Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

Trustees look to trim Islands Trust budget

If taxes can’t go down, they should at least go up by less. 

That’s the consensus among Islands Trust representatives who have been meeting to sort through that governing body’s budget — and corresponding taxation plan — for the coming year. And while a tax cut might not be in the cards, trustees seemed eager to find savings where they could. 

“The financial outlook for people in our communities is challenging,” said trustee Mairead Boland, addressing her colleagues serving on the Trust’s financial planning committee. “We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is a time to increase the financial burden on anyone living in the islands.” 

Boland suggested that, if anything, trustees should look for ways to reduce that burden, and she had. In January, the Saturna Island trustee brought the committee a list of possible budget reductions — opportunities to “slow down or pause” spending, given pressures of staffing and inflation. Boland’s ambitious target at the outset was to possibly obviate the need for any tax increase at all. After several days of meetings spanning two months, a more modest set of recommended reductions emerged and will be advanced to Trust Council for that wider body’s approval at a March 7 to 9 meeting.

Those recommendations, finalized through resolution last Wednesday, include suspending $10,000 in History and Heritage Conservation Grants in Aid; removing $27,500 in funding for one in-person Trust Council meeting, opting to meet electronically instead; and an additional draw from the general revenue surplus fund of $100,000 to allocate toward local trust committee projects — which on its own could reduce any potential tax increase by more than a full per cent, according to staff.

“Our trend at the Trust is to underspend against budget,” said CAO Russ Hotsenpiller, “and not draw all of the money out of surplus that we anticipate. Sometimes we actually do put money into surplus.” 

The committee worked under an assumption that, for particular budget items linked directly to islanders’ taxes, each $75,000 they could cut would reduce the currently planned LTA general tax increase by one per cent. That increase, while arguably still a moving target, had been shaping up to be in the neighbourhood of three to four-and-a-half per cent, according to draft budget documents. 

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