Skip to content

2024 SCRD budget recommendations made

After Round 2 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) budget deliberations, a double-digit average tax increase appears likely.
SCRD's Field Road Office

After Round 2 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) budget deliberations, a double-digit average tax increase appears likely.

After Round 1, the average 2024 SCRD taxation rate increase was projected at 9.4 per cent over 2023 levels. As Round 2 debate opened at a finance committee meeting on Feb. 5, staff advised area directors if they approved all items put forward in the follow-up round, the average increase would bump up to 17.34 per cent.

With that revelation, the Coast’s elected officials recommended some 2024 spending proposals be cut and others be delayed until future years. As they assembled for a second day of Round 2 debate Feb. 6, Area E director Donna McMahon acknowledged that day one had been a “difficult” experience. She asked her counterparts to keep their recent strategic plan commitments in mind and move forward with work on drinking water and solid waste management even if those push the tax rate increase into the mid-teens.

She voiced her view that directors should pull back on funding services that the SCRD “should not have taken on in the first place," cut “nice to do” initiatives and lobby senior governments to demand ” long-term predictable stable funding for local governments."

 “We are politicians and it is time to make this an election issue,” she stated.

Recommendations from the committee meeting will be considered by the board on Feb. 8 and if endorsed, will then be incorporated into financial plan and taxation bylaws. Those items require four readings by the board, anticipated to happen in March.

Recommended spending cuts

The largest proposal that elected officials recommended be cut was a $389,403 increase to the base budget for solid waste contracts. That item had been put forward by staff to address inflationary increases for services like waste collection, recycling and landfill operations. In making that recommendation, directors opted not to add that amount to the taxation call, noting that if contract bids come in over budget amounts, the financial plan could be amended.

It was on proposals for staffing increases that saw the committee members use the words “cut” and “trim” most frequently. Only one of two asks for capital projects coordinators in the utility function received committee endorsement. The committee recommended some but not all asks for more staff in the transit department and for utility billing.

At staff’s recommendation, repairs to the Langdale wastewater treatment plant structure were cut, as that facility is slated to be replaced.

Deferring to future years

Staff suggested and the committee agreed to defer a utility service review valued at $150,000 to a future year.  

Numerous calls to add staff also resulted in deferral recommendations. The committee’s view was to put asks to hire assistant chief positions for the Gibsons, Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay fire departments on hold until 2025. They also recommended the board look at an amendment to its firefighter compensation model in 2024, and that an action plan be developed in relation to fire department staffing for those three departments and the one serving Egmont. Included in that recommendation was a call for that plan to be developed in consultation with the impacted departments and the public, and funding for any subsequent pay rate adjustments and the review work totaling $78,000 was recommended to come out of operational reserves.  

Decisions to fund a new position in the Human Resources Department and the addition of a capital project engineer for the water system were also deferred to 2025.

Matching strategic and budget priorities

Strategic plan focus areas of water and solid waste saw multiple proposals debated in Round 2 budget discussions. McMahon called for directors to demonstrate their “political courage” to make recommendations to fund work in those areas even though they would further escalate property tax increases. She remarked that for every person who contacted her to complain about tax rates, there were 20 who had reached out to ask that the regional district advance projects to ensure services in those areas can be maintained and improved.

Area D director Kelly Backs said he was “struggling” with making such important recommendations with the limited information and committee review time that was available.

Recommendations made at the meeting related to solid waste included committing $175,000 in 2024 for design work on a vertical expansion of Sechelt landfill and a $520,000 investment in the contact water pond relocation project. Both of those initiatives have the potential to extend the life of that landfill past 2030. To reduce the demands on taxpayers, the committee proposed that a portion of funding for those projects come from the regional district’s Growing Communities Fund (GCF) allocation. In addition, they recommended the municipalities of Sechelt and Gibsons also be asked to contribute some of their GFC proceeds to complete those works.

Also related to solid waste, proposals to add a staff member for that function and improve internet connectivity at Sechelt Landfill were recommended.

Discussions related to water projects occupied a considerable amount of the committee’s time. In step with an earlier recommendation from committee of the whole, spending $548,355 for ground water investigations involving potential well sites near Sechelt was recommended.

Also following an earlier decision, the Langdale well field construction budget item, valued at $22.75 million was deferred to 2025. Staff advised the committee if the deferral is endorsed by the board, that will also delay any elector approval process related to borrowing of funds for the project. That, they stated would translate into a start date in 2026 for project construction, if the project is eventually approved.

A project to monitor Chapman Creek environmental flows, with a price tag of $150,000 was recommended. Directors commented that those efforts are needed to support the regional district’s request to the province to allow for those to be adjusted to access higher volumes from the creek for drinking water during times that salmon are not in that waterway.

In consideration of the volume and variety of potential water supply projects, McMahon bemoaned the lack of a comprehensive listing of proposals that compared what each would produce and cost to aid in decision making.  She said that was something she would like to see, to make it possible to compare “apples to apples."

Sechelt director and finance committee chair Alton Toth agreed. “I’d be happy to compare an apple to a grapefruit right now, but we don’t even have that,” he remarked.