It’s huge, it’s eye-crossingly complicated, and when staff try to explain the details most people surreptitiously pull out their phones or start edging towards the door. A very special sort of hell is sitting under the floodlights on Coast Cable TV, pasting an intelligent look on your face while trying to come up with coherent answers to questions about infrastructure financing and tax requisitions.
This year’s process has been extra complicated due to an unusually large number of projects, the schedule for the budget process (we’re moving it earlier in the year), and the fact that we are dealing with proposed new hires at the same time that union contract negotiations are underway.
My very short version of the 2020 budget is this: the SCRD needs to do a great deal of work on critical infrastructure (especially water) and that costs money. We also need the people to do that work, which means hiring. And all that translates to higher taxes and user fees. Raising taxes is not something we do lightly. But letting our water mains deteriorate, failing to resolve our short and long term water shortage, or not planning for what we’re going to do when our garbage dump closes in less than seven years—that would be irresponsible.
I like what Pender Harbour Director, Leonard Lee, said in his article for the Harbour Spiel. “In our strategic plan we said we will act with courage and purpose and that is our intent with this budget.”
For more details on the cost pressures that local governments are facing, please see my screed: The Five Horsemen of the Property Tax Apocalypse.
What’s up in 2020
In the coming year, the SCRD will have an unprecedented 200 projects underway, including 60 carry forwards that weren’t finished in 2019, in many cases because we didn’t have the staff to do the work. Here are a few of the projects:
- Repairs to fire halls and new fire trucks for Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay
- Replacement of aged 911 towers and equipment
- Church Road well project
- Drilling four more exploratory wells for our water system
- Drilling wells for two major sports fields so we don’t use drinking water for irrigation
- Equipment replacement at the Chapman water treatment plant
- Increased funding for watermain replacement
- Dam safety inspections (Chapman, Edwards and McNeil Lakes)
- Long term planning for solid waste (i.e. what do we do when our dump closes?)
- Updates to the corporate energy and emissions plan, which is required as a basis for all our climate change work
- Installation of an EV charging station at our works yard, and tools and equipment to service EVs
- Overhaul for the corporate website which is aged and cumbersome
- Facility condition assessments for the Gibsons Pool and Sechelt Arena
Wherever we can we are working with other local governments to see if we can improve efficiency and save money. For example, we are looking into the possibility of re-locating our public works yard (currently on leased property on Mason Road) to the Sechelt works yard, which is owned by the District of Sechelt. And the SCRD is purchasing an aerator that can be used on all local playing fields, not just ours. It’s expected to pay for itself within a few years since bringing in equipment from Vancouver is expensive.
In 2009 the SCRD had 190 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. In 2019 we had 198. Most of that increase was 7 hires to support expanded transit service. Other departments stayed flat, but the workload did not. This year we’re looking at an increase of 14 FTEs, many of them related to planning and infrastructure. (In some cases we are increasing the hours of existing part-time staff, so this isn’t 14 new people.)
Here are three reasons that I support hiring staff, where possible, rather than relying on contractors:
- Local people know the reality here (versus urban “experts” who are parachuted in to tell us what to do, and then leave)
- The money we spend on salaries stays in the community
- We build expertise and succession in the organization
For more information