Faced with the task of deciding on $2 million in staff wishes outside the core budget, Squamish council tentatively approved $532,000 in spending over and above core budget expenditures during a committee of the whole meeting Tuesday (March 21). That amount adds up to a four per cent tax increase, according to district director of finance, Ralph Hughes.
"These are all very important items," said Hughes. "It just goes to show how difficult this really is."
By the end of April, district council must submit to the provincial government a balanced budget. Currently, the core budget carries a $3.5 million deficit, and an additional $2.4 million is proposed in spending for a total deficit of $5.2 million. However, the budget includes just under $3 million in capital spending that council can choose to amortize over the next few years. So the district's operational deficit is somewhere between $585,000 and $2.6 million before it contemplates capital costs, spending cuts or property tax increases.
Council contemplated requests from three departments Tuesday: Community Development, Planning and Parks and Recreation. In attendance were Mayor Ian Sutherland and councilors Mike Jensen, Jeff McKenzie, Patricia Heintzman and Raj Kahlon.
"There are no final choices today," said Sutherland. "Just indications of support or non-support."
Community Development director Mick Gottardi presented his case for the requests saying that certain expenditures could be offset through cost recuperation on new development projects. A $45,000 salary expenditure for assistance on building inspections was unanimously approved and a $50,000 salary expenditure for engineering technology assistance was approved with Jensen and Kahlon opposed.
Another issue Gottardi raised was a "crucial" $40,000 downtown route location study that will see the Ministry of Transportation match dollars. After some discussion, the item was unanimously supported. A $50,000 dikes risk assessment was approved with McKenzie opposed. And a $60,000 Mamquam and Squamish river study raised eyebrows among council members, with both Kahlon and Heintzman questioning why the Cheakamus was not also included. The study to establish changes to the rivers since the 2003 flood is "ground zero work to address flood protection" said Gottardi. The rivers included in the study have more dikes and more population along its borders than the Cheakamus, he said. The item was approved with Kahlon opposed.A $40,000 road development plan 20-year update was differed for one year and a $20,000 Community Development "specialized needs" item was unanimously rejected.
Planning director Cameron Chalmers then approached council with the department's needs. A $15,000 cost for high quality document production was approved with Heintzman and Sutherland opposed, while a $10,000 fee to hire a student to make documents web ready and more publicly accessible was unanimously approved. An $80,000 zoning bylaw update proposal was rejected with Heintzman and McKenzie in support, and a $90,000 affordable housing implementation strategy was unanimously approved. An $80,000 Smart Growth strategy implementation was approved, while Kahlon opposed.
Bob Kusch, director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism was the last to present his department's case. Council approved an $8,000 vehicle rental charge to transport kids during summer programs.
Although not part of this budget meeting's discussions, Kusch brought forward a capital expense item he suggested receive early approval. $63,000 to fix the baseball diamond's foul line fencing and shelter - typically used for event beer gardens - was requested due to safety concerns. Council approved $31,000 in renovations.