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What’s included in this week's SCRD Round 2 budget debate?

Here are some highlights of what's up for discussion this week as budget debates continue for the regional district
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The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD)'s Round 2 of 2024 budget debates are set for this coming week.

Discussions of the staff-proposed initiatives not approved in the first round of budget debate last December are up for finance committee discussion starting at 9:30 a.m. Feb 5. The committee's yet-to-be-made Round 2 budget recommendations are listed as an item for discussion on the Feb. 8 board meeting agenda.

When this year’s spending plans were launched on Dec. 5, staff stated the regional district’s operational budget was anticipated to be in the $58 million range. To pay for that, staff estimated an average of an 18 per cent increase to the regional district portion of 2024 property tax bills would be necessary.

During Round 1 discussions at both the committee and board meeting levels, over 100 2024 budget proposals were approved. There were only a couple of outright proposal rejections, and none resulted from elected officials calling for spending cuts. They were done at staff’s recommendation based on planned changes.

If the most recent finance committee performance is an indication of what’s to come, property owners need to prepare themselves for what could be a double-digit bump in tax levies this year from the SCRD.

Proposed 2024 projects

More than 50 staff proposals for 2024 new spending initiatives are included on the Round 2 meeting agenda. Also included are asks from SCRD partner organizations at area community schools and youth programs, as well as Sechelt Library.

With the meeting agenda taking up 269 pages, analyzing every proposal isn’t something easily covered in a single article. Coast Reporter has reviewed that document, highlighting a few items of community interest:

  • A $28,850 investment from taxation needed to fund no-charge access to the Coast’s bus system for youth older than 12 and young adults registered in post-secondary education. If approved, that funding would allow for the program to be launched in September.
  • An additional $500,000 earmarked to pay for solid waste operations in 2024, including improvements at Sechelt landfill. Also, over $520,000 to relocate the landfill’s contact water pond to make more space and another $165,000 to explore the feasibility of a vertical expansion of that site.
  • Test drilling at four sites near Sechelt to search for groundwater supplies at a cost of $528,000.
  • Langdale well field development, as discussed at a Jan. 11 committee meeting, had a cost estimate of $23 million. At that meeting, a recommendation was made to spend only an existing 2023 budget residual for project planning to take that initiative to the stage where water licences can be applied for; holding off on development until other funding opportunities like grants or partnerships could be explored.
  • $63,000 to investigate a groundwater source near the Sunshine Coast Arena in Sechelt. If that work proceeds and is successful, then elected officials would have information they need to decide on future spending on development of a well and facility infrastructure to take ice-making at that site off of the region’s drinking water supply.
  • New budget software costing $250,000, to be paid for from operational reserves.

Requests for more staff

Also on the agenda are proposed additions of over 20 person-year allocations (a person-year is the equivalent of employing one full-time person).

The regional government is looking to add 2.38 full-time positions to its transit operations, two coordinators and an engineer for capital projects, plus paid positions for assistant chiefs for the Gibsons, Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay fire departments. Requests for more technical staff for functions including solid waste, utilities, environmental, planning, emergency management, and global information systems have been put forward. More staff for administrative type roles in legislative services, human resources, parks booking and utility billing are up for debate. For Gibsons and Area Community Centre there is a request to hire someone to oversee the adjustments being made at that site to accommodate a Pacific Junior Hockey League teams arrival on the Coast in the 2024/25 season. 

In 2023, the SCRD’s person year count was 245. The number of people employed by that local government has increased in each of the last four years.