By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April. 6, 2012
It was arguably one of the most important council meetings of the year, one in which the councillors and CAO and all the senior staff, including the top cop and fire fighter, were present.
There were the roundtables, there was coffee and tea, and there were cookies.
Only YOU were missing.
No more than 14 people turned up to give their input on the budget at a special council meeting held at the Squamish Seniors Centre on March. 2.
There were about ten engaged citizens, along with two reporters and of course, Terril Patterson.
The town hall style meeting started with a slide show presentation on the district’s financial plan, followed by a question and answer session with the district officials.
As you might be aware, the effective tax increase for this year is 7.5 per cent, which is slightly higher than the average tax increase of 6 per cent that Squamish has seen in the past.
The RCMP costs have bumped up the tax increase this year, but this year won’t be the only time citizens would see a tax increase.
Squamish citizens might see their taxes increase to as much as 10 per cent next year, although CAO Kevin Ramsay says the district will try to find a way to reduce that number.
To fund capital projects, the district has had to carry a debt load of $8 million, which adds another two per cent in tax increase.
In fact, as much as 16 per cent of the proposed budget funding comes from borrowing, and 6 per cent goes towards servicing the debt.
“We are over relying on our debts to fund capital projects. Funding it at this rate won’t be sustainable,” said the general manager of financial services, Joanne Greenlees.
“It’s likely that taxes will need to be raised to meet demand,” she added.
But before giving those grim statistics, CAO Kevin Ramsay also listed the district’s achievements for 2011, which include O’Siyam Pavilion, Buckley Ave. Traffic Calming, Skyline Place and Drive Bank Stabilisation, Annual Paving, and Corridor Trail.
Among construction projects, a new roof at the Alex Munro Fire Hall, a cycle path initiative, and Squamish dike rip rap were also counted as council achievements for 2011.
Squamish was rewarded handsomely with grants last year. There was $1.2 million for flood protection, about $400,000 for Stan Clarke Park, $4 million in landfill upgrades, and $375,000 for the O’Siyam Pavilion.
The district officials also came forward to answer questions.
Tim Hoskin, the new director of recreation services, said the district is planning to spend $1.5 million on the new fitness centre.
With a membership potential of 140 gym members, he said the district estimates the fitness centre would recover its cost in five years.
“The fitness centre is just a plan. This would be the year for investigation,” he said.
Linda Glenday, the head of protective services, said the district is hopeful of opening the Community Police Office, and coming up with a new fire master plan.
The meeting ended with a vigorous debate over economic development among Auli Parviainen, John Jervis, Mayor Rob Kirkham, and Coun. Ron Sander.
Here’s a breakdown of where your tax dollars go: 33 per cent go to capital infrastructure projects, followed by protective services (13 per cent), then followed by general government (10 per cent), contributions to the reserve (9 per cent), transportation services (7 per cent).
Recreation and Parks (7 per cent), Waste Disposal health and welfare (4 per cent), and Community Development (3 per cent) are the last three areas where the taxation money goes.