Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Trust Council approves $9.1-million Islands Trust budget

After 11th hour deliberations by the 26-member body that governs the Islands Trust, the trust council passed a $9.1-million budget with a two per cent increase to property taxes.  

In addition to the two per cent property tax increase, an added 1.25 per cent is expected from new construction and development. Also included in the 2022-23 budget is keeping land use planning at existing service levels, adding a part-time Conservancy fund development specialist and implementing several initiatives outlined in the 2018 to 2022 strategic plan, the Islands Trust stated in a March 11 news release.  

On Salt Spring, projects to be implemented include the Ganges Village planning project, the Coastal Douglas-fir zone and associated ecosystems protection project and a housing action program. All of these are ongoing projects.  

As trustees undertook last-minute budget trimming, some $32,000 in funding for the Coastal Douglas-fir project was removed from the budget. Trustee Laura Patrick made a successful motion to shift some $32,000 in funding from the Ganges Village project to this project to keep it going with the hopes, she said, of MLA Adam Olsen being able to help find funding to fill in the gap. 

An upcoming groundwater sustainability science program focused on mapping recharge potential will include Salt Spring, Thetis, Bowen and several other islands in the region. Salt Spring Islanders will see a $60,000 special tax levy to fund the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance (SSIWPA) and its work on freshwater preservation and protection.  

Other projects the budget will fund include the reconciliation action plan, stewardship education, species at risk protection programs conducted through the Conservancy, as well as a heritage preservation overlay mapping and model bylaws project.  

A total of 8.3 per cent of the overall budget, $760,501, is funded by external grants and $395,500 comes from transfers from surplus and reserve funds. Other funding sources for the budget are property taxes in local trust areas, a municipal tax levy from Bowen Island, the SSIWPA tax levy and rezoning and development permit fees from developers. 

Bowen Island, a municipality within the Islands Trust, will see a four per cent increase to its tax levy comprised of 3.09 per cent from property taxes and 0.95 per cent from new development and construction.  

Late last year, a $9.3-million budget went out for public consultation. The budget presented to trust council at the quarterly meeting March 8 to 10 was $9.51 million with the increase coming from upcoming election expenses and unfinished projects carried over from the previous fiscal year.  

Salt Spring Island trustee Peter Grove, chair of the financial planning committee which conducted detailed work on the proposed budget, explained that the committee started with an 11 per cent increase to property taxes in the proposed budget and brought it down to three per cent. With low property tax increases in previous years and over $750,000 covered by grants, Grove called the three per cent a “reasonable and expected” increase.  

The trust asked for public feedback on the draft budget. In a survey completed 1,256 times, 49 per cent of respondents supported a reduction in services and programs for current levels.  

Several trustees expressed that they would not support the draft budget as presented; it represented a seven per cent overall expenditure increase from the 2021-2022 budget and a three per cent property tax increase.  

Spurred by the survey results, South Pender Island trustee Steve Wright put forward a motion on March 9 to reject the budget, adding that any budget passed this year should not exceed the 2020-2021 budget.  “If we are going to ask the public and they are going to answer us, we have to obey what they say,” he said, noting emphatically the hardship people have gone through during two years of a pandemic and the damage the trust would incur in credibility by not listening to the public. “Those people have had to tighten their belts, and I find it a little difficult for us to start bloating our budget.”  

Several trustees noted that public feedback needs to be taken into account—not simply obeyed—as one of many factors the trust considers including other public feedback, science and expertise, as well as carrying out the object of the trust for residents, but also for ecosystems and people in all of B.C. Laura Busheikin, Denman trustee and member of the financial planning committee, explained Islands Trust work funded by the budget will address hardships such as efficiencies in planning to get projects done and work on the climate crisis. “It’s not a lot more money, and I believe that our constituents can afford it without undue suffering, and I think it’s our responsibility to do this work.” 

Bowen trustee Sue Ellen Fast said the budget reflects the increasing amount and rate of development as well as several crises: “The biodiversity crisis, for one, climate crisis for another; we’ve got a narrow window of opportunity to make the world a better place.” 

