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Council aims for 1% tax hike

The difference between a deficit and a balanced budget for the District of Squamish is currently about $672,900.

The difference between a deficit and a balanced budget for the District of Squamish is currently about $672,900.

Councillors cut just shy of $500,000 worth of spending from the 2004 budget at its meeting Tuesday (March 16) as it aims for a budget with an average property tax increase of one per cent.

Council decided at the meeting to support Mayor Ian Sutherland's idea of dealing with arts and recreation-oriented capital expenditures together as a group instead of treating each one as individual and separate items.

Sutherland outlined his idea and asked residents to give him feedback in a column in last week's Chief.

Sutherland reported that a number of residents responded and many of the comments were positive.

Sutherland proposes to put one person in charge of seeking funding for a seniors' centre, an arts centre, a second ice sheet, change room renovations at Brennan Park, a track and field facility, more sports fields and other expensive projects to get the projects done all at once. The vision also includes the various local interest groups attached to each separate project raising money to help fund the project they are pushing for.

Coun. Sonja Lebans expressed concerns with the idea at first.

"I don't want to see us put money into a big pot and then it confused," said Lebans, who is a strong supporter of an arts centre for Squamish.

Sutherland pointed out that the skills needed to get major facilities off the ground are the same whether the project is a sports facility or a culture centre.

He defended the idea and convinced the members of council in attendance to give initial support to exploring the concept. The decision reduced budget amounts for various studies from more than $300,000 down to just $100,000.

After council moved on the from the facility issue, Coun. Raj Kahlon said he isn't happy with the budget.

"Until the budget is done, I'm not going to be a happy camper," Kahlon said. "We're adding money to the staff and then we're hiring consultants."

Earlier in the meeting Kahlon expressed concerns about the way the budget is shaping up.

"The balance is not there," Kahlon said. "We're preparing for a lot of work but not actually doing much work."

Kahlon then spoke out against constructing a new building that Sutherland and Coun. Dave Fenn support for the downtown.

The building, with a budget price tag of $220,000, is proposed as a community amenity building that can be used as the home of a farmers' market. Sutherland says the building can also be used for a number of other uses when the market is not in operation.

"I don't think we should go into that business," said Kahlon of the farmers' market."To me this is a luxury and not a necessity right now."

"The goal is to build a build the building and then it becomes self sustaining," Sutherland said in response.

Coun. Corinne Lonsdale is worried that $220,000 won't be enough to complete the building.

"We'd have to purchase the land because we don't own any land down there or we'd have to lease land," Lonsdale said. "Interfor may no longer be around in that location and their shop could serve as the building."

The members of council decided to leave the downtown amenity building for the next meeting because Coun. Dave Fenn was not at the meeting to speak about the proposed building.

Coun. Jeff Dawson was also absent from the budget meeting.

Kahlon also attempted to remove $60,000 by arguing against the proposed youth gym in the area of the new home of the RCMP. When Kahlon floated the idea of putting the project off until 2005, Sutherland argued that gymnasiums across the community are booked solid between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays between Labour Day and Victoria Day.

"Kids are not going to use a facility close to the RCMP," Kahlon said.

"We're gearing this to kids between the ages of nine and 14," Sutherland said. "They will use it if there is structured activities. Eighty thousand dollars for this is peanuts compared to the cost the community pays without it."

"The kids say there's nowhere to go," Coun. Ray Peters told council. "We're just lacking public facilities for the youth and adults to go to."

Lonsdale expressed support for the project, noting that the location is central, many community groups could use it and she suggesting that the space could also be leased to a daycare operator.

"I think it is a good investment in our future," Lonsdale said. "I think it will be a good facility."

The project remains in the budget, after a vote determined that Kahlon was the only one who doesn't support the gym.

Kahlon was also outvoted when he suggested $39,000 can be saved by passing on a proposal to fund another member of the RCMP.

The budget discussions to date have centred around prioritizing projects and purchases. Little attention discussion has taken place on taxation rates and what kind of increases property owners can expect.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon (March 23) at Municipal Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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