Ahead of budget debates in the new year, the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) finance committee got a preview of financial pressures and had the opportunity to talk priorities.
The regional district’s elected decision-makers waded through spreadsheets identifying more than 270 potential 2023 projects at a two-day meeting, Dec. 5 and 6. Recommendations from those meetings are on the agenda for board consideration Dec. 15 with 2023 budget debate scheduled to begin Jan. 23.
While multiple pieces of information and decisions are still to be finalized, should the board approve all items identified, there's the potential for a 2023 property tax increase in the 16 per cent range over current year levels, the committee heard. In 2022, the SCRD operations budget was $55 million and capital was budgeted at $42 million.
Staff classified projects into four categories: 187 carryover projects from 2022, 87 new non-discretionary and discretionary projects recommended by staff and 17 projects not seen as staff priorities for 2023 but brought forward to see if the committee thought them worth considering.
Minor changes were made as the committee opted to send most of the carryover and recommended projects onto Round 1 budget discussion. Two exceptions were a cemetery master plan project and parks planning work related to development. Both were deferred to 2024.
The committee also tasked staff with adding several of the not recommended projects back into Round 1 debates. Those included Egmont Park capital asset replacements, a Katherine Lake park and campground management plan and work on bicycle and walking path projects throughout the district.
More projects, more people
Included in the 2023 project proposals were asks to bump up the SCRD’s personnel complement by 12.6 full time equivalent (FTE) staff members. That increase would be on par with the number added in 2022. Since 2019, the local government has added what amounts to nearly 38 new full-time employees. That has increased the amount of FTE’s on its payroll by 19 per cent.
Carryovers continue year to year
Of the 230 projects the SCRD had in 2022 workplans, 187 will not be completed by year's end, according to a staff report.
That volume of potential carryover projects is not new to the SCRD. Chief administrative officer Dean McKinley presented that while between 2018 and 2022 the number of annual projects included in the budget ballooned from 88 to 230, the number of completions has never exceeded 57.
“This demonstrates how much work there is to do,” McKinley told the committee. He explained that staff typically spend 80 to 85 per cent of their regular work hours focusing on day-to-day operations with 20 per cent or less available to address project work.
Elected officials supported staff’s request to carry forward $38.6 million yet to be expended on those items to 2023, from this year’s total project budget of $46.7 million. That will allow work on outstanding projects to proceed with the exception of 15 that were cancelled or deemed unnecessary.
Increases for parks, recreation and fire departments
The committee also recommended a $200,000 increase to its parks capital renewal plan contribution in 2023, bringing the annual contribution to reserves to $300,000. It also supported having that amount increase annually by two per cent, starting in 2024.
The committee supported increasing the 2023 contribution to the capital renewal fund for community recreation facilities by $351,201. That passed, but without the support of Area B director Justine Gabias and Area E director Donna McMahon. If endorsed by the board, the change will bring the SCRD’s annual contribution to that fund to $1.1 million. The committee also recommended that amount be increased in each coming year by two per cent.
The committee also supported adding $60,000 to the budget that funds recreation programming in 2023 and increasing that amount by two per cent annually thereafter.
The committee agreed that a new Zamboni and replacement of a rooftop air handling unit at the Gibsons and Area Community Centre plus fitness equipment upgrades for that facility and Sechelt Aquatic Centre be considered in the 2023 budget. Those items are estimated to cost just over $800,000 and are proposed to be financed over a five-year period.
Updates to the capital plans of the Gibsons, Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Egmont fire departments were also recommended to be considered in the Round 1 2023 budget. Annual funding for the capital budgets for Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Egmont were recommended in 2023 as well as replacement of Halfmoon Bay’s Rescue 1 fire truck. That $623,200 item is to be funded through long-term borrowing.