Presenter panels, opportunities for questions, and pop quizzes testing directors’ knowledge were included in SCRD online public engagement events on its 2021 proposed budget. Sessions for the SCRDs rural areas were hosted on Feb. 22 and 26.
The focus of the three sessions was a draft operations budget of $48.7 million and proposals to spend just over $29 million on capital projects this year. The initial session was handled by Chair and Area B Director Lori Pratt, with the assistance of Dean McKinley, chief administrative officer, and Manager of Communications and Engagement Aidan Buckley. Pratt and McKinley are slated to deliver a similar presentation to the Town of Gibsons at its March 2 council meeting and at a Sechelt council meeting on March 3. The public was invited to participate in the sessions through the Zoom meeting platform or via YouTube. Video of each of the sessions will remain available on the SCRDs YouTube channel until budget adoption.
McKinley and Buckley assisted directors at the two rural area focused sessions on Feb. 26. A morning session was arranged for residents of the Pender Harbour and Egmont area. It was hosted by that area’s Director Leonard Lee. Lee included community organizations as panellists in his one-hour presentation and discussion event.
Directors for the three rural areas south of Sechelt teamed up for a joint information session on the evening of Feb. 26. With a Friday evening time slot, Directors Andreas Tize (Area D Roberts Creek), Donna McMahon (Area E Elphinstone) and Mark Hiltz (Area F West Howe Sound) drew a slightly smaller “live” crowd than the other sessions. They upped the entertainment quotient of their event with a director’s pop quiz on little-known facts about the SCRD. McMahon correctly identified the obscure information nugget that the “health” function of regional operations covers the management of the SCRDs two cemeteries, located in Kleindale and Roberts Creek.
In each rural area session, questions related to ever-increasing taxation levels were posed. Hiltz summed up the SCRDs financial position as one that is faced with past, present and future challenges. “Right now, we are catching up from the past, repairing for the present and making decisions to lead to the future,” said Hiltz. McMahon chimed in on those challenges and the impacts that not addressing infrastructure issues in past years is having on current budgets. The example she used was the current level of spending needed to plan for the landfill closure, replacement and the fact that there may be an interim period where solid waste will have to be taken off Coast. McMahon’s observation was that the SCRD board is “10 years too late” on making and funding those plans.
Another observation made by public attendees at those sessions related to the 226 projects currently in the SCRDs 2021 draft capital plan. The wisdom of committing to such an ambitious list and the ability of the SCRD to complete those undertakings was questioned. Lee noted that 109 things on that list were carry-over projects from previous years. Tize explained that many list items are simple purchases of vehicles or software and that the high number also includes multi-year projects.
The cost of recreation facilities and the fairness of taxpayer subsidization of those costs was an issue raised in each of the three rural area focused sessions. Directors agreed with public comments that some “out of the box thinking” needs to happen to address rising taxation levels. A key initiative that board members believe will help in this area is the focus on local government collaboration on the Coast. Examples of where assets and expertise in areas like playing field maintenance are being shared among jurisdictions were cited. There was also mention of the “Team Sunshine Coast” approach that is being used by the areas that make up the SCRD to have a stronger and more cohesive voice when advocating for assistance from senior governments.
The questions and responses raised during the engagement will be posted on the 2021 Budget FAQ sections of scrd.ca.
In my March 4 article about the SCRD 2021 budget engagement, I incorrectly reported on the response provided by Area E Director Donna McMahon to the “pop quiz” questions. The correct response, which she provided, was that the two cemeteries currently operated within the SCRD “Health” function are Seaview (Area D) and Elphinstone Pioneer (Area E). The Kleindale Cemetery in Area A is now closed.
It also should be noted that this function also covers the Pender Harbour Health Clinic. Only residents of Area A contribute to the costs for that facility. My apologies for the error.
This is an example of how much detailed information that SCRD directors need to keep organized in their day-to-day work on behalf of their constituents.