates.
"The school taxes that are raised in School District 48 do not reflect the spending in the school district," Edwards added.
Taxes are due to the District of Squamish, which collects both municipal and school taxes, July 2. Taxes paid after that date are subject to a penalty.