Dear Madam Mayor and Council,
Re Budget 2021
Thank you to you and your fellow Councillors for your efforts on behalf of us all over the last year which has been difficult and challenging.
This next year for many Residents will be a challenging one from both a health and financial perspective. Vaccines will hopefully bring an end to the health part of this crisis by the end of this year. The economic consequences will likely be felt for years to come.
Many in the private sector have been laid off or are working reduced hours and have had their pay frozen or reduced. Many small businesses are struggling or have had to close down at great personal cost to owners and employees alike. Many seniors are on fixed incomes and with record low interest rates have seen their income decline or had to take additional risk to their capital to preserve income.
It is in this context that I write to you with regard to the Budget 2021. I attended the Budget Presentation on January 28 and have had a short time since to review some of the details. I am sure you will all agree that given an inflation rate of around 1% a 5.2% increase in property taxes proposed by staff seems to be unreasonable. For many years now property taxes have increased well above the rate of inflation. The Public sector cannot just continue to download increasing costs through increased taxes to Residents and Businesses. They need to seriously evaluate how to reduce these costs and the burden on taxpayers.
Mr McIsaac on behalf of ADRA has forwarded a list of questions related to 2020 Budget that are relevant today and remain unanswered and questions in respect of the 2021 Budget. In a phone call on Friday January 28 Mr Bartlett, CAO undertook to provide a speedy response to these questions.
In addition to the concern about the 5.2% proposed property tax increase (and this does not include any increases re Translink, School Taxes and Utilities usage). ADRA has the following concerns:
- Costs are proposed to increase 6.3% or $6.3 million. $1.4 million of this relates to adding 13 new full time staff. Surely we should be freezing recruitment, reallocating staff from under resourced areas to where more staff are required. In addition we should be at least freezing salaries for non-union staff and management.
- Revenues include a $4 million of a one-time $5 million Grant from the Province of BC related to COVID Safe Restart. $4 million has also been added to expenses. The BC Government provided guidance to CAO’s as to what is considered as eligible costs under the program and the money can be used in 2020, 2021 or 2022.
- Addressing revenues shortfalls
- Facility reopening and operating costs
- Emergency planning and response costs
- By-law enforcement and protective services like fire and police
- Computer and other electronic technology costs (to improve interconnectivity and virtual communications
- Services for vulnerable persons
- Other related costs
Of the $4 million only $1.8 million of the proposed spending clearly relates to COVID restart. $3.2 million less so. 8 additional staff are added as well and costs included.
$1.7 million is related to Support for Strategic Objectives and it is particularly hard to see how any of this relates to COVID Safe Restart in any way. Much of it is for Consulting for things such as Environmental Strategy Update, Transportation Consultant Service, Strategic Transportation Plan, Public education events re Climate Change, Ambleside Town Centre Planning etc.
Particularly egregious is $312,000 re planning for a yet to be approved Arts Centre.
None of the $1.7 million seem to be eligible and certainly do not seem to be being spent under the spirit of the intent the BC Government gave the Grant to Cities and Municipalities.
Also allowed is using Grant Funds to replenish any statutory reserve funds. Our understanding is that $8 million was borrowed last year from the Endowment Fund. Much of these funds instead of being spent as outlined above could be used to repay the money borrowed in 2020. This would have reduced expenses and the increased property taxes proposed.
- In the General Fund summary it is proposed that $2.9 million from projected land sales are including in Operating Revenue. We would suggest that this is highly inappropriate and that such funds be allocated to the Endowment Fund or the Asset Reserve fund for deferred maintenance of Municipal Assets.
In closing the above are issues that stand out to us from a very preliminary review of the proposed Budget 2021 and we would hope, as you consider the Budget, you will take into account the comments above.
In these difficult and challenging times we do not consider a 5.2% appropriate- this is a time to focus on core services delivery and essentials and not to be pursuing major new objectives.
President , ADRA