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Layoffs proposed to meet tax decrease

Briefs from this week's District of Squamish council meetings

The district unveiled a revised budget that results in a four per cent decrease in municipal taxes but it comes with cutbacks to municipal services during a finance committee meeting Tuesday (April 17).

The revised budget includes job losses at Municipal Hall, since, said Mayor Greg Gardner, approximately 55 per cent of the municipal budget is labour costs.

Details on specific job losses have yet to be released, but the district won't be hiring anytime soon. Vacant jobs such as the environment co-ordinator position have already been slashed.

"We took advantage of these vacancies in our attempt to reduce the budget," said Kim Anema, District of Squamish chief administrative officer.

Initially district staff recommended a 17 per cent increase in taxes to maintain current service levels.

While staff reduced the initial budget by $1.7 million, the revised budget also includes a list of add-ons. These incremental increases include items such as fulltime temporary labourer for trails, additional transit and funding for the seniors activity centre.

"These are areas in which we will make recommendations to council with respect of incremental increases to the tax bill," Anema said.

If council decides to approve all of the recommended increases to the budget, homeowners could actually see a six per cent increase to property taxes.

"The potential incremental spending will give council a clear idea of what is not being funded if we adopt this amended budget and which additional items we could add to the budget if we choose to," Gardner said.

Council will review the new budget at the Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday (April 14). According to legislation, the budget has to be finalized by May 15.

Battling RCMP costs

Policing is not cheap and a dramatic price increase for RCMP is blamed for this year's budget fiasco.

Council passed a motion at the council meeting Tuesday (April 7) to support staff in their investigation of the RCMP contract increase, which might result in further legal action against the provincial and federal governments.

A revised census count and Squamish's growing population means the community will need to pay $600,000 more for RCMP, which came as a surprise for council. The annual contract for 25 officers is currently $2.1 million.

Up until now, Squamish paid for 70 per cent of RCMP costs, while the provincial and federal government picked up the rest. However, if a town's population rises above 15,000, that town is then responsible for 90 per cent of those costs.

The government uses Census data to determine populations. According to the 2006 Census, the population of Squamish is 14,949, just 51 people below the cut off but the revised census pushed numbers beyond 15,000 - translating into extra costs for RCMP.

Council also passed a motion to track the usage of municipal RCMP officers acting in provincial jurisdictions such as Highway 99. Coun. Patricia Heintzman said Squamish RCMP have been subsidizing the workload of an insufficient provincial force for too long.

"Over the Christmas break we had 67 incidents on the highway, which we responded to. We are in essence funding a provincial function through our own RCMP," Heintzman said.

Homeless shelter goes ahead

The District of Squamish is giving over land for a social housing project to be built behind to the Squamish Public Library.

Council lent support in principle to an application to B.C. Housing for a multi use building, which includes a homeless shelter. The district made the entire 16,000 square foot area of the property available for the project, subject to addressing the parking needs of the library.

"This option allows us the flexibility to deal with parking issues which might be resolved with underground options," Heintzman said.

In a report, staff state that the immediate need for a facility such as this in the community likely outweighs the benefit of leaving the land available for future uses, which may never materialize.

Spearheaded by the Helping Hands Society, the project is intended to provide housing for the homeless. The multi-use building would include a new home for the drop-in centre, a permanent shelter on the second floor and small self-contained suites on the third and fourth floors.

The next step for the project is the completion of an application to BC Housing for the project.

Pre-budget funds sought

Council is spending money before the budget process is complete to ensure that critical projects are completed this year.

The critical projects, which were determined by the Community Development and Planning Standing Committee, include $180,000 for Garibaldi Way pedestrian signal and safety improvements, $500,000 for the annual paving program, $44,670 for annual line marking, and up to $75,000 for design of the Kingswood Crossing.

The list also included $229,000 for the Brackendale Bike Lane Program, which will be taken from the Community Amenity Fund.

"We believe these five projects are a priority for council and if don't start them now there is a possibility we won't meet our objectives," said Mike Gottardi, District of Squamish manager of community development.

Coun. Corinne Lonsdale said she is curious how the list was made when other roads in the district are a disaster. Doug French, engineering manager for the district, said some projects were taken off the list because underground work is required before paving.

"There are other demands in the corridor because of the 2010 Olympics and we may find ourselves in a situation where we are not able to get key projects done because contractors are too busy," Gottardi said.

Council also awarded the re-roofing of the Brennan Park Arena project to Arbutus Roofing for $681,150 because time is critical if the project is to be completed by July 25.

The roof has been leaking since 1997 and reroofing will entail removing the existing roof to the existing steel deck before the installation of a new roof system, which includes a thermal barrier.

"I think the new roof sets a new standard in energy efficiency for roofs. It is green and will save us money in the long term," Heintzman said.

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