The annual budget process is underway at local governments, led by the Sunshine Coast Regional District, which must finalize its budget by March 31.
The SCRD finished round one of its budget review on Jan. 25. Preliminary forecasts are for a modest overall tax increase of 1.4 per cent, with rates varying by electoral area.
“The only thing that I’m concerned about in this budget is transit, that’s all,” said SCRD Chairman Garry Nohr. A planned expansion of transit services to provide hourly bus service on Route 1 would add significant costs to the budget if approved, but the final decision on transit spending has been deferred to round two of the budget on March 7-8.
Final decisions about Sunshine Coast Tourism funding have also been deferred, while the board grapples with the question of whether tourism should be funded through the newly formed Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO).
“We’re putting out all this money now for economic development, does tourism fit in that?” asked Nohr.
Meanwhile, the District of Sechelt is bracing for significant tax increases. In his November 2016 Mayor’s Message, Mayor Bruce Milne described this year’s budget process as “a time of reckoning” and stated that “years of austerity and political fear of tax increases have left Sechelt financially anorexic.”
Municipalities aren’t required to finalize their budgets until May 15 but the District of Sechelt began its budget process early. A draft 2017 budget and five-year financial plan have already been posted on the municipality’s website.
The preliminary budget calls for total tax increases of 9.68 per cent, or $255 for an average house. This includes an almost six-per-cent hike in property taxes, a 28-per-cent sewer levy increase and a 5.5-per-cent increase in solid waste fees.
Meanwhile, at the Town of Gibsons, no forecasts for 2017 have been published yet. Budget meetings dates are expected to be set at the next regular council meeting on Feb. 7.
Gibsons Chief Financial Officer, Ian Poole, said that final results for 2016 are “looking pretty good”, thanks to an active building market which has seen increased revenues from building permits, planning fees and business licenses.
Gibsons earns 30 per cent of its tax revenues from commercial properties and 65 per cent from residential taxes. Sechelt, which has more than double the population spread over an area nine times larger than Gibsons, earns 85 per cent of its tax revenues from residential property taxes, and only about 13 per cent from commercial properties.