For years, consultants and municipal officials have been warning Squamish residents and their elected leaders that much of our local water and sewer infrastructure was nearing the end of its lifespan and that we needed to set aside money now to help pay for its replacement.
In 2011, the council of the day approved a plan to hike utility rates by some 60 per cent over five years. This year, district staff would clearly like to see council boost taxes and sock more money into capital reserves to help reduce the District of Squamish’s debt load — the oft-repeated mantra being that not doing so would be “irresponsible.” As council mulls a potentially hefty election-year tax hike, though, how effective those pleas will be remains to be seen.
Squamish, though, isn’t just facing a physical infrastructure deficit. We have a social infrastructure deficit as well — one that could well see the most vulnerable among us fall through the cracks unless it’s addressed.
RCMP statistics showing a 70 per cent rise in the incidence of domestic assault in 2013 as compared to 2012 is a case in point. Sure, the sample size is small — just 71 incidents during the past 12 months. But those sorts of stats have to make us wonder whether our growing community has what it needs to help those affected by domestic violence. Last fall, the Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society pleaded for new funding for “safe house” beds in the Sea to Sky Corridor after turning away a mother and baby in need. The recent statistics show that the need isn’t going away and will, most likely, only increase.
The situation with the Squamish Youth Resource Centre is a different problem, but no less dire. The building that houses the centre is ideally located — but needs more than $300,000 in repairs if it’s to continue in its current capacity for long. Council’s pledge to protect funding for youth centre programming in 2014 is welcome. However, for those programs to be effective in the long term, they need a permanent home.
There’s little question council faces some tough budgetary decisions in the next few weeks. If they’re courageous, though, lawmakers will remember that in addition to our town’s physical infrastructure needs, its social infrastructure requires ongoing attention as well.
— David Burke