In two days of Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) finance committee 2023 first round budget discussions, one of 54 proposals to add new projects (and costs) was cut.
That was a bicycle and walking path expansion project budgeted for $294,000. Three new proposals, including an organizational policy/bylaw review, Egmont Park capital asset replacements, and a public lands review were deferred to 2024. With staff withdrawing two proposals in advance of committee considerations, those actions removed just over $640,000 from the over $12.7 million in new projects under consideration for funding this year.
More new proposals are to be considered as the meeting continued Jan. 25 (after Coast Reporter deadline). Once round one debate is closed, staff will be adding up the approved items to give the committee a more complete picture of what the 2023 spending plan and taxation impact could look like, before the launch of round two budget review, scheduled for Feb. 21 and 22.
Day two discussions
On Jan. 24, the committee recommended 34 of the staff generated proposals be “approved and incorporated” into the second-round budget. The rest of the projects considered that day were “referred” to the next round for further discussion. Eight of those referrals related to proposals to add staff or staffing hours, with the committee opting to “wait and see” where budget amounts and tax rate impacts land at the end of round one discussion before making commitments on them. Chief administrative officer Dean McKinley launched that day’s discussion noting that the proposed level of new requests for staffing crept up to 17.36 full time equivalents, rather than the 16.4 listed on day one.
Not all directors supported the “wait and see” approach. Area D (Roberts Creek) director Kelly Backs commented “If we need to cut back on projects, that is the right thing to do.” Backs, Gibsons director Silas White and Sechelt director John Henderson voted in opposition to keeping new projects in the budget more than a dozen times. With the remaining directors voting in support, those recommendations passed, and the projects remain under consideration.
Should certain services exist?
The new proposals had been classified as discretionary and non-discretionary, by staff. The classification of one as non-discretionary, planning for a Seaview Cemetery expansion budgeted at $589,000, was questioned by Area E (Elphinstone) director Donna McMahon.
“Why are we in the cemetery business? Are we obliged to be? Could we not just stop offering the service?” she asked.
Community Services manager Shelley Gagnon explained that the expansion was needed to ensure the SCRD had a supply of casket burial plots to meet future years' demands. She noted that any expanded area would not be able to be used for burials for two years to allow for the land to settle. McMahon indicated she had more to say on the matter but made the recommendation to refer the item to round two for discussion. That was supported by the committee.
Another new project referred to round two discussion was taking $44,800 from 2023 taxation to pay for recreation site operation costs not covered when SCRD arenas and pools are used by School District #46 (SD46) under a joint use of facilities agreement. This arrangement allows the two government organizations to use each others’ facilities at no charge.
Gagnon noted that costs, such as staffing and utilities are incurred when a facility is open, but those are not offset by revenue when they are being used by SD46.
Area A director Leonard Lee noted this was akin to subsidizing school use of SCRD facilities. “It’s been going on for years and we are going to have to address it at some point,” he said.
“Swaps and barters rarely work…. There is a real cost to use our services. It is not our role to provide what is in essence funding to the School District,” Henderson added.
In the referral to round two, the committee asked staff to provide a report on whether such costs could be capped at an agreed dollar value under the agreement.
Budget status before new projects
An indication of where the SCRD’s costs for this year are headed was contained in a report from Chief Financial Officer Tina Perreault on the meeting’s agenda. Adjusting for inflation, contract and wage increases, and projects approved before 2023 budget discussions, “the preliminary overall taxation going into Round 1 of the 2023-2027 Financial Plan has increased by $2.36 million or 9.01 per cent from the 2022 amended budget” she wrote.