Focus in on the critical issues. That’s what the Sechelt and District Chamber of Commerce asked of the Sechelt council – which is in the midst of its 2022 budget process – in a delegation presentation to a committee of the whole, Nov. 24.
Letting council know that they have “huge support in the community to get on with things” as well as encouraging the municipality’s management to embrace “private sector thinking to get results,” were among the impetuses for the delegation, chamber president John Henderson told the Coast Reporter.
Attracting the workforce needed to support and sustain community growth was a key point in the presentation. Henderson and chamber board representative Gaetan Royer identified the lack of housing as a key barrier that local government needs to work on. Both encouraged council to get “aggressively creative” and to encourage projects that build housing supply through increased density. In discussion, Mayor Darnelda Siegers said she was ready to “support increasing density based on what the community will accept.”
Along with expediting new builds, “let’s encourage people who have space in their homes to follow a very simple process to provide additional living spaces in their homes,” Royer suggested.
To make changes like that happen, Henderson and Royer pointed to a need for municipal management to work more creatively and cooperatively with the development and construction sectors. Henderson noted that the Chamber had recently hosted a meeting with those sectors. Representatives of Sechelt were not included in that meeting, according to Henderson, at the request of those businesses so that they could speak candidly at the event. “They say they can’t get things done in Sechelt,” Henderson said.
Siegers responded, stating the remark was an “allegation.” The mayor and the delegation disagreed on how well the municipality works with project applicants. Siegers stated that staff have advised her that proponents are invited to in-person meetings with the team about the requirements to move applications forward. Henderson said that the Chamber was told, in confidence, that is not always the case. In reference to the specific instances that generated those comments, Siegers asked that more details be provided. “If we don’t know about them, we can’t address them, and we would like the opportunity to do so.”
The delegation asked that council ensure that “value for money” be paramount in funding considerations for municipal operations in the coming year’s budget. Henderson suggested staff change from the practice of defending annual budget increases to address things like inflation to looking at funding only operations that cost-effectively address real needs. He suggested council avoid taking on social programing that is being downloaded by the province and to focus on traditional municipal services.
Sechelt is mid-point in its 2022 budget deliberations. It held online public information sessions on Nov. 15. No members of the public – aside from the Coast Reporter – asked questions. Recordings of the events are posted on Sechelt’s YouTube channel. As of Nov. 28, each had about 30 views.
Committee debate on the budget proposals, which ask for an eight per cent increase over 2021 tax levels to maintain existing operations, were slated for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The proposal also includes requests for program increases that, if approved, could increase 2022 property taxation by more than 15 percent over this year’s levels.
The Chamber delegation’s final ask to council was that it advocate to senior governments to address the Coast’s infrastructure deficit. Henderson identified two key transportation components, Highway 101 and BC Ferry services, as both in need of major investments to serve the existing and growing Coast population. Henderson offered the Chamber’s support and assistance in moving forward on those initiatives. He also identified the need for water supply solutions for the Coast and encouraged council through its participation on the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) Board to address these in 2022. He noted that the delegation would be making the same presentation to the SCRD Board the following day.