Skip to content

District of Squamish proposes $1.3-million increase in tax revenue

At budget meeting, residents concerned about leasing space for muni operations, seniors’ issues, pickleball.
Squamish muni hall Nov. 2021
Locals gathered for the budget meeting at Municipal Hall on Nov. 23.

During its 2022 budget presentation to the public, municipal staff highlighted a $1.3-million increase in needed tax revenue, while outlining big-ticket spends.

In turn, the audience responded with concerns about leasing Municipal Hall, seniors’ issues and pickleball courts, among other things.

The presentation on Nov. 23 was held in council chambers, with about a dozen members of the public physically attending. There was also an audience watching online.

Financial analyst Rolland Russell said that, factoring in growth, this year’s overall tax increase will amount to 4.1%.

Last year, the municipality toned down its intended tax increases to residents due to COVID-19, asking for a 2.1% overall increase instead of the 4.9% it had originally planned.

This year’s proposed 4.1% increase represents a closer return to business as usual, though Russell said that provincial COVID funding had been used to help keep this number lower than it could’ve been.

In 2021, the District received the B.C. COVID Safe Restart Grant from the provincial government and used it to offset other costs that would have come from local taxes, he said.

“So, although you didn’t see specifically a tax reduction, what occurred is we were able to use a provincial grant to offset costs that would’ve otherwise resulted in a tax increase.”

Chief financial officer Heather Boxrud added that additional tax revenue from the town’s growth rate helped bring taxes down in the previous year.

Boxrud also said new efficiencies were happening this time around.

For example, she said, the financial plan was being completed earlier this year so the District could have a competitive advantage when trying to secure contracts or tenders.

Leaving things to a later date would mean the municipality would probably have to compete with more municipalities or entities for those deals.

Other highlights of the budget included major spends, such as the revitalization of the Brennan Park Recreation Centre.

This item is expected to cost $16 million, though the municipality is hoping a federal grant will pay for three-quarters of the bill.

However, if Ottawa does not provide the money, Russell said the municipality would prioritize specific parts of Brennan park for upgrades and take on the project one bite at a time to keep costs lower.

Other big spends are the public works facility at $11.25 million; wastewater treatment plant upgrades at $10.2 million; and the new Tantalus fire hall at $6 million.

Some audience members were concerned about the District’s plan to lease a new space for its Municipal Hall operations.

In a report staff made to council in September, bureaucrats recommended leasing a new space as opposed to building a new municipal hall. Though the lease is projected at close to $1 million a year, it was the cheapest option for the taxpayer, it was argued.

However, during the Nov. 23 meeting, some audience members urged the District to reconsider, saying it was short-sighted.

The municipality could partner with other entities, like the school district, and share costs for a new building, which could potentially provide the community with an asset, it was argued.

Mayor Karen Elliott said that the District has already looked at all options but will be on the lookout for creative solutions.

Herbert Vesely of the Seniors Centre Society also made an appearance, complaining that the District was shortchanging seniors.

“We are told often that the seniors are costing too much to the local taxpayer,” said Vesely.

“We are offended by that statement, because you have decided to give away one large room of the 55 Activity Centre to the Squamish Arts Council for $1 a year for the next five years. Now, does that make financial sense? Doesn’t to us.”

He said when the centre was shut as a result of the pandemic, seniors had to independently organize their own art and tai chi classes.

When they used municipal facilities like Brennan Park, they had to pay rent as high as $500, Vesely said.

District staff did not respond directly to that statement.

Vesely also complained that tax increases were too high.

“My taxes for the last 14 years have increased at a greater rate than the cost of living,” he said. “I’m a senior. I receive a government pension, and my government pension hasn’t increased anything like the tax increase that I’m facing from the municipality.”

A local identifying herself as a member of the ParkHouse residence asked that the District spend money to dismantle the pickleball courts that were recently installed in the Eaglewind tennis courts.

She said the noise has been affecting quality of life and asked that the courts be relocated elsewhere.

“If you want to remove the courts we’re probably going to need to spend at least as much as we did last year,” said District general manager Gary Buxton.

CAO Linda Glenday said public comments would be considered by council during their meeting on Nov. 30.