About 15 members of the public and a small online audience participated in the Jan. 17 E-Town Hall on Sechelt’s draft 2019 budget. In mid-December, Sechelt introduced a proposed budget. That document has been updated. It now plans to spend $14.2 million to maintain its existing operations in 2019. This is about $1.2 million more than in 2018. The session was held to give residents an opportunity to provide input on the plan.
Doug Stewart, Sechelt’s director of finance and corporate services, moderated the event. He explained that funding the draft operations budget would require an increase of 8.8 per cent in property taxes. He noted that with council’s policy of adding three per cent annually to fund a reserve for infrastructure improvements, the total proposed property tax increase for 2019 would be 11.8 per cent.
The possibility of a double-digit tax bump upset some in the audience. One individual asked how seniors and others on fixed incomes could be expected to pay such an increase. Mayor Darnelda Siegers inquired about the level of change that would be acceptable. The response was “zero percent”.
It was also suggested that newly-elected council not add the three new employees requested in the draft until it has a full understanding of staff roles. Bringing a third building inspector, a development engineer and new administrative assistant on staff in 2019 would cost about $300,000 in wages and benefits. This accounts for about 3.5 per cent of the requested tax increase.
Comments were made in support of enhanced and stabilized funding for Sechelt Library. The library has requested an increase to its annual operating grant, plus more money for materials, capital, recruitment costs and staff. Sechelt considers this an additional level of service. To fund its share of the new resources as requested by the library, Sechelt would need to add another 1.7 per cent to the proposed tax increase for this year.
The audience also voiced comments on projects in Sechelt’s $12-million 2019 proposed capital budget. Several questioned the value of spending on things they viewed as non-essentials. These included proposals for a $253,000 stage at Hackett Park, new sections of the Suncoaster Trail costing $250,000, a fenced one-acre dog park at Ebbtide Park costing $100,000, and $570,000 in changes along the Trail Bay Boulevard.
The $7million-plus for improvements to Trail Avenue and proposed paving on Mason Road were questioned. Some noted that other roads in Davis Bay, West Sechelt and Tuwanek are in more urgent need of repair. The needs for sidewalks in Davis Bay was also cited.
There was also criticism for the new Parks and Public Works building. Sechelt has budgeted $828,000 for preliminary project work in 2019. If borrowing of an estimated $3.7 million is approved, construction of the facility would begin in 2020. The proposed design for the building was dubbed “the Spa” by one attendee. Her opinion was that the building was too large and had areas that would contribute little value to the service these departments provide.
Stewart explained that changes to capital projects would not impact 2019 property tax rates. Capital projects are funded from Development Cost Charge and other reserve funds that the district has in the bank. If a project is cancelled, the money remains in that reserve. Capital projects are also often funded by grants or by borrowing that is specific to each project.
The proposed budget also asks for a $20 increase in sewer user fees in 2019. Fees for solid waste collection could also change.