An open house session hosted by the Salt Spring Fire Protection District’s board of trustees to discuss the 2021 budget on Sunday attracted only a handful of people to the Salt Spring Farmers’ Institute.
The proposed budget for 2021 includes a tax requisition of $3.83 million, coming in nearly 10 per cent higher than the current year.
Plans to stream the meeting on Zoom were cancelled a couple of days earlier because the district decided it did not have the technical expertise to meet security concerns, so it’s unclear how that may have affected participation.
The few people who did attend in person had some questions for the trustees but no suggestions about changing the draft budget. The board will therefore go forward with first reading of the taxation bylaw at their next regular meeting on Oct. 19.
“As you know we like to keep our budget public, as we did last year. We had a town hall meeting much like this and there were some recommendations from the public about allocations to certain areas, and we took that into consideration and did review our original amount,” said chair Per Svendsen, after calling for any suggestions or critiques.
Trustee Rollie Cook, who chairs the board’s finance committee, explained that while the 2021 operating expenses have been budgeted for a small increase in line with inflation, most of the $340,150 increase has to do with transfers to capital reserve funds. In particular, $300,000 is proposed for immediate remediation of the Ganges fire hall. The hall will need an estimated $932,000 in repairs if the community does not support plans to build a new fire hall near Brinkworthy, Cook reported.
Cook said the benefits of the board’s decision to start saving money in reserve funds for equipment replacement and facility needs include the fact the district will be able to pay cash for a new fire truck next year. The board will save money that in the past would have been needed for a ratepayer approval process, and they also received a discount on the truck price amounting to $12,000.
Despite adopting the practice of putting aside funds for capital needs, Cook acknowledged there is a limit on how far the board can go in that direction.
“I think there was a sense in the finance committee this year that we are now reaching the upper levels of what is fiscally permissible by the ratepayers,” Cook said. “We have increased the budget from approximately $2.5 million two years ago to just shy of $4 million.
“We have not been spending money on operating costs; we have been putting money into reserve funds,” he continued. “If we have the discipline to continue to do that, we will . . . have an adequate fund for equipment, we will be able to fund a new fire hall, we will be able to solve all the problems we have been left with. But I think it is also true to say that the fire department has now reached the point where we have to be very disciplined and prudent going forward.”
The board will have the opportunity to amend the budget before it is finalized. The taxation bylaw may be approved on Oct. 19 or at a special meeting to be held soon afterward if changes are needed.