Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop the budget from passing Monday evening.
Bowen Island Municipal Council passed first, second and third readings of the $8.8 million five-year financial plan (the budget) that recommends a 7.6 per cent tax property increase. Last year's increase was 6.7 per cent.
In view of the pandemic and municipal hall’s closure to the public, BIM held the meeting via video conferencing with mayor, councillors, staff and the public meeting virtually.
Chief financial officer Raj Hayre broke the increases down into four sections:
- 4.1 per cent increase for salaries and benefits: these reflect an annual consumer price index increase, a rise in benefit costs, a compensation review and new professional roles (engineer and fire chief) says the budget.
- 1.5 per cent increase for asset renewal: this is paying into a reserve for the island’s infrastructure. “Our assets are aging and current reserve levels are not adequate to address replacement needs,” reads the budget. “Council has approved an annual 1.5 per cent tax rate increase to address this funding gap.”
- 1.1 per cent increase for contract and service agreements .
- 0.5 per cent increase for council strategic initiatives.
The parcel tax for waste and recycling is also to rise to $600 per household as part of a seven-year fixed-rate contract with Bowen Waste Solutions.
There are also flat rate increases across the board for the water systems:
- Bluewater: rise to $800 for connected, $500 for unconnected properties
- Bowen Bay: rise to $800 for connected, $500 for unconnected properties
- King Edward: rise to $800 for connected, $500 for unconnected properties
- Cove Bay: rise to $760 for connected properties
- Eagle cliff: rise to $525 for up to 50 gallons a day and incremental increases for more usage.
- Hood Point: $400 for connected and $200 for unconnected systems
- Tunstall Bay: rise to $815 for connected, $500 for unconnected systems
The budget also suggests that sewer user rates increase.
Councillors noted that this was a strange time to pass a budget, “Who knows where we’re going to be a month from now, let alone three, four,” noted Coun. Rob Wynen.
Councillors Maureen Nicholson and David Hocking wondered if it was possible to send the budget back for revisions in light of current world events, “This is a budget we all saw a month or so ago and, and we didn’t like that then but we could see why,” said Hocking who went on to note that many community members will have a harder financial year and some of the projects that BIM thought it would be doing wouldn’t be happening.
“From where I sit, the budget is pretty lean, in terms of essentially places where we can adjust, but on council direction it can be adjusted and brought back,” Hayre responded.
Coun. Sue Ellen Fast was in favour of passing the budget, “I just think we should move it ahead so that we have funds for the municipality to use in whatever ways we can, depending on how the pandemic goes.”
Coun. Michael Kaile advocated for certainty in uncertain times. “It is a budget. It does not say we absolutely will without faltering preconditions spend all this money,” said Kaile. “Not to pass it right now, generally speaking, is probably unhelpful because it leaves us in a sort of no man’s or no ladies or no person’s space, which I’d rather not be in.”
Mayor Gary Ander agreed with Kaile, “We’ve got to get a starting point and take it from there.”
Coun. Alison Morse was the lone councillor who voted against the budget. “Given everything that’s going on and the lack of detail, not being able to tie numbers into numbers, I just can’t support this budget on principle,” she said.
The five year financial plan now passes to adoption.