Sunday, May 19, 2024
May 19, 2024

Salt Spring portion of CRD budget higher than first estimated

The Capital Regional District (CRD) Board approved its final 2022 budget on March 16.

Local CRD service requisitions remain the same as provisionally approved last fall. However, due to the unprecedented 31 per cent increase in local property assessments versus 22 per cent for the CRD overall, Salt Spring Island will pay a higher proportion of region-wide service costs. Also, since provisional budget approval, all local governments within CRD consented to increase climate action funding, reflecting our declaration of a climate emergency.

These changes resulted in an overall increase in the CRD and CRHD (Hospital District) requisition of 5.8 per cent (versus 3.3 per cent in the provisional budget) to a total of $7.244 million. Over the 2018-22 term the average CRD requisition increase has been 3.5 per cent, compared to inflation, negotiated CRD wages and salaries, and Salt Spring population growth, all roughly two per cent per year. The average Salt Spring residential property, currently assessed at $983,000, now pays roughly $96 per month for a range of CRD services and facilities. During this term alone, Salt Spring has received millions in regional CRD funding for affordable housing at Croftonbrook, the new Lady Minto emergency room, and free residential recycling.

As I indicated in my Oct. 18, 2021 provisional budget report, the single most important driver of local requisition increases is the cost related to PARC’s leasing of the middle school (SIMS). SIMS will house CRD’s Emergency Program and serve as Salt Spring’s first true community centre, providing affordable space for a number of non-profits that contribute so much to our quality of life. Local requisition increases will also fund continued increases in Parks and Rec maintenance and bylaw enforcement, a full-time IT staffer for our library, improved public transit to Long Harbour, and an economic development coordinator.

North Salt Spring Waterworks District

The North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) recently announced its rationale for refusing to submit a funding application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. NSSWD significantly underestimated the potential ratepayer savings from this particular grant, which would have contributed almost 75 per cent of project funding for the Maxwell Lake treatment plant, not the two-thirds estimated by the district.

NSSWD’s blame game is disappointing. CRD management of some water utilities has been criticized, as have NSSWD and other service delivery organizations on Salt Spring, but this is a smokescreen. CRD water districts, with several million in infrastructure funding, have built three state-of-the-art dissolved air flotation plants years before NSSWD built their first on St. Mary Lake. NSSWD is also the only water district declaring a moratorium, a major obstacle to affordable housing in Ganges. Infrastructure funding could have helped, directly or indirectly, by reducing distribution system leakage.

For months, CRD and the province urged NSSWD to submit a grant application, and during the lengthy adjudication process, continue discussions regarding NSSWD’s governance concerns. I was not directly involved in early discussions of the so-called “water optimization” report, but CRD was clear from the outset they didn’t support the consultant’s recommendation to bypass senior staff who the CRD Board relies upon for advice. The consultant’s proposal for an island-wide utility reflected an astonishing misunderstanding of the area-specific nature of our water utilities.

NSSWD continues to tilt at windmills regarding alternative funding mechanisms, but the province has made it very clear to MLA Adam Olsen and to myself during my tenure in that role, that joining local government is a requirement for infrastructure funding. NSSWD complains the funding would not cover its infrastructure deficit, again a reflection of magical thinking. But there is little doubt NSSWD could have received the single largest infrastructure grant in SSI’s history. The real issue is that NSSWD ratepayers have been denied their right to decide for themselves whether they would accept delegated authority within the CRD to secure millions in grant funding.

Local Community Commission

A first draft of a discussion paper developed by a sub-committee of the Salt Spring Community Alliance’s Governance Working Group (GWG) has been submitted to CRD staff for their review and their further discussions with provincial staff. A local advisory committee will soon be appointed, and CRD staff will prepare a draft establishment bylaw, which with the GWG report, will form the basis for public consultation.

I must comment on the March 9 Driftwood Viewpoint on the LCC by former GWG member Bob Moffatt. First, the LCC proposal was a 2018 platform commitment I made to all Salt Spring voters, not just “anti-incorporation supporters.” Second, an LCC is not “like any other commission” or “another layer of local government.” In fact it is quite the opposite. It would be elected at large just like the CRD director, not appointed. An LCC could also consolidate existing commissions, thus reducing the number of siloes and meetings. Finally, the CRD budget is a prime example of “real issues” an LCC would address — the need for broader, more diverse representation to determine local CRD taxation and service levels.

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