Friday, April 12, 2024
April 12, 2024

CRD director’s report: final budget numbers released

By GARY HOLMAN

Electoral area director for Salt Spring Island

The Capital Regional District (CRD) Board votes on its final 2023 budget on March 15. The proposed final 2023 CRD/CRHD (Capital Region Hospital District) requisition is $7.64 million, a 5.6 per cent increase over 2022, excluding taxes and fees paid by area-specific CRD water and waste treatment facilities on Salt Spring Island.

The provisional requisition increase for the CRD and CRHD, summarized in my Driftwood article of Sept. 14, 2022, was 3.5 per cent, similar to the average yearly increase during the past four-year term. The main contributing factors were, and still are:

• full-year costs to PARC of leasing/operating the Salt Spring Island Multi Space (middle school)

• COVID-related impacts on swimming pool and other PARC fees, as well as transit ridership and fares

• continued library staffing increase as volunteer numbers decline

• higher costs of liquid waste trucking/disposal.

Historically high inflation (currently about six per cent) significantly increased cost pressures. Negotiated CRD staff wage and salary increases were more than double assumed in the provisional budget. The one-time and ongoing cost of the voter-approved Local Community Commission (LCC) elections (to be held May 27) alone accounts for a 1.5 per cent tax increase). BC Transit maintenance fees for our newer buses coming this April will be higher, which added to the cost and requisition pressures for the final budget. Salt Spring will also contribute modestly to a new (voter-approved) geese management service and increased funding for the Aboriginal Homelessness Coalition.

Offsetting these cost increases somewhat has been the reduced cost of the fire dispatch service, now provided by Saanich. The requisition for Salt Spring’s community economic development service was reduced by deferring hiring of a full-time coordinator, while still allowing funding for special projects and community organizations engaged in food security and beautification of Ganges. The requisition for the grant in aid service, which incurred surpluses in 2021 and 2022, was reduced somewhat. Devolution of Saturday Market management to a local non-profit group and related requisition increases, anticipated in the provisional budget, was delayed due to uncertainties regarding post-Covid vendor participation.

Special provincial government funding has mitigated COVID-related transit and PARC revenue impacts, but is now almost fully allocated. While transit and PARC revenues are recovering, COVID impacts still linger.

The ”average” Salt Spring residence was assessed at $1.1 million in 2023, almost a 13 per cent increase over 2022. Assessed values on Salt Spring increased at roughly the same rate as for CRD as a whole, meaning that unlike in 2022, our share of the costs of region-wide services remains the same, with no related requisition impact.

The 2023 CRD requisition per “average” residential property of $97 per month (versus $92 per month in 2022), in addition to fees for some services, funds a range of regional, sub-regional and local services and amenities, such as: affordable housing, health facilities, regional and local parks, climate action, building inspection, recreation facilities, our library, the arts, grants in aid, liquid waste, residential recycling, public transit, pedestrian/cycling infrastructure, emergency planning and tele-communications, fire dispatch, community economic development, livestock injury compensation and Fernwood dock.

As in most municipalities, commercial and industrial tax rates are higher (typically much higher than in unincorporated electoral areas) than for residential properties.

It should also be noted that Salt Spring has benefited greatly in the past term from over $30 million in grants and funding commitments directly from the CRD, or flowing through CRD from senior governments, including:

• $3.74 million from Capital Region Hospital District for the new Lady Minto emergency department

• $300,000 in PARC funding, in addition to staff-negotiated donations from the landowner and Salt Spring Island Foundation to acquire the Mount Maxwell community park

• CRD Regional Housing funding for the Croftonbrook project

• continued CRD funding to support free residential recycling

• over $2 million in senior government infrastructure funding for a new CRD Maliview sewage treatment plant and Salt Spring’s first large scale composting facility

• BC Housing’s commitment to fully fund the capital and operating costs of 28 units of supported housing on CRD’s Drake Road property

• $3.6 million in federal gas tax funding for local infrastructure projects, including affordable housing and our new fire hall

• Ministry of Transportation funding for the repaving of Ganges hill with widened shoulder bike lanes, plus $490,000 for the Booth Canal-Central pathway

• almost $2 million from the province to PARC for shared recreation/daycare space at the Rainbow Road swimming pool, Centennial Park upgrades and the Bishops Walk pathway

• $72,000 in new provincial funding to help replace swimming pool heat pumps and also support continuation of Transition Salt Spring’s many climate action initiatives.

Note that in the future, the Local Community Commission (which includes the CRD director) will be making budget decisions for 11 local CRD services (including those now overseen by four island-wide commissions), and advising the director on three additional local services.

I will be presenting the final CRD budget proposal in the March 10 ASK Salt Spring session at SIMS from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. As always, please contact me at directorssi@crd.bc.ca with any questions or comments.

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