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Critical infrastructure projects prompt 5.9% net increase in Squamish taxes

District council grants three readings to 2023 budget, which has the highest increase in recent years.
District staff have said the biggest line item, diking upgrades for Xwu´nekw Park, is necessary to keep the downtown core from flooding

Collectively, the community of Squamish can expect to pay an additional $3.05 million in property tax revenue as a result of the new 2023 budget, which passed three readings on Tuesday.

The increase represents an 8.9% jump. However, staff estimate that this amount will be partially offset by upcoming growth and savings from the prior year.

This would whittle down the overall increase to a net uptick of about 5.9%.

It’s a pricier net increase compared with recent years. The budget for 2022 had a net increase of 4.1%. For 2021, that number was 2.5%. Both these numbers were calculations by staff at the time that also factored in growth and other things that would partially offset the full cost of overall tax increases.

This year’s 5.9% figure does not represent the amount individual taxpayers will pay, as those rates will be set in April, after the latest BC Assessment roll has been published. At that point, council will decide how much each sector — residential, commercial, industrial, among others — of the community will shoulder the burden.

This budget’s heftier increase in relation to other years was not lost on elected officials, who, on Dec. 13, voted unanimously in favour of giving three readings to the 2023 financial plan. It is expected to be officially adopted in the near future.

Council members react

“For anybody that’s on a fixed income and owns property in Squamish, 5.9% can be an intimidating number,” said Coun. John French. “But I want people to understand that what’s most important for me coming out of this budget is what we’re going to be doing to grow our … future.”

He noted that the budget provides much-needed resources for firefighters and police.

One area where the municipality is spending money on policing resources is for new equipment and personnel that may be needed as a result of the Woodfibre LNG and Fortis BC projects.

There has been $470,000 earmarked for the anticipated increase in the need for RCMP services in relation to the two projects.

Coun. Jenna Stoner said the context of the broader economy was important to consider.

“We are not immune to the inflationary pressures that are happening — growth-related non-discretionary costs,” Stoner said.

She also noted the costs of what she called critical core facilities for the community, such as the new fire hall and public works building.

Coun. Andrew Hamilton wound up supporting the budget, but he had questions about the uptick in taxes.

“Is there a systematic or operational reason why our property taxes have increased compared to the B.C. average?” he said.

Staff said it was hard to make comparisons between communities.

“Not all communities are created equal,” said Heather Boxrud, chief financial officer of the municipality. “Each community has different needs. So it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Comparing neighbouring towns as an example, Coun. Chris Pettingill said a place like Pemberton has a lot of shared services with Area C, while a place like Whistler has different funding sources since it is a resort.

All things considered, Mayor Armand Hurford said, this budget represented what he considered a balanced approach.

“[We’ve been] trying to find those efficiencies in our processes and in our projects, and really leaning on our long-term planning to understand what is a responsible course of action. And I think this reflects that,” Hurford said.

The District has made preliminary predictions on the average that residents will end up paying.

In a news release, the municipality said the increased demand for revenue would likely translate to a $139 increase to the average 2022 residential assessment of $1.02 million.

In the commercial world, this would translate to a roughly $454 increase to the average 2022 business assessment of $1.3 million.

This is still subject to change.

At the municipality’s open house for the budget, staff told The Squamish Chief a grand total of about $138 million will be spent for 2023.

When looking at the District’s online budget display, the biggest spends for this year are diking, a new public works facility, wastewater plant upgrades and the Tantalus firehall replacement.

Each item is projected to respectively cost $11.6 million, $10 million, $8.5 million and $8 million in 2023.

Staff have said the biggest line item, diking upgrades for Xwu´nekw Park, is necessary to keep the downtown core from flooding. That risk will only increase as sea levels rise. This will be funded through development cost charges and borrowing, according to the District’s online budget tool. Development cost charges are payments made by developers to fund additional infrastructure that will be needed as a result of their projects.

The next highlight is money being spent for the new public works facility. This spend was a long time in the making, since earlier this year residents voted to block the loan needed to fund this project. However, council enacted a second alternative approval process months afterwards in hopes that locals would decide to allow the project to occur. They did. As a result, in 2023, $10 million will be allocated to this project. There is an additional $11 million earmarked for the project in 2024.

Over the entire construction life of the project, it will cost $21 million. It’s expected to be funded by a mix of borrowing and community amenity contributions. Community amenity contributions, or CACs, are payments developers make during rezoning applications to fund whatever the community defines as amenities, such as recreational facilities, public art, affordable housing and more.

The $8.5-million wastewater treatment plant upgrade is expected to be paid for via development cost charges and grants.

About $8 million will go to paying for the new Tantalus fire hall in 2023. The next year, an additional $5.3 million will be given to the project. The total cost of the new fire hall is expected to be $13.3 million, which will be funded through borrowing and community amenity contributions.

Aside from critical infrastructure, the 2023 budget will also include crowd-pleasing amenities, such as a playground and splash park at Brennan Park, a fenced dog park at Brennan Park, a park at No Name Road, new pickleball courts, and new tennis courts at Brennan Park.

These will all be completely funded by about $8.2 million in community amenity contribution funds.

The municipality has also set aside $6 million for the first set of upgrades for Brennan Park. This will come out of reserve funds and development cost charges.

The federal government will also provide assistance by kicking in $11.7 million in grant money to help with the project.


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