The marathon of meetings that make up Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) annual budget deliberations ramps up with sessions booked from Jan. 23 to 25. More than 650 pages of agenda material are to be considered.
An indication of where the SCRD’s costs for this year are going is contained in a report from Chief Financial Officer Tina Perreault on that agenda. Adjusting for inflation, contract and wage increases, and projects already approved, “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. And that is before new projects are considered.
Too early for tax rate estimates
Sometime after this week’s meetings complete, estimates on 2023 tax rates will be made public with rate determination to follow budget adoption, which is slated for March 23. Communications manager Aidan Buckley told Coast Reporter there are “too many unknowns”, including finalization of the past year’s operation costs and 2023 property tax value assessments, as well as decisions on new initiatives to make those predictions now.
Buckley said a more definitive picture of proposed tax changes would be in place before the local government hosts its virtual budget information sessions on Feb. 13. In a Jan 20 press release, residents were encouraged to review 2023 budget details and submit questions via letstalk.scrd.ca/budget.
What is proposed for 2023?
New initiatives under consideration for the 2023 budget would cost the SCRD $12.7 million if all were approved. Taxation is listed as the source for $2.6 million with funds coming from other sources such as borrowing and reserves. Proposed items with high price tags include:
- $1.9 million for Chapman Creek water treatment plant ultraviolet system upgrades as well as $195,000 for mechanical upgrades at that site
- The second phase of Eastbourne (Keats Island) ground water supply, budgeted at $1.2 million,
- $322,000 for dam safety upgrades at Chapman and Edwards Lakes, $220,000 for Chapman Lake intake line rehabilitations and $100,000 for the removal of the siphon at Edwards Lake
- $590,000 in development plans at the Seaview Cemetery for 375 new casket burial lots, to meet anticipated needs for 15 – 20 years
- $250,000 for zone water metering of Sechelt Nation government district lands (in addition to the $7.4 million allocated in 2022 for water metre installations in the District of Sechelt)
- $526,000 for improvements to a retaining wall along Lower Road between Cheryl Ann Park and Joe Roads
- $765,000 in Pender Harbour solid waste transfer station improvements
- A budget increase of $136,000 (to a total of $286,000) for the Sechelt landfill bio-cover project
- Garden Bay water treatment plant upgrade pre-design work valued at $200,000 and $275,000 for feasibility and preliminary design work at Egmont water treatment plant
- Renewal of the water lot lease with the province for Hillside Industrial Park and development of an updated management plan estimated to cost $213,000
- To meet the conditions of the Church Road well field water license, $200,000 for impact and compliance monitoring, plus $112,000 in new operations and maintenance costs at that site
- $375,000 for back-up generators for the Sandy Hook and Egmont water pump stations.
Staffing increases of 16.3 full time equivalents (FTE) are also proposed. Along with several partial FTE additions, those include:
- Emergency Services department additions of 4.5 staffers for Fire Smart initiatives to reduce the impact of wildfires on local communities (contingent on a senior government grant funding being received), plus a casual emergency social services position
- One operating technician position in the Parks department
- An additional bylaw enforcement officer
- A 1.4 FTE bump up to meet public transit enhanced cleaning standards
- An assistant manager position for the rural planning function
- A financial analyst’s position
- An information technology cybersecurity analyst (plus a $50,000 investment in cybersecurity insurance)
- 1.4 FTEs in the Human Resources department
- A capital projects coordinator.
Community partner funding
Along with consideration of business cases for new budget initiatives proposed by SCRD staff, this year’s round one debate meetings are to review just over $1.7 million in requests from the regional district’s 21 community partner organizations. Included are submissions from local libraries, museums, community schools, Sunshine Coast Tourism, youth service groups, search and rescue organizations, the Pender Harbour Health Centre, Coast Cultural Alliance and the Gibsons and Pender area Chambers of Commerce.
Those asks are up by $137,334 over 2022 levels. Submissions from the Gibsons and District Library and Sechelt Community Schools Society’s Youth Centre account for almost $114,000 of that total.
Gibsons library’s request for 2023 increased by $89,853, over 13 per cent more than its 2022 funding level. Its submission stated “Research shows that during tough economic times, libraries become even more essential and busier. This is the case for our library with a 46 per cent increase in visits from last year and the highest circulation levels yet. We have also become an integral emergency service: in the heat dome of summer and the cold of winter, the library is a place of respite and safety, particularly to those living with homelessness or inadequate housing.”
Returning to pre-pandemic activity levels was the reason cited for the $24,000 rise in the Youth Centre’s budget request.
Fourteen other groups, including the Coast’s ground and marine search and rescue organizations, sought the same funding as last year. Funding increase asks in the two to seven per cent range of 2022 levels were seen in the remaining submissions, except the Skookumchuck Museum/Egmont Heritage Centre which reduced its 2023 funding request.