Is this community ready to hit the ground running in 2020, or will we collectively stumble into the new decade weighed down by a catalogue of stubborn issues?
In a recent informal online poll conducted by The Chief, readers were asked whether they were more excited or concerned about the future. Of respondents, 56% indicated they were concerned.
This past April, 22 Squamish seniors signed a letter addressed to The Chief expressing their unease about the inability of the Squamish General Hospital and Hilltop House to meet their needs. And last November, during an open house held at Brennan Park Recreation Centre to address our childcare crisis, it was revealed Squamish has one daycare space for every five children aged one to two and a half. A District driven action plan to address the problem will be launched later this winter but for many parents, that gesture is already a day late and a dollar short.
Last year the annual Entrepreneurial Communities index published by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business pointed to Squamish as the premier location in British Columbia for entrepreneurs. And for the second year in a row BC Business magazine has ranked Squamish the best place to work in the province.
Municipal councillor Eric Andersen figures there is a downside to that high ranking. “The jobs-to-housing ratio for this community is way out of balance,” he wrote on The Chief’s Facebook page. He added that the District’s Economic Development department warns the imbalance is projected to get worse.
Still, with an unprecedented number of new housing units nearing completion and many potentially ending up in the rental pool that disparity could be eased. The looming question is will they be affordable? BC Business revealed the average amount spent by households in Squamish on shelter in 2019 was almost $27,000 and the average household income was hovering near $121,000. But according to the most recent Squamish Community Foundation Vital Signs report, in 2016, 25% of all earners in Squamish had an annual income of under $20,000. The number of breadwinners with an income of less than $30,000 was 30%.
For the better part of two decades, municipal officials have paid lip service to the creation of higher-paying local jobs. Despite their best intentions, that promise has gained limited traction. As a result, more than a quarter of Squamish residents commute to work in other jurisdictions.
In addition to our lopsided income structure, we have a tax base that shape-shifted from a cozy reliance on a formerly robust industrial sector to one disproportional dependent on residential ratepayers. When the Woodfibre pulp mill was shuttered in 2006, over 300 good-paying jobs vanished and millions of dollars in municipal tax revenue evaporated. Whether Woodfibre LNG, or the cutting-edge Carbon Engineering operation, or some other outfit waiting in the wings are ready to take up the slack has yet to be determined.
All things considered, even veteran clairvoyants will find it difficult to predict this town’s trajectory heading into the 2020s.