While a 2022 budget contribution of $4,758 to the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society may appear small, Gibsons council’s consideration of annual funding to that group sets a precedent. In addition to providing ongoing financial support, the recommendation made at the Feb. 22 committee of the whole meeting, also asks council to advocate to the province for senior government funding for hospice services throughout B.C. That recommendation is slated to go to the March 2 council meeting for consideration of endorsement.
The funding level recommended by Coun. David Croal when he introduced the item at the meeting which was convened for 2022 preliminary budget debate, was based on $1 per resident using the community population level from the 2021 census. He suggested that other Coast local governments be asked to consider similar funding commitments, but the committee opted not to make Gibsons contribution contingent on the participation of its neighbours.
It did agree to recommend that staff be directed to prepare a letter to send to all other B.C. municipalities encouraging them to also ask the province for funding of hospice services provincially.
Executive director of the society, Tess Huntly told Coast Reporter that the group was thrilled to receive the news of the potential support, stating that it could lead to a “sustainable mode of funding” for the organization. “More than 60 per cent of our operational funding currently comes from community donations,” Huntly said. With support from the town tied to population levels, she noted that it would grow with the community and help ensure that the society has the capacity to help those who request their services.
Coun. Stafford Lumley pointed out that in Ontario, hospice services are completely funded by the province. He suggested that the BC government use health care taxes collected from businesses to fund these types of services.
Commenting on how municipal involvement in social programming has increased over the years, Mayor Bill Beamish said, “We are being asked to do a lot of untraditional things with a very traditional organization… We don’t have a social services function and we are not taxing for it. We are being asked to do more and more with grants that are not core funding … the community comes to rely on those services, like homeless shelters. When such services are cut out they come to us and ask why, and we say that it is a grant that we do, or do not, get from the province.”
“To me supporting hospice for $4,800 or so each year is a lot better than buying fireworks,” said Beamish.
At the meeting, there was general support for the 2022 preliminary general operating budget as presented by staff. That spending plan would require a two per cent increase on the town’s portion of property taxes over 2021 levels. The increase covers new operational requirements, staff salary increases and inflationary costs. Director of finance Lorraine Coughlin noted that operational cost increases related to COVID-19 continue to be funded through the COVID safe start grant received from the province.
The draft budget shows town revenues of $7.6 million, a six per cent increase over 2021 levels. Expenditures in 2022 are slated to reach about $7.5 million. That is up just over six per cent from the previous year. The net result is a budgeted surplus of $138,511 which can be used for such purposes as current year capital projects, transfers to reserves, funding requests by external organizations or as directed by council.