Gibsons councillors got a first look at the general operations budget at a Tuesday, Feb. 23 committee meeting.
Overall revenue, including taxes, is budgeted at $7 million, an increase of $70,000 compared with 2020. Total expenses are about $6.8 million, $53,000 over last year’s budget, leaving a $152,000 surplus.
The budget is based on a two per cent property tax increase to cover contractual obligations and inflation. Some of the gains came by way of new property assessments and an increase in garbage and organics collection user fees.
The town lost about $33,608 in rental income in part because it did not rent out space for an emergency shelter this year, and it saw a $45,581 decrease to licences, permits and fees, as well as a $14,000 decrease in provincial operating grant funding.
COVID-19 is still having an impact on the budget.
The cost to run council is expected to decrease by almost 14 per cent in 2021, due in part because of the shift to online conferences and meetings.
General government operations increased by about 12 per cent, in part because of the transition to remote working, a new human resources manager position and an increase to the staff recruitment budget.
Another increase came by way of the town’s granting, donations and fee-for-service arm, which grew by $23,349 to $340,691.
The majority of the increase is related to the new COVID-19 Community Grant, funded by the town’s $1.5-million portion of federal Safe Restart funds. Two new line items were also added in the granting category, for supports for children and seniors.
During the meeting Mayor Bill Beamish asked that COVID-related expenditures be closely monitored to ensure they don’t fold into next year’s base budget.
“We need to make sure we’re not simply increasing the base by using grant money,” he said.
Staff said they are “definitely aware” of that potential, and have already seen budget estimates decrease in 2022 as those expenditures drop off.
One COVID-19 expense that did come in under budget was the use of the town’s Muriel Haynes Trust to cover costs related to opening the Gibsons pool. The town had offered $5,000 to the Sunshine Coast Regional District to pay for items purchased to make the space compliant, but in the end the district used less than $700 for Plexiglas barriers.
Beamish also asked that a portion of money be kept in the reserve budget for a Coast-wide community celebration “for when we can all get out, shake hands, hug and be friends again.”
He suggested Safe Restart funds may also be used for that purpose in the future.
Community liaison position
He also alerted staff to a possible new provincial grant, the Strengthening Community Services Program, that could potentially fund a six-month community liaison or public safety officer position, which he’d like to see in place now that people will be moving into the new supportive housing complex on School Road.
The role would allow the town to “be proactive in some concerns that might come up,” he said. “We need to look at some kind of support for that program that’s coming into place in the community.”
Coun. David Croal said having another position would be “immensely helpful,” especially if the town changes rules around short-term rentals.
Coun. Aleria Ladwig suggested the community watch program could also be revived.
At the meeting council voted to approve a four per cent or $8 increase to the residential Garbage and Organics User Fee for a total of $213.
Although it is an opt-out program, 97 per cent of households have participated in the program over the past three years, said staff.
Council also approved annual increases of five per cent for sewer and water rates, amounting to $41.30 for water and $32.02 for sewer.
Croal asked about the reserve fund for increased RCMP costs once the town’s population hits 5,000.
Beamish said they hope to add to it again – something they weren’t able to do last year because of COVID-19. “I don’t see we’re going to put in enough money to soften the blow, but we should put money in there for transitional costs,” he said.
Budget discussions will be ongoing into March. A community survey on the budget will be coming to council on March 2, as well as rates, fees and charges. On March 9, operations budget discussions will continue and on March 16, capital project plans will be considered.