Squamish property owners are facing a tax hike of more than 12 per cent in 2013 if council submits the current draft of its annual budget unaltered to the provincial government by the deadline of May 15.
In its first full 2013 budget workshop on Tuesday (Feb. 26), local lawmakers were told that if they want to whittle down the projected 12.1 per cent tax increase, they’ll have to make some tough decisions about what stays and what gets slashed from the current draft budget.
The projected tax hike would equate to an increase about $175 for the average Squamish household, Joanne Greenlees, DOS manager of finance, wrote in a report to council kicking off the budget process. Utility rates are also expected to rise by about $125 per household under the current plan for a total average hike of $300 per household.
About three-quarters of the projected increase — 9.5 per cent — is a result of projected hikes in the cost of “core operations.” Those include “unavoidable” cost increases for labour and RCMP service (the latter a carryover from the 2012 signing of the new policing contract) totaling 5.1 per cent, as well as 1.1 per cent for inflationary cost hike needed to sustain service levels and 3.3 per cent for “best practice” contributions to municipal reserve funds.
The district is looking at completing $16.7 million in capital projects for 2013, compared to the $17.4 million it had in the 2012 budget. Staff is proposing to borrow $9.3 million to pay for those projects, and faces the prospect of $15.5 million per year in borrowing over the next five years, mostly to pay for needed infrastructure upgrades, Greenlees said.
“We’re looking at some serious need for renewal of our infrastructure,” she said. “If we want to sustain this level, we’re going to have to look at some significant increases in taxation.”
Mayor Rob Kirkham said council has its work cut out for it.
“Later in our meetings we’ll be discussing how we go forward with this,” he said. “Do we maintain the level of service but with a much higher taxation rate? Or do we reduce services or find other means of spending less?
“We certainly have something to mull over as we enter these budget discussions.”
The next council budget workshop is planned on Monday (March 4) from 2 to 9 p.m. in council chambers. For more information about the budget process, or an online comment form, visit www.squamish.ca and follow the links to “2013 budget.”
Tourism marketing shines
Tourism Squamish (TS) was one of the “community partners” that made a pitch for funding to council on Tuesday — the others being the Squamish Sustainability Corp., the Squamish Public Library, the Squamish Youth Resource Centre and the Smoke Bluff Park Select Committee.
TS officials, who are seeking $50,000 — the same as last year — say they’ve been using both social and traditional media extensively in their efforts to increase Squamish’s profile in target tourist markets, especially Washington, Oregon, Alberta and Ontario. They have produced a series of 13 videos on YouTube that boost the region’s many assets as a tourist destination. The two most recent promoted backcountry and cross-country skiing, for example.
“Those videos have helped contribute to leisure-based hotel business in the winter,” said Jared Sissons, TS board member and general manager of Executive Suites Hotel and Resort.
As well, TS officials have seen an increase in “media hosting,” which involves persuading print and electronic media to visit and provide positive coverage of Sqamish and what’s happening here. Recently Entertainment Tonight Canada aired a segment in which the host said the stars of the “Twilight” movie series “fell in love with Squamish” while shooting the films here, while Chatelaine magazine wrote a glowing story about the town’s tourism offerings.
Lesley Weeks, TS said the Chatelaine piece alone had an advertising-equivalent dollar value of $47,000. “It cost us about $1,800 to host, so we had a great return on that,” Weeks said.
Enhancement grants weighed
Council on Tuesday also began weighing which of the 32 non-profit and community groups applying for grants and permissive tax exemptions from the district should get some of the $165,228 it has allotted for community enhancement grants.
Clearly, not everyone is going to come away completely happy; the total being sought is $305,108.
The Squamish Off Road Cycling Association (SORCA) is seeking the largest amount — $60,000 — to pay for trail maintenance and enhancement. Next on the list are the Squamish Volunteer Society (Hot Spot Community Resource Centre) ($26,419), Howe Sound Women’s Centre and Squamish Food Bank (both $20,000), Squamish Helping Hands Society ($19,000) and Squamish Arts Council ($18,249).