Wednesday, May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Salt Spring’s CRD budget nearing final phase

By EARL ROOK and GARY HOLMAN

The Capital Regional District (CRD) Board approved a provisional budget, including that for delegated Salt Spring Island Local Community Commission (LCC) services, on Oct. 25, 2023.

The board will approve a final budget in March. The final budget will be based on further public input, updated property assessments and 2023 year-end surpluses or deficits for various CRD services.

The unique aspect of this CRD budget is that the operating and capital budgets for most of our local, island-wide CRD services are now decided by the LCC. 2024 is a particularly challenging budget year, but the difficult decisions that this budget requires will be made by an elected body of five, not a single CRD director. All of these decisions must now be made in regularly scheduled public meetings, agendas for which include provision for delegations or presentations from the community. This, and the consolidation of service delivery, previously overseen by four separate, appointed volunteer commissions (to whom we owe a great debt), represents a fundamental improvement in local governance.

The LCC is facing a particularly challenging budget in its first months of operation. Not sworn in until June 2023, the commissioners were presented a provisional budget by CRD staff at their September meeting proposing a 20.5 per cent increase in the 2024 requisition over 2023. So, in addition to facing a steep learning curve regarding the CRD budgeting process and the details of over a dozen individual service budgets, the commissioners have only had a very short period of time to try to mitigate the impacts of significantly increased costs. The LCC has already made difficult decisions in order to reduce the tax impacts related to their delegated services, and will be considering further possible measures to reduce taxpayer costs over the coming weeks.

Overall CRD Proposed Requisition 2024

The total proposed 2024 CRD (including LCC) and Capital Regional Hospital District (CRHD) requisition is $8.37 million, 9.6 per cent over 2023. The requisition for the “average” residential property 2024 (valued at $1.1 million in 2023) would be $1,276 ($106 per month). The total proposed requisition for LCC delegated services is $5.478 million, an increase of 12.7 per cent over 2023, and comprising about seven per cent of the overall 9.6 per cent increase.

This requisition, plus user fees for some services, funds a range of CRD services and amenities, including local LCC services such as parks and recreation, transportation, liquid waste and community economic development. Region-wide CRD services include parks, recycling, hospital facilities, land banking and housing, and emergency telecommunication. Sub-regional CRD services include building inspection, noise and animal control, and emergency planning.

Major Contributing Cost Factors

The most significant cost factors contributing to the proposed requisition are: core inflation and negotiated CRD staff wages and salaries; Covid-related 2023 deficit carry-overs for services that are partly reliant upon fee revenue (e.g., parks and recreation, SIMS and transit); and restoration of local capital reserves, particularly for the local parks and recreation service.

The most significant 2024 requisition impact regionally is for affordable housing and regional parks. Any changes in Salt Spring’s share of regional services will be determined by changes in Salt Spring’s share of overall assessed values in the CRD, data for which is not yet available.

With respect to local LCC services, the top priority of commissioners is to maintain the level of local services it oversees. Cost increases beyond LCC control make maintaining service levels difficult without a significant requisition increase.

Parks and recreation represents by far the largest portion of the requisition increase for LCC services, for all of the reasons cited above. Requisition increases for public transit (increased BC Transit bus lease fees); the library (volunteer declines forcing staff increases); liquid waste (increased hauling fees); and grants-in-aid (restoring the requisition to historic levels), in that order of significance, also contribute to the proposed LCC tax increase. The community economic development requisition was reduced due to a large operating surplus and reserve resulting from refocusing this service in a more project-oriented strategic direction.

The proposed CRD budget by service for 2024 can be found on the CRD website in the agenda package for the Jan. 18 LCC meeting. The LCC will also be discussing the budget at a special Feb. 1 meeting, also to be held at the SIMS boardroom. The LCC will meet every third Thursday of the month thereafter during 2024, with evening meetings to be announced.

If you want to present to the LCC, or have any questions or comments on the CRD budget, please email LCC chair Earl Rook (erook@crd.bc.ca) or CRD director and LCC vice-chair Gary Holman (directorssi@crd.bc.ca), and your comments will be shared with all LCC members. LCC commissioners also maintain office hours most Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the CRD offices at 108-121 McPhillips Ave. Feel free to drop in (no appointment needed) to talk with a commissioner.

Earl Rook is chair of the LCC; Gary Holman is LCC vice-chair, and Salt Spring’s electoral area director to the CRD.

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