Last week Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors took their first crack at the 2019 budget, deliberating on funding requests, analyzing next year’s crop of projects and looking ahead at tax implications, among other considerations.
An overall tax increase of 3.21 per cent is anticipated for the 2019 budget, though the amount could change as deliberations progress in the new year.
During Thursday and Friday’s pre-budget meetings, staff identified a series of ongoing projects that “have the potential to significantly impact the budget in 2019,” including curbside organics and recycling collection, water projects, utility rates, protective services, and the Transit Annual Operating Agreement.
Taxes could also climb because of wage increases as part of a Unifor collective agreement. New hires and capital funding for IT hardware could also affect taxes, as could contract increases for recycling depot operations, 911 fire dispatch, snow clearing at Dakota Ridge and increased reserves to cover the cost of the imminent landfill closure in Sechelt.
Another factor affecting taxation is the implementation of the Employer Health Payroll Tax, which could cost $260,000, with $160,00 being funded through taxation. But once MSP Premiums are fully eliminated in 2020, the SCRD will see a net decrease in health care expenses of $80,000 compared to 2017.
In addition to taxation, the board also deliberated on which current and new projects to include in round one of the 2019 budget. Larger projects that made it through to round one included $315,000 in maintenance funding for the SCRD’s nine docks, and several water and wastewater projects.
Directors also voted to include $10,000 to develop plans for a website redesign. The last major website update came in 2011. Directors made an additional request to look at the financial feasibility of videotaping committee and board meetings for public access.
The budget also proposed $15,680 to increase bylaw enforcement around cannabis legalization and short-term rentals.
Not all projects made it through, though.
Directors voted on staff recommendations to drop Phase 3 of the water meter installation project from the 2019 budget, at least for now. A February report is expected that will outline funding options, which could mean directors will re-introduce the project once they decide on how to fund it.
Chief financial officer Tina Perreault told directors at the Nov. 29 pre-budget meeting the project was “not recommended to be included because we, of course, don’t have any funding for that project.”
The project would have seen meters installed in Sechelt and on shíshálh Nation band lands but it continues to be delayed because a grant fell through, followed by a failed Alternative Approval Process to authorize long-term borrowing of approximately $5.9 million.
Before the Oct. 20 election, the former board voted to confirm the SCRD’s commitment to the project and for “program options for implementation [to] be brought to the 2019 budget.” At that time, staff confirmed water meter programs are “essential for any future water infrastructure grants from both the provincial and federal governments.”
Another bundle of projects dropped from the 2019 budget on staff recommendation was planning, maintenance and construction for a series of walking and bike paths in the rural areas. During discussions, Perreault said, “it’s not saying we’re not going to do these projects,” but rather staff want to wait until a new provincial agreement is in place that could allow regional districts to build bike and walking paths on transportation ministry right-of-way areas.
Through a request by Area E director Donna McMahon and Area D director Andreas Tize, staff will be introducing a budget proposal to extend a trail between Lower Road and Ocean Beach Esplanade.
Staff also looked at funding requests from community organizers, and advanced 17 of them to round one, including all libraries and reading centres, museums and archives, school associations, the Pender Harbour health centre, Sunshine Coast Tourism, Pender Harbour and Gibsons chambers of commerce and Coast Cultural Alliance.
More in-depth discussions are expected from directors concerning funding for the Sechelt Public Library because its five-year memorandum of understanding expires at the end of December. The MOU was originally established after it was discovered that the library was underfunded compared to other similarly sized libraries in the province.
Round one of the budget will take place Jan. 21 to 23 of next year and final adoption is expected in late March.