Sechelt council begins review of operating budget

Early proposals include a crime prevention coordinator and a tax for affordable housing

Sechelt council has started a department-by-department review of the district’s 2020 operating budget.

In a press release ahead of the Feb. 12 committee of the whole meeting, director of financial services David Douglas said, “We are taking a different approach to the budget this year. We are walking through each department budget carefully so council and the public have a good understanding of what each service costs so the final 2020 budget can align with the services the community values.”

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Sunshine Coast RCMP Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam is asking for a budget increase to hire a crime prevention coordinator, who would be added as one of the detachment’s municipal employees at a cost of about $72,000 per year.

The coordinator would work on community-based crime prevention programs, such as Block Watch or Citizens on Patrol, and help with regular front-office tasks like criminal record checks.

When asked by Mayor Darnelda Siegers about the position being paid for by Sechelt as a municipal employee, Hallam said the demand for the sort of initiatives a crime prevention coordinator would be involved in, such as working with downtown businesses and dealing with issues related to homelessness, is coming mainly from Sechelt.

“The need is in Sechelt. This is where most of the files are. This is where most of the crime is occurring,” Hallam said, adding that the revenue from fees for services like criminal record checks, estimated at about $75,000, all goes to the district regardless of where on the Sunshine Coast the person paying the fee is from.

The Sechelt Public Library is looking for a 4.4 per cent increase in the funding it gets from the district, mainly to cover wage increases as part of the contract with unionized staff, an IT replacement program and making the deputy chief librarian position full time.

The library’s Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) funders are expected to approve an increase as part of the budget slated for adoption Feb. 27 and talks are also continuing on a new five-year memorandum of understanding on funding between the district, the SCRD and the Sechelt Indian Government District.

The other department to present at the committee of the whole meeting was parks.

Parks manager Jayme Anderson told the committee they’re hoping to get an extra $9,000 for “contracted services” to cover more cleaning and maintenance of public washrooms at Friendship Park, Hackett Park and Davis Bay.

“The increase would allow for daily cleaning at three of our most active washrooms during the busy summer season,” Anderson said. “Increased use, mischief and vandalism are amongst the issues that have put a strain on the parks department with regards to keeping the washrooms clean and safe.”

Paul Kamon, executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT), also presented his request for the district to renew its $12,800 in annual funding.

SCT also gets revenue from the six other local governments on the Sunshine Coast and in the Powell River area, tourism businesses memberships and the two per cent Municipal Regional District Tax, commonly known as the room tax.

Siegers asked why the SCT board is not applying to the province to raise that tax to three per cent and went on to tie the MRDT to affordable housing initiatives, because the province now allows a portion of the MRDT collected on short-term rentals to be directed to housing.

Siegers estimated the $8 million in revenues from short-term rentals recorded in 2019 would translate to about $130,000 in MRDT with $40,000 being made available for housing initiatives on the lower Sunshine Coast – a number that would be bigger if the MRDT was three per cent.

“If you’re not looking at going for the three per cent, these other funds are not available to communities for affordable housing,” Siegers said.

Money for housing initiatives also came up at the end of the meeting, when Coun. Tom Lamb asked council to consider a tax specially to build an affordable housing reserve.

Lamb gave the example of a $10 levy on a house with a $500,000 assessed value. “It would go strictly into affordable housing to benefit that part of our community… We’d know that money’s coming in every year and it would give a bit of clout to our affordable housing commitment.”

Siegers supported the idea, calling it “one of the very basic pieces that are going to start moving the community forward.”

Douglas said the finance department will do some research on how that idea could work as a “variable tax,” with the tax increasing at certain assessment levels, and bring back a report later in the budget cycle.

Douglas also outlined a list of new budget requests and one-time projects that will get more detailed discussion at upcoming meetings, including $15,000 to purchase public art, $25,000 to commission a community satisfaction survey and $72,300 for a new administrative assistant position.

At council’s last budget-related meeting in late January, Douglas said the current projected deficit was around $1.25 million in “taxes required from rate increase” and estimated that it would take a one per cent increase in taxes to bring in $92,000.

 

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