Frequent visitors to this site know that I think taxes in regional districts are complex and frustrating. They are complex because hundreds of different services are offered to different groups of residents. Sometimes these groups correspond to our electoral area boundaries and sometimes they do not. So in the 500 pages in the RDOS budget, only a portion is relevant to you.
What makes property taxes frustrating is that we really do not know what you will pay in taxes until your tax bill arrives. This is because the RDOS sends it budget to the Province and the provincial Rural Tax Authority actually calculates rates and sends out the bills (this is the situation for all regional districts in British Columbia). For this and other reasons I have been working on my own tool for making sense of our budget. In this posting I have incorporated some preliminary results from this analysis tool.
**Caveat: this is a prototype tool so the numbers may be completely muddled. Although I have checked some of the numbers and underlying business logic for correctness, some data is missing and there are inevitable lurking data quality issues. I am tracking these down bit by bit. But it is a tough time of year to ask for help from staff with such projects.
To get a sense of how a regional district budget works, consider the "Parks and recreation" services within the RDOS. Every electoral area offers some kind of parks and recreation function and most have a "full area" parks commission. It is "full area" in the sense that everyone in the area pays (typically proportional to their property assessment). The parks commission has its own budget and recommends spending on parks maintenance and capital improvements. Other services might be provided to a subset of electoral area residents as a "service area".
I show below the annual taxpayer cost for parks and recreation for a subset of electoral areas--the one most comparable to Area F. We can see the "full area" and service areas in the column for Area F on the far right. All Area F residents pay into the parks commission. However, only greater West Bench residents pay into the local service area called "Community Centre LSA#33". The province keeps track of which properties are in and which properties are out when it sends out rural property taxes.
Area C (rural Oliver) costs are relatively high because those residents contribute to the Oliver arena, pool, and so on. More about this in a later posting...
I have attempted to bring this service area membership into my tool and combine it with the 500 pages of budget data to get a simple, one-page overview of the RDOS budget. The idea is to answer two critical questions:
- What are residents paying for each service?
- How does this compare to other electoral areas in the RDOS?
Electoral areas are different sizes so the natural basis for comparison is average $ per property. And "cost" here means cost to residents: taxes, fees, and so on. There are other sources of revenue for the RDOS, including grants from senior governments, transfers from reserves, and prior-year surpluses (think of these as "unplanned" reserves). But residents are mostly interested in their out of pocket expenses, at least as a first cut.
I show a screen shot of my analysis tool below. I also have a dynamic version up and running on the web. If you would like to play with it instead let me know and I will send you the username and password for access.
To keep things simple for now, I have attached an Excel snapshot of the query. You can download the spreadsheet and check the numbers for yourself if you like.
You can see from this that, on the whole, there are no really big changes from 2014 to 2015. Much has been made in some media outlets about the RDOS building upgrade (101 Martin Street). I will write more about this later. But the important things to note are:
- The RDOS board has decided to expense this project in a single year. Normally, I prefer to amortize major capital expenditures over their useful lives--at least 10 years for building upgrades. But others on the RDOS board argued that it was easier to simply expense it in the current year. "Easier" means "no need for a referendum". So we are expensing it.
- There will be no referendum on the RDOS building upgrade because there will be no borrowing. Is this good government? Well, given the state of the building (let's face it: it is a dump on the outside and even worse on the inside) and the relatively modest cost, I agree we can justify moving forward on this without a whole lot of deliberation. More than 60 people have to work in that building, after all. We have a duty to provide a functional workplace.
- The increase in the "Administration" row in the analysis is about $13 per property for 2015. Since the upgrade project will be paid for in a single year you can expect to see this drop again in 2016.
You might be wondering why the costs per property for shared overhead items like "Administration" are higher for Area F than other electoral areas (see the spreadsheet). This is because property assessments (land and improvements) are, on average, higher in Area F than most areas. Since we pay per $1,000 of assessed value, more expensive properties pay more.
In any case, I will continue to work on the tool and chase down the remaining data errors. The advantage of this kind of "multi-dimensional" (or "cube" or "data warehouse") analysis is that it is relatively easy to create complex queries. Please let me know if you have any questions about the the process of if you have a specific query you want answered by the data. In the mean time I will continue to post analyses that I think are interesting or illuminating.