Property tax hit looming for Sechelt, Gibsons

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 18, 2013 01:00 AM

Gibsons and District fire chief Bob Stevens appears before the SCRD's budget committee on Jan. 14 to take questions on the department's funding requests. Directors endorsed the volunteer department's new strategic plan, which includes $71,000 this year to increase honorariums for officers and training rates for all members.

For the second consecutive year, changes in assessment mean the District of Sechelt and Town of Gibsons will pay a larger share of property taxes to the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) in 2013.

Total share of taxation rose by 4.2 per cent for the District of Sechelt and 2.7 per cent for the Town of Gibsons, while the share for Roberts Creek (Area D) dropped by 1.4 per cent and other areas saw smaller decreases, Coun. Gerry Tretick reported to Gibsons council Jan. 15.

"If the budget was the same as last year, we would be carrying much more of the load," Tretick said at Tuesday's council meeting.

Tretick, who chairs the SCRD's budget committee, said the property tax bill for an average home in Gibsons - valued at $425,000 - would go up by $24 in the base SCRD budget, which was the starting point for three rounds of deliberations that are scheduled to wrap up in March.

And while that number had risen after two days of budget meetings, it "doesn't indicate anything at all, except where we happen to be today," Tretick said. "Stay tuned."

The SCRD board opened the first round of budget committee meetings on Jan. 14, with Tretick calling for directors to show the same vigilance they had asked of staff in keeping new spending requests to a minimum.

Going into the budget talks, departments were allowed a 1.9 per cent inflationary increase for mandated costs such as utility increases, but instead came back with a net decrease of more than $61,000, treasurer Tina Perreault said.

"Of the possible increase of $173,104, an overall reduction of $61,260 was realized throughout the organization," Perreault reported.

In their first day of deliberations, directors recommended outright approval for a small number of funding requests before referring the bulk of items to future rounds for further consideration.

Directors endorsed the new strategic plan for the Gibsons and District Volunteer Fire Department (GDVFD), which includes $71,000 this year to increase honorariums for officers and training rates for all members. An additional $25,000 was approved from 2012 surplus funds for ladder truck repairs and training facility enhancements.

Directors also agreed to earmark $90,900 in 2015 for a salaried trainer/inspector for GDVFD. While directors noted that higher certification standards and inspection requirements had made the honorariums necessary, fire chief Bob Stevens said the remuneration ties in with the department's succession planning and is viewed as a transitional step until 2015.

For the Roberts Creek Volunteer Fire Department, the committee recommended approving $12,000 (from $43,000 surplus) to pay for a commercial washing machine and increased training, with the balance transferred to reserves.

For the Halfmoon Bay Volunteer Fire Department, directors deferred a $38,000 request for the purchase of a command vehicle to round two. The bulk of the funds would come from the department's $31,000 surplus.

With no new funding requests from the Egmont Volunteer Fire Department, the committee agreed to transfer about $23,000 in surplus to reserves for eventual truck and radio replacement costs.

"They're very frugal in this department," Paul Fenwick, the SCRD's general manager of community services, told the board.

Directors also agreed to allocate $20,000 for the purchase of a second snowmobile for Dakota Ridge after staff explained the safety risk of having only one machine on the hill.

A $15,000 trail expansion request was referred to the next round, as was replacement of grooming equipment, with some directors leaning towards the option of trading in the current Piston Bully groomer for a larger, used model, at a cost of $108,000.

Budget items referred to round three for final consideration include:

$440,000 for a bicycle path along Pratt Road from Gibsons Way to Chaster Road, to be carried out in conjunction with an SCRD waterworks project. With $358,000 set aside from Area E gas tax funds for the project, construction is still dependent on the presence of knotweed in the area and receipt of gas tax funding this year, staff reported.

$41,000 for improvements at Seaview Cemetery: $18,000 for the purchase and installation of columbaria, $8,000 for a software package that will keep better records and reduce processing time from one hour to 15 minutes, and $15,000 to plan for a memorial wall and green burial layout.

The columbaria will be a revenue generator, parks services manager Carleen McDowell told the committee, noting that on the Lower Mainland, columbarium internment costs more than full burial at Seaview.

Under the plan, green burials could take place starting in 2014. Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar said a close friend who recently lost her son had wanted a green burial and "everyone I spoke to couldn't believe we didn't have that option."

The bulk of the spending would come from about $35,000 in surplus.

$16,000 to construct an alternate trail at the Oak Street entrance to Ocean Beach Esplanade and $22,000 for a new beach access path off Fullerton Road in Halfmoon Bay, with most of the funding already in place.

Attending the Jan. 14 meeting as the new SCRD director for the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB), Chief Garry Feschuk questioned the consultation process on the Fullerton Road project, as well as other sites within Sechelt Nation territory.

"We know in these areas there's a lot of burials," Feschuk said.

Moving the item to round three, directors passed a motion to ensure appropriate consultation with SIB takes place before construction to determine if there are archeological issues at the site.

Other budget items referred to round two for further discussion include:

$55,000 for two phases of a shoreline mitigation project, the first phase at Chaster House and the second at Chaster Park.

Elphinstone director Lorne Lewis said Chaster Park is about half the size it used to be.

"This is a case of trying to dodge the ocean as best we can," Lewis said.

$50,000 toward the replacement of a substandard parks maintenance shop on Mason Road, $30,000 for a parks fleet vehicle replacement, $38,000 for fleet equipment replacement, and $10,000 for playground equipment replacement in Cliff Gilker Park.

$28,000 for a Sunshine Coast emergency planning vehicle, with funds coming mostly from surplus. The vehicle would be used by emergency planning coordinator Bill Elsner, who currently uses his personal vehicle, putting on close to 500 km a month, Elsner told directors. The new vehicle would carry specialized communications equipment and spill containment and site management supplies.

Early in the meeting, board chair Garry Nohr welcomed Feschuk to the board and noted it was the first SCRD budget meeting also for District of Sechelt Coun. Darnelda Siegers, who was appointed director for the District late last year.

Following a 90-minute in-camera session in the morning, the committee passed a motion from Siegers recommending "staff report on how we would propose to engage constituents on the state of recreational facilities and solicit input on how the public would like the board to proceed."

Several recreational facility funding requests were also referred to round three at the meeting.

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