Round one budget focuses on water, but not meters

Few funding requests were left on the cutting room floor after round one of the 2019 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) budget deliberations last week.

Chief financial officer Tina Perreault told the board the major items affecting the 2019 budget heading into deliberations would be changes in assessments, collective agreements and salaries, the new employer health tax, operational contract increases, an increase in the BC Transit Annual Operating Agreement and liability funding for the landfill.

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The taxation increase over last year is: Area A, 3.06 per cent; Area B, 7.48 per cent; Area D, 7.73 per cent; Area E, 6.38 per cent; Area F, 5.27 per cent; Sechelt Indian Government District, 0.21 per cent; District of Sechelt, 5.95 per cent; Town of Gibsons, 4.45 per cent. The total increase averaged across the electoral areas is 5.74 per cent.

These numbers are preliminary and will be finalized following the second round of budget talks scheduled for March.  

At the Feb. 4 and 5 deliberations, directors dealt with a host of funding requests, including water infrastructure and staffing.

They voted to move all water and wastewater projects ahead to the second round, but are still waiting on costing details about the reservoir project, which is expected to be brought before directors at an infrastructure committee meeting later this month.

At that meeting directors are also expected to decide on next steps for the third phase of the Universal Water Meter Installation Project, which would see meters installed in Sechelt and on shíshálh band lands with an expected cost of approximately $6 million. An attempt to secure a long-term loan through an alternative approval process failed last year.

Changes to the budget could also come because of the province’s recent decision on Feb. 7 not to approve the Chapman Lake Expansion Project. The item appeared as a carry forward in the 2019 budget, and was to be funded through a long-term loan of $5 million. Directors will also be discussing this project at the infrastructure meeting.

Another major water project item was approved last week, however. About $300,000 from reserves was approved for the SCRD to apply for permits for a proposed well site at Granthams Landing, which is expected to make a significant contribution to the district’s water supply.

Several staffing positions, such as technicians for water and wastewater, were moved forward as well.

Directors have yet to decide, however, on the position of the Sunshine Coast’s emergency planner. That decision will be made in March after Gibsons director Bill Beamish asked that information about a meeting between SCRD staff and volunteer organizations involved with emergency planning be brought forward for consideration before they make their final decision.

Another major item to make it through is ports – about $333,000, paid for through taxation, would be spent to service ports needing upgrades.

A number of organizations dependent on SCRD funding made requests during round one deliberations on Feb. 5. All requests made it through to the second round of deliberations, though the directors will be getting more information on a few items – including the Sechelt Public Library’s request – at round two.

Directors will also be deciding whether to go electric with a forklift. The SCRD’s 1976 Hyster forklift needs replacing and staff had recommended spending $25,000 on a newer model. Area E director Donna McMahon asked whether they had considered any electric models. “We need to start converting our fleet over to electric,” she said, arguing it might “play out favourably” in the long term since operation and maintenance costs are lower. She made a motion, which passed, for staff to bring back a report with costing options at round two.

Communications also became a budget item.

Directors have asked for a report to look into camera setups in anticipation of filming public meetings. They approved consulting fees for website redesign, which could cost up to $100,000 if they go ahead with the actual redesign in 2020. The price for the consultant is $10,000. The website hasn’t been updated since 2011.

The budget itself is also getting an upgrade. The 2019 financial plan has been reformatted into a “Budget Book,” which will include detailed financial planning documents, to make it more approachable and transparent. The first draft can be found on the SCRD’s website.

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