 Saturna trustee Paul Brent said constituents are worried about scope creep, going beyond the Islands Trust mandate, and the impact on the budget.  

Mayne trustee Jeanine Dodds, speaking against a budget increase, noted that “we are in a time right now when people are not happy with the Islands Trust.”  She added, “We have a governance review that we need to spend some time on. We need to think about what we should really be doing; we are duplicating a lot of work that’s going on within the province that we don’t need to be doing. We are trying to be all things to all people, and it is time to get back to some real simple basics,” she said.  

Chair of the trust council Peter Luckham noted that it is trustees who have added more and more items to the strategic plan over time. Chief administrative officer Russ Hotsenpiller said there are around 100 projects on the go. “We’re really over-committing ourselves, but we choose to go ahead anyway and add all this…so it’s our fault to a large degree.I think that’s part of the response of the public,” said Gabriola trustee Kees Langeris.   Director of administrative services Julia Mobbs said there are concerns around workloads and stress on administrative staff, and within the budget there is an additional $100,000 for contracted services to deal with this.  

Other trustees noted 45 per cent of survey respondents wanted to either maintain or add new services and programs.  

After several hours of discussion March 9, and a trimmed budget option presented by Brent, trustees asked staff to prepare a more modest budget for their review. Trustees approved the trimmed-down budget, with some changes, on March 10. 

“There was some trimming that happened, in order to get that as close as we possibly could to a 2020-2021 budget number,” said Luckham, adding that the budget is the most difficult thing trust council has to grapple with.  “The struggle is to balance the financial needs of the organization and undertaking the work necessary to support the preserve and protect mandate, and reconcile that with the impact on people associated with the tax burden,” he said. “The work is important, but we are completely cognizant of not wanting to create a big financial burden to our communities.”  

The budget bylaw received three readings on March 10 and has been forwarded to the minister. It will be adopted later in the year. 

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  1. The modest budget increase is very good, considering how other local and more senior levels of government seem to not care about the austerity that the vast majority of people have been under for at least the last two years. We should take this budget exercise into consideration when we next get to vote on our local government. However, the larger issue that our candidates should be judged on is what they have done or promise to do to alleviate the ongoing and worsening housing crisis (housing prices went up 20% in the last year; this during a national crisis and related economic slow-down). SSI is especially suffering from the effects of unaffordable and unavailable housing: businesses short-staffed and forced to reduce work and hours or shuttering their doors, more and more homeless with associated social problems, and a drastic shortage of local tradesmen and other service workers. Meanwhile, the already bloated and unaccountable bureaucracy expands with more and more restrictions and fees imposed on the residents that are able to live here, but for how much longer at the current rate of gentrification of the island. In the long-term and bigger picture, we need fewer levels of government with more accountable, elected legislators running them. Cheers.

  2. 9.1 million dollar budget approved. 🙁
    On the heels of a truly contentious and divisive attempt at updating the Policy Statement and a dismal round of consultants surveys comes a scathing review of the Trust, just like the last one which failed to correct any of the “issues” that saddles us with a 9.1 million dollar land use planning tax requisition.
    Spending our local tax dollars on survey after survey, task forces, local trust projects, most of it outside its purview which is land use planning…you know when you want to build something and they stamp it or not…in a timely fashion…not five years later with a few “oops we changed the rules” or by using FN in a most settler centric manner.
    After hearing our LTC Chair Peter Luckham say that support for the Vortex was waning based on the letters he read I was shocked because if he is basing his opinions and judgements on “hearing from community members” then why is the Coastal Douglas Fir LTC project still running? 775 islanders signed a petition to say NO don’t do this, don’t spend our tax dollars in this fashion. Those in favor are about 50 people in groups, writing the same letter over and over 😉
    There is a way out…a governance restructuring from the Province for the IT. We can no longer accept this dysfunctional substitute for local government. If the Province wants the Trust, then they should pay for it and make it work , cause we are done, we need our tax dollars for services.


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