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Regions unhappy with restart funding

Regions unhappy with restart funding

Several rural SCRD directors believe regional districts were shortchanged in the distribution of federal/provincial COVID-19 restart funding. The province doled out those funds to local governments in late 2020. On the Coast, Sechelt received about $3.2 million and Gibsons about $1.5 million. The SCRD received roughly $850,000. That discrepancy, paired with the ongoing costly impacts of the pandemic on recreation facilities and programs, which are an SCRD responsibility, is frustrating its board.
Discussion of this issue led to colourful exchanges at the SCRD planning and community development committee meeting on Jan. 21. Sechelt Area Director Darnelda Siegers pointed out that the SCRD was also going to be receiving $800,000 in restart funding through grants given for BC Transit services. Board Chair Lori Pratt noted that those funds were from a separate federal program. She went on to say that the local government restart funding levels were “a hot button issue with rural directors across the province.” As for her personal view on restart funding equity, Pratt said, “I am still at the wailing and indignation stage.”
The committee endorsed that the board consider adjustments to the 2021 recreation services budget to see reduced user fee revenue offset by taxation. Consideration of lower contributions to the recreation facilities capital pot, as a response to anticipated lower facility revenues given COVID-19 related operating restrictions, was also recommended.
In discussions about how to maintain the Coast’s recreation services and facilities, Pratt said that she “preferred to use COVID restart dollars before looking to taxpayer funding at this time.”
Area E Director Donna McMahon said she recognized that tax increases are an option to offset high recreation costs. She expressed concerns with collecting those revenues through a parcel tax, as was proposed by staff. In her view, a flat per property fee has a higher impact on residents with fewer economic resources. This is because properties valued in the millions of dollars would be assessed the same tax amount as ones with lower assessed values. She was also troubled by the fact that a parcel tax would be charged to all property owners, whether they use the recreation facilities or not.
The committee agreed to refer final decisions on 2021 recreation service funding to its budget debate process slated to begin Feb. 1. In addition, they requested a staff report on the implications of changing regional funding for recreation facilities capital through parcel rather than property taxation.
Connie Jordison

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