Squamish will not be receiving the same tax breaks as last year.The 2021 budget has been finalized, meaning Squamish residents can expect the municipality to increase overall property taxes by $1.95 million, or 6.5%.
However, population growth may offset this bump by $1.2 million. This may cut down the uptick to about $749,000, or 2.5%.The overall tax increase does not represent the individual rates that people will receive. That has yet to be determined by council, as they divvy up how much each sector — residential, commercial and industrial — will pay toward the bill.
On Feb. 23, council unanimously voted in favour of granting the budget three readings. It's expected to be officially adopted at a later date.While Mayor Karen Elliott was ultimately in favour of the budget, she noted the 6.5% increase, though projected to be largely offset by growth, made her nervous.
"It is a big number to me, and we can't count on 4% growth, which is tremendous," said Elliott."[It's] quite high actually for our community, and that won't be there every year. And so we have to be wary of that and watch for the headwinds that will be on the economy in the coming years."
She did, however, note approval for spending on climate-related projects."I am so pleased that 25% of our budget is focused on either climate change adaptation or mitigation, and I think that's a significant shift for our community and it's important that we maintain that over time," said Elliott. "This is a huge priority. We are in a climate emergency."
Some of the measures she was referring to include diking and flood protection, which are running tabs into the millions.Coun. Jenna Stoner acknowledged the global pandemic and called this budget a balancing act.
"It does weigh with me that we are leaning toward this level of revenue increase, but I also see it as necessary," said Stoner."We are a growing community. We know there's lots of infrastructure community benefit that we need to invest in so that we can ensure that in the long term, we are not robbing the future of big investments that we know we need to make today."
The increase in 2021 follows an unprecedented time where, in 2020, municipal officials lowered taxes to the point that residents may have wound up paying less than they did in 2019.In 2020, the District tightened a corset around its budget in response to COVID-19, asking for $30.05 million, representing a 2.1% increase over the previous year.
However, population growth was estimated to offset that demand to the point where overall taxes were expected to decrease by 0.8%.It was a first in recent budget history. Residents may have paid less taxes — not more — last year than they did the previous one.
Nevertheless, Coun. Doug Race called this year's tax increase a "historic low.""I think there's been times where it's been significantly higher in my time on council, and, so once again, I commend staff for that."
Squamish is getting 46.6% of its revenue from taxation this year, a slightly higher figure than the provincial average of 45.2% that was recorded in 2019."I just wanted to say that I see taxes, over and above anything else, it's how as a community we support each other. It's a statement of our willingness to do so," said Coun. Chris Pettingill.
"I think there's a lot of uncertainty ahead of us with the pandemic, and I think higher levels of government are taking on massive amounts of debt to provide some short-term supports, and we're not sure how that's all going to fall out. And I think we have, our staff has done, an excellent job in staying the course in these uncertain times.He said for now, it would be best to try and avoid big swings and changes and keep things stable.
The municipality will also be doling out $191,000 to nonprofits throughout town via community grants.