Municipal budget deliberations are here once again. As is customary, council has issued a plea to local residents for hot tips.
Attendance at public budget discussions is usually sparse, since many taxpayers figure the fix is already in and the whole consultation exercise is largely political theatre. Earlier this year, as part of the theatrics, DOS managers were directed to cobble together an implausible zero per cent tax increase scenario that included cuts to the Youth Centre and public transit. A 6.2 per cent increase is now on the table, but muni staff are recommending a 7.7 per cent tax hike.
Lurking in the shadows is the ever-present disintegrating infrastructure boogie man. We all know the drill. If the district fails to set aside funding for future road and sewer upgrades, the whole place will resemble ancient Rome after it got sacked by the barbarian hordes.
Why not keep those infrastructure considerations on the front burner when extravagant spending decisions are made? To wit: channeling large chunks of tax dollars into the pockets of an ever-expanding posse of consultants, creating new management positions, falling into the $9.41 million Oceanfront debt trap, and failing to find a deep-pocketed partner to defray the escalating Adventure Centre operations tab. We know our policing bill went up significantly, but that could have been offset by savings elsewhere and non-tax-based municipal revenues?
Last year the DOS sold 20 acres of land in the Squamish Business Park to Solterra Acquisition Corp. for $8 million. We’ve been told those funds would go towards paying down the Oceanfront bank loan. According to the president of Matthews Southwest Developments, one of the companies selected to develop the Oceanfront, his company now has the privilege of adding “the best property in town” to its portfolio. Given that glowing assessment, the DOS should demand top dollar for the former Nexen lands. That cash infusion will go a long way toward shoring up the infrastructure remediation slush fund.
The DOS could also take a few budgetary lessons from other jurisdictions. Bedminster Township, Pa., is among a growing number of municipal local governments south of the border contracting with private companies for building inspection, bylaw enforcement and other services. The city of Sandy Springs, Ga., recently outsourced almost all of its municipal functions in a series of public-private partnerships. Four years ago Des Moines, Iowa, outsourced custodial services, grass cutting, athletic turf maintenance, animal control and other administrative duties.
Although outsourcing may not always be the best solution, along with a host of other cost-reduction strategies, it is worth investigating. Ultimately, what we have in Squamish is an administration accustomed to Champagne spending habits on a beer-budget tax foundation. That has to change.