Council showed weariness during the 10th week of budget deliberations Tuesday (April 11). Council members have been scrutinizing every one of the dozens of items requested by the municipal departments that appear on the draft budget. The system began falling apart when some began questioning the necessity of what was called the "micro-managing" style.
"I'm not an expert on what the fire department needs," said Coun. Jeff McKenzie. "Give me the big items, the percentage of increase, then I'll support or oppose. Not line by line."
Coun. Corinne Lonsdale said she requested the line-by-line deliberations because council was "given a budget so out of whack we had to look at it." Deputy administrator Brent Leigh acknowledged that the items could have been debated more at the staff level before bringing it to council. Council decided to continue deliberating the larger items listed in the budget.
The budget must be finalized by May 15.
Council debates need for government lobbyist
The $20,000 cost of a government lobbyist caused a stir among council members. Mayor Ian Sutherland said that the lobbyist has already accomplished headway for important issues such as the expansion of Capilano College and a new courthouse. Lonsdale said it's unusual for municipalities to hire lobbyists. Sutherland said the municipality had a lot of work to do to fix the bad reputation it had in Victoria four years ago.
"Council as a whole did things to irritate Victoria," he said.
Lonsdale said she resented Sutherland's assertion.
"It's wrong to discredit me in Victoria," she said. "I had good relations in Victoria."
Coun. Patricia Heintzman attempted to get things back on track.
"This is irrelevant to the issues of today," she said.
Council voted down the hiring of a lobbyist with Heintzman, Sutherland and McKenzie in favour and Coun. Raj Kahlon, Coun. Mike Jenson and Lonsdale opposed. But later on, Sutherland revisited the issue and Leigh explained in further detail the benefits of having such a municipal representative. Kahlon changed his vote and the item was included in the budget.
Staffing costs scrutinized
Jenson and Lonsdale questioned the $107,800 increase in staffing costs, which both said "are getting away from us." Salaries went from $930,000 in 2003 to $1.5 million in 2006. The funding primarily reflects the salaries of two new positions: a manager of human resources and a property agent. Council has yet to accept the new positions. Administrative Services director Trudy Coates said the hire will save the district from spending even more money on consultants. Lonsdale questioned the need for the permanent position of a property agent. Sutherland supported the idea.
"Do we facilitate growth or step back and say 'It'll happen when it happens'?" he said.
Council voted unanimously to accept the position.
Council rejects Garibaldi Highlands roads redesign
Council members' spirits were buoyed when a $186,000 item was erased from the budget. A proposed redesign of Skyline Drive from Garibaldi Way to the Boulevard was rejected because it was felt that making Skyline safer was more of a priority. Community development officer Mick Gottardi said a geotechnical analysis of the area has already been done, so staff can prepare a report based on the results and bring it back to council with recommendations on making the street safer.
Sutherland suggests freezing mill rate
Sutherland noted that Squamish's local property tax mill rate is lower on average than the rest of B.C. He asked council to consider freezing the mill rate, not lowering it this year, adding that the decision need not be made immediately. He said that if the mill rate stays the same for 2006, it will mean a $675,000 boost to the economy, approximately 80 per cent of the current budget shortfall of just under $900,000. Lonsdale pointed out that the tax rate does not include Squamish Lillooet Regional District taxes or utilities. She requested that Hughes compile the total taxes on Squamish residents so she could consider Sutherland's option.