With nearly $100 million in budget funds on the line, few took the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) up on its opportunities to comment on the 2022 budget.
Three questions were submitted to the SCRD’s website (letstalk.scrd.ca/budget) ahead of budget information sessions. On Jan. 12, eight members of the public joined the virtual Zoom meeting for Areas D, E and F, and asked a total of seven questions. As of Friday morning, Jan. 14, the YouTube video of the meeting received 64 views. The Jan. 13 meeting for Areas A and B had six public attendees, three questions and 33 YouTube views.
During both sessions, chief financial officer Tina Perreault gave an overview of the operational and capital budgets – expected to be more than $52 million and $42 million respectively – and the next steps before adoption. In her presentation on Thursday evening, Perreault said “One of the biggest factors that has really shifted the discussion here at the regional district and all of the Sunshine Coast is we all received our assessment notices recently.”
The Sunshine Coast saw a “significant increase” in its assessed values, she continued. In Area A, some property assessments rose more than 46 per cent. Overall, the increase due to non-market changes related to growth only went up by 1.48 per cent, as the majority of the change was market-driven (at an average of 34.27 per cent across the Coast).
Assessments may be up but preliminary calculations show slight decreases in tax rates. Area A’s preliminary 2022 rate per $100,000 of assessed home value is $203.79 compared to $257.98 in 2021, Perreault presented. Area B’s estimates show a rate of $243.23 for this year, while 2021 was $274.98. The proposed rate for Area D is $234.51 for 2022, down from $273.89 the year before. Area E currently sits at an estimated $224.80, compared to $268.18 last year. Area F’s proposed taxation rate is $223.90 for 2022 compared to $277.96 in 2021.
The taxation rates provided in the presentations are still preliminary and can still be affected by Round 2 discussions.
Both sessions addressed questions about freezing staff and tax levels. The budget includes 16 new hires, which includes carryover requests and not all of which are permanent positions. Nearly six of the positions are for community services, including parks, recreation facilities and transit, and “a lot of those are due to responding to COVID, whether it’s additional cleaning on our buses, additional strain on our parks,” Perreault said. Other positions address emergency resources or utility services, and may be funded by grants.
“There’s no particular service level cuts. From a staff perspective, I think what we see is a real increase in service level desire from the public, whether or not it’s creating efficiencies in the services we provide,” Perreault said, adding that services have been naturally affected by the pandemic. As a result, the 2020 budget was reduced and those reductions carried over into 2021. Additional funding from other government levels also went toward COVID restart needs.
“2022 is almost like we’re coming back to the norm, and so we’re trying to stabilize some of our resources,” she said.
Directors pointed to the increasing workload for staff, such as an increase in permit applications and information requests and increasing demand for services like bylaw enforcement. While responding to a question about freezing tax levels, Area D director Andreas Tize talked about inflation levels during COVID and population growth on the Coast.
Area F director Mark Hiltz spoke about creating financial stability for the future, and intergenerational equity. “The people now need to pay as much as the people in the future, without encumbering them in the future. If you freeze and you shift the tax burden to the future, there’s no equity between the generations,” he said.
One member of the public asked if the SCRD benchmarks itself against other regional districts in the province. Such comparisons can be difficult, as while the SCRD can compare specific services like water, regional districts are diverse from their budgets to their geographical parameters to the services their residents request. The SCRD has about 110 functional areas and 45 distinct types of services, “which is pretty significant,” Perreault said.
After the SCRD presents to the District of Sechelt and Town of Gibsons, Round 2 of the budget process will begin on Jan. 24. The budget is then expected to be adopted a month later on Feb. 24.
More information and videos of the budget information sessions can be found at www.scrd.ca/budget and letstalk.scrd.ca/budget.