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Council starts 2004 budget in the black

It's budget time for the District of Squamish - and for once, council is starting with some potential good news. The first budget meeting for council was held on Tuesday (Feb. 24). The meeting started at 11 a.m. and went on for more than three hours.

It's budget time for the District of Squamish - and for once, council is starting with some potential good news.

The first budget meeting for council was held on Tuesday (Feb. 24). The meeting started at 11 a.m. and went on for more than three hours.

Patrick Robins, the Director of Financial Services opened the first budget meeting by giving council an overview of the budget and the process ahead.

The finance director indicated that property taxes in the core budget are expected to amount to just over $12 million this year compared to $11,603,690 last year.

"There is an increase of approximately $450,000 due to new properties, new inventory, coming online," Robins said. Those extra revenues will be generated from increased land tax payments from homes and buildings that were constructed within the last year. That figure does not include possible increases in property taxes because of increases in property value in the past year.

Robins also said the district is ahead because there is a slight surplus of $118,000 in the core budget.

Another plus for the district is the fact that a substantial accumulated surplus exists from year-over-year budget surpluses. That money is used to reduce the district's short-term borrowing needs. Robins said that surplus can be used instead of borrowing money which is paid back using property taxes due July 2 each year. By not borrowing money, the district pays less in finance charges.

Offsetting the positives going into the budget process are new dollars needed to pay wage increases and new positions.

According to the presentation from Robins, the base 2004 budget has a total wage impact of $470,764 more than last year, including five new positions created in the past year. Among the additions are a full-time EDO at $91,000 per year plus $24,079 for an assistant.

That figure does not include recent calls from council's select committees to hire even more staff.District staff created budget requests for their departments late last year and in the first few weeks of 2004. Those requests were brought to Robins and Administrator Kim Anema.

Robins and Anema poured through the proposed budgets for each municipal department and eliminated requests that did not fit with the district's Squamish Vision 2020, the corporate mission statement and the corporate values.

The final product from the staff was presented for council's consideration. Over the next few weeks council has to go through what has been presented and determine what will be funded and what won't because the amount of money being requested is higher than the approximately $18 or $19 million the district expects to collect in revenues.

Members of council looked at the proposed core budget, waded through non-core budget requests and discussed capital funding projects.

After looking at the core budget, all the members of council who attended the meeting said they did not have significant issues with the core budget. Coun. Raj Kahlon was the only council member not present at the meeting.

One area of concern for Mayor Ian Sutherland is the amount of time Squamish's bylaw officer is out enforcing local bylaws. Sutherland said he wanted to look at increasing the level of bylaw enforcement.

Approximately $1.374 million will be spent from general revenue this year on capital projects.One capital request that council rejected was $10,000 to replace aging furniture at the library. Council also decided to adjust a $165,000 plan to build a gym near the RCMP detachment. Instead of spending the full amount this year, council decided to spread the costs out over two budget years and expend only $80,000 this year.

One of the other capital items that council spent some time talking about is the proposed Sea to Sky Adventure Centre. Council expects to spend about $450,000 on the project this budget year despite the fact that approval of $1.1 million in federal government funding for the centre is yet to be officially announced. MP John Reynolds confirmed late last year that the Liberals approved the funding for the centre. Reynolds said in December that he was surprised the announcement was still pending.

Over the next several weeks, a series of special meetings will take place as council continues looking at the numbers and decides how this year's budget will be allocated. The next budget meeting is set for Tuesday (Mar. 1). The start time for the meeting is yet to be determined.

Provincial legislation demands that towns across the province complete the budget process by the middle of May. Legislation also dictates that the budget be balanced.

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