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Sechelt committee makes nine budget recommendations

Latest discussions on the Sechelt budget for 2023 include new items and expense reductions
Close-up view of eyeglasses, calculator, pen and pie chart on top of tables and spreadsheets

At the Feb. 24 special committee of the whole, Sechelt council heard the first estimate for the 2023 tax increase: 5.4 per cent. 

That number is in the process of being updated, since the committee made nine recommendations related to the budget during the almost five-hour meeting.

Balancing the budget

Director of financial services David Douglas presented options to balance the budget. He told the committee that the current deficit (the difference between current taxation levels and funding needed for 2023) sits at $784,340 or 6.65 per cent, with a 2022 surplus of 2.02 per cent ($237,840). However, an internal review of projected revenues showed increases that can reduce the estimated deficit for 2023 by approximately $550,000, some of which comes from the short-term rental revenue estimate as well as an increase to the service agreement with FortisBC.

Before the committee made recommendations, staff presented the proposed municipal tax increase from 2022 to 2023 as 5.4 per cent (2.4 per cent includes additional expenses, increases to revenues, and other expense reductions, while 3 per cent is for capital). The increase in municipal taxes based on 5.4 per cent would equate to just over $100 dollars for the average property. Including municipal taxes, the garbage user fee, sewer parcel tax and sewer user fees, the District of Sechelt’s taxes and charges were estimated at 6.4 per cent or $3,217 (for the average house value of $1,048,800) compared to $3,024 in 2022.

Committee decisions

The committee chose to incorporate five revenue and surplus-related items — a sum of $546,500 —  into the 2023 budget: projected short-term rental revenue of $118,500, the projected service agreement revenue of $30,000, the projected $8,000 new construction revenue, the projected building permit fees of $140,000, and 2022’s surplus of $250,000 to be transferred to the 2023 operational budget. Councillor Darren Inkster was opposed to this recommendation.

Seventeen additional operating requests are also being recommended by the committee. They include a bylaw officer for six months of 2023 ($41,000), software for short-term rental bylaw enforcement, bylaw protective equipment, library funding ($34,984), an Official Community Plan (OCP) update at $50,000 and a Development Cost Charges (DCC) Bylaw update at $150,000, among other requests.

During the meeting, the committee discussed updating both the OCP and the DCC bylaw. In response to a question, staff said the OCP is beyond the average age “but not antiquated” with its population data out of date and in need of modernization. Staff noted that other municipalities are budgeting upwards of $200,000 to hire consultants for their own OCP reviews. DCCs cannot be used to fund a DCC bylaw update, staff added. 

Grant and reserve funding

A recommendation to fund six operating requests through the BC Safe Restart (COVID) Grant was also carried. These include $10,000 to be allocated to private security of parks/washrooms/facilities, application review and permitting online, budgeting and financial reporting software, and council meeting management software. 

One of the two new projects introduced at the meeting was for new microphones to replace the aging equipment used at council meetings. Mayor John Henderson commented that functioning technology is important to continue hybrid meetings.

Another new item was electric vehicle (EV) stations, for which $50,000 is set to be approved through the Canada Community Building Fund and provincial grants.

Six operation requests are recommended to be funded through the Public Safety Reserve including: body-worn cameras ($110,000), community safety ($30,000), high-potency drug processing ($9,000) and other items. Bear proof garbage bins will be funded from the Solid Waste Reserve to the tune of $50,000. 

Council also moved to endorse a recommendation for a 3 per cent tax increase allocated to capital reserves.

Council also chose to allocate $140,000 and $60,000 from the 2022 sewer surplus for the operating request for sewer operations. Staff presented a proposed 10.4 per cent increase to septage fees. For septage operations, $100,000 and $30,000 from 2022 septage surplus is slated to be incorporated into the 2023 budget. The final payment for the Water Resource Centre loan is in 2025, it was noted.

Expense reductions

One of the recommendations approved by the committee to reduce the amount of taxation is to fund a 12th RCMP officer from the Public Safety Reserve rather than from taxation. 

Previously, district council raised the minimum number of RCMP officers from 11 to 12, but staff told the committee that staffing has never reached 12 members since that decision. In the last two years, RCMP staffing has been as low as six members, staff said.

Delayed hiring for the Deputy Corporate Officer and Senior Policy Planner will also see an expense reduction of $18,365 and $30,000 respectively.

One item council discussed taking out of the reductions list was the $75,000 transfer to affordable housing. 

What’s next

The budget schedule has been set back due to illness, district staff told Coast Reporter. Estimated budget changes are being worked on by the finance team, and final draft numbers are anticipated to be presented at the March 22 committee of the whole meeting for council inquiries and discussion. Resolution at a regular council meeting could follow on April 5. 

The five-year financial plan must be adopted by May 15, before the adoption of the annual property tax bylaw.