Trustees debate water tax level

Future of unused funds not clear

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The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee was unable to come to a decision last week on how much tax it should request to support the work of the Salt Spring Island Water Protection Alliance.

SSIWPA has recommended a special tax requisition of $98,500, in line with the amount that’s been requested of and approved by Islands Trust Council for the past few years. Though the LTC was scheduled to finalize its request during the Jan. 21 meeting in order to meet 2020-21 budgeting guidelines, trustees’ questions about unused funds caused them to defer the vote to the next meeting. 

The proposed 2020-21 SSIWPA budget of $98,500 predicts only $75,000 in actual spending. As well, staff are projecting there will be around $79,000 in unspent funds from previous budgets by the end of this fiscal year. The information being sought includes whether or not the LTC can allocate the unspent funds to projects related to water sustainability and still be in accord with SSIWPA’s establishing bylaw and Islands Trust Council’s policy on special tax requisitions.

Trustee Peter Grove argued against the full requisition amount, saying he could support topping up the reserve funds to equal the proposed operating budget for a much smaller tax request. 

“We’ve got the money; we don’t need another $98,000,” Grove said. “We’ve been asking the community to contribute this money for the last six years, we’ve got $80,000-odd . . . that we said we were going to spend, that we didn’t spend, so that’s sitting in a reserve. I don’t think we can go and ask for more.” 

Trustee Laura Patrick, who is the SSIWPA chair, said the $98,500 will be needed in 2020-21 to ensure SSIWPA can continue its regular activities. The budget is mainly taken up by the staff coordinator’s contract, which is set at $60,000 for the coming year, plus costs for meetings, administrative support and communications. 

Bylaw 154, which authorizes the special tax requisition, gives the Local Trust Committee the powers to coordinate and assist in policy development and implementation with those funds. Patrick would like to use the unspent funds not for basic coordinating functions but to tackle some water sustainability planning projects in SSIWPA’s work plan, if that’s allowed. 

“I’d like to get clarity on what we can spend it on,” Patrick said in response to Grove’s statement. “I agree with you that it’s going to be tight depending on the interpretation . . . But if we get a more favourable interpretation, then we’re not going to have a problem spending it.” 

For more on this story, see the Jan. 29, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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