Council approves budget, which will see a 6.35 per cent tax revenue increase | Squamish Chief

Council approves budget, which will see a 6.35 per cent tax revenue increase

Highlights include a firehall replacement, dike upgrades, roadwork and a climate change staffer

The final version of the budget pegs tax revenue increase requirements at up to 6.35 per cent, resulting from a $1.75-million up-tick in spending compared with last year.

On April 2, council unanimously passed all three readings of the final version of this year’s budget, making its adoption a near-certainty.

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Administrators say the increases are the result of a growing population and a need for more services.

“I’m going to suggest a lot of it is driven by a growing community, needs of a growing community and council’s strategic plans,” financial analyst Rolland Russell told The Chief.

“The better your services are, the more services you provide — over time that’s going to cost you more money.”

This is not the first proposed tax increase from the District.

In 2018, a six per cent increase was projected at draft talks.

During discussions in 2017, the District forecast an increase between 5 and 7.7 per cent in its required revenue.

For 2019, extra revenue from estimated growth could offset the 6.35 per cent figure by 2.36 per cent, which may bring down the tax revenue requirement to as low as 3.99 per cent.

“We’re showing fairly significant impact of revenue from new growth, and I think that that’s important,” Russell said.

It should be noted that these figures don’t yet represent the exact rates by which property taxes will increase, as the bill will be split differently depending on the property types.

That has yet to be determined by the District.

This year, the District is projecting $68.6 million in total revenue, with about $29.4 million coming from general taxation.

Its total expenses are estimated to cost about $49.7 million.

There are a number of highlights in this year’s budget.

One highlight is a $600,000 cash infusion towards replacing the aging Tantalus Fire Hall. Next year, council aims to spend an additional $5 million on that cause.

The firehall was one of several items in the Real Estate and Facilities Strategy identified as being in need of replacement.

It was described as “unsuitable” in its functionality. The strategy forecast the need for the District to spend between $40 to $100 million to replace aging buildings and infrastructure throughout town in the coming years.

Tantalus won’t be the only firehall getting some cash. The Valleycliffe firehall will receive $679,400 for a seismically-upgraded hose tower.

Risk of flooding continues to be an ongoing point of concern, and, as a result, $2 million is being budgeted towards dike upgrades.

The District is anticipating spending an additional $4 million every year from 2020 to 2023, with an overall price tag, including this year, of $18 million.

The town is upgrading its dikes after considering provincial recommendations, which ask municipalities to plan for a one-metre sea level rise by 2100.

A big makeover is on the way for one road.

The segment of Pioneer Way from Queens Way to Discovery Way will be upgraded to an arterial road with sidewalks, curbs and bike lanes. Improvements will also be made to the intersection of Pioneer Way and Government Road.

The price tag for this project is about $1.4 million for this year, with $2 million on the way next year and an additional $1.6 million in 2021.

Another $1.1 million this year will go to general annual road reconstruction.

Anyone following the real estate scene will notice some cash is being set aside to create infrastructure for the Oceanfront development.

About $1.4 million is going to the continued construction of an arterial road in the area, while $700,000 is going to storm sewers in that zone.

The Discovery Trail will also be looking a little sharper after receiving $470,000 in improvements, which include paving and lights.

Brennan Park will be receiving tens of thousands of dollars in various repairs, as well as an additional $50,000 to develop a master plan for the facility.

This council has also made it a priority to include environmentally friendly initiatives in its strategic plan, and its pocketbook shows.

A climate change staff position costing $49,000 this year is in the budget, which is an item Mayor Karen Elliott previously spoke strongly in favour of. This person would start in June and be in charge of community energy and emissions planning. The staffer would find ways to reduce the District’s carbon footprint.

This person’s full annualized salary would kick in next year and would amount to $84,000.

Grant funding might be available to cover part of this bill.

In previous budget talks, Coun. Eric Andersen questioned the need for an employee doing this job, saying it could be done by members of the community. However, he later supported the idea of hiring a staffer.

About $22,800 is being spent on converting a part-time environmental technician to a full-timer. This person monitors trees and soils permits while responding to the public’s environmental complaints.

Furthermore, $28,300 is being spent on carbon footprint reduction in the form of buying carbon offsets, bike-to-work week expenses and support for the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society.

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