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Cuts recommended to Sechelt’s 2022 budget

Potential for double-digit property tax increase remains
Close-up view of eyeglasses, calculator, pen and pie chart on top of tables and spreadsheets

Sechelt may be looking at a 12 per cent increase to the municipal portion of property taxes next year.  That is an estimate based on recommendations made at the Nov.30 and Dec. 1 committee meetings that reviewed 2022 provisional operations and capital budgets. 

“We are months away from determining property tax rates as there are lots of moving pieces,” director of finance David Douglas said as the meetings’ debate concluded. Factors yet to be determined aside from budget finalization include updated property assessment role values, which will be available in January.

Discussion of the municipality's 2022 provisional operations budget was divided into two parts. First up was consideration of maintaining existing operations with inflation and other coming year cost increases added in. With only minor adjustments asked for by the committee, the tax increase needed to cover those costs is projected to be about seven per cent.  

Almost half of that amount is earmarked to build up municipal capital reserves. Director of engineering Kirn Dhillon said that continued capital contributions from taxation are needed to reach the “sustainability sweet spot” and fund the asset management plan being developed in 2022.  That plan will address infrastructure maintenance, replacement, and expansion needs.

Second up: new operational projects such as addition of staff positions, new programs as well as one-time studies to be done in 2022.  The original budget proposal asked for over $900,000 in this area. Requests were paired down by close to $400,000 during the committee review. If endorsed in the final budget, those cuts would bring the costs for new 2022 activities to a level where an estimated property tax increase of about five per cent over 2021 rates would be needed to pay for them.

All in, the committee’s recommended adjustments could reduce the 2022 property tax increase by about three per cent from the estimated 15 per cent hike proposed when the provisional budget was introduced last month.

Under the operational additions section, the committee recommended removing requests for airport operational planning, a needs assessment for cultural amenities, design work for a downtown gathering space and money for project celebrations from the taxation-funded portion of the 2022 budget. Suggestions were made that those projects could be considered in budgets for 2023 or beyond or if funding sources other than property taxation can be identified.

Adding in a new annual contribution of $75,000 to its affordable housing reserve received endorsement from the committee.

In support of those recommendations, Coun. Brenda Rowe said, “we have been asked to look at every penny” and emphasized the need to focus on core operations in the 2022 budget.

In the area of new staffing requests, the committee recommended funding a new deputy corporate officer, a procurement coordinator and a parks arborist position. It also supported the topping up of an administrative assistant position from part-time to full-time. Deferral until 2023 of requests for a park maintenance worker and a second administrative assistant position was recommended by the committee.

The committee also reviewed the proposed 2022 capital budget. Capital spending is funded from reserves, grants and borrowing and does not directly impact annual property taxation levels. Next year’s provisional budget proposal calls for Sechelt to spend $5.1 million on construction-related projects, including the $1.2 million replacement of the Wakefield Road wastewater lift station. Another committee recommendation was that an annual contribution of $500,000 to the municipal paving program be continued in 2023 and increased in future years.

Removal of two projects from next year’s capital project list was recommended. The committee asked to defer a $100,000 replacement of playground equipment at Brookman Park until 2023 to allow staff time to update planning for park facilities in the Davis Bay area. In addition, it recommended against spending $40,000 next year on new furniture for the community meeting room and council chambers.

Also on tap for 2022 is completion of capital projects not completed in 2021. In discussing those carry forward items, Dhillon said the large value of projects left uncompleted reflected issues Sechelt has had with capacity due to staffing difficulties.

According to Sechelt’s budget review schedule, a public information session on the adjusted 2022 budget is slated for Dec. 13.  As of Dec. 5, details on that event had not been announced. Initial readings of the 2022 to 2026 financial plan bylaw are currently slated for the Dec. 15 council meeting. Finalization of the 2022 budget, taxation levels and amendments to fee rates must be completed by May.