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Opinion: Money and Numbers

Judith Gedye gives us a look at the recent Islands Trust budget process, along with another area matter of interest
Sandy Beach 2
A collection of Islands Trust islands, including Bowen, Gambier, and Keats.

First, I’d like to report about Trust budget discussions, and second to share thoughts about wealth on Bowen and our approach/avoidance behaviour to it.

Trust Council has just held three days of meetings (March 7-9), and while there was a 500 page agenda, primarily we worked on the budget for 2023-24. The election resulted in a turnover of Trustees, new Trustees on the Executive Committee and new volunteers for the Financial Planning Committee (FPC).

The detailed work of the staff and their diligence in answering questions and helping is phenomenal, and the new committee took to the spread sheets with equal diligence and detail. What was presented to council was very helpful, but it is a difficult job to trim fat where there is none. Foremost, to my mind, is that the provincial contribution is very small and has been the same for several years, with more and more pressure on our major source of revenue: property taxes.

At the same time, most staff are BC General Employees’ Union members and cost of living allowance increases, plus rents and supplies, are increasing. One notable result is that the FPC, with encouragement and support of the Governance Committee, of which I am chair, and broad support from all of Trust Council, has begun developing a “corporate plan” to help prioritize projects and expenses.

For example, it is one thing to have a budget for a worthy project, but if staff have too many projects on their work lists, and not everything can or will get done, as a council, we need to do the difficult work to prioritize, not overload staff and our budget with great ideas, and a fair method Money and Numbers to do so.

The combination of talented and dedicated staff, plus members of the FPC who are experienced and adept at detailed analysis, bodes well for future planning. The objective is to have that in place before the next budget cycle. For now, the budget is the best we can recommend to the Minister for 2023-2024 and we accomplished that recommendation.

I am pleased to report that Bowen has been spared the increase in planning, mostly bylaw enforcement expenses, that all the other islands in the federation must contend with, and other than the fixed expenses mentioned above, Bowen can expect about a 1 per cent increase (sorry but I can’t find the exact number as I write this).

And, although we do not pay directly, we benefit from the programmes and materials created by other members of the Trust (eg. an archaeological project on Lasqueti, rainwater conservation and freshwater projects on Salt Spring, bylaw enforcement policies Trust wide).

The second idea that has been keeping me up has to do with comments I heard at Metro’s open house at Bowen Island Community School earlier this month, which went like this: instead of a park, would you rather have 24 massive houses, with dozens of service vehicles racing on/off during the 10-year build out, and a minimum three cars per family thereafter, with gates and fences and limited public access?

While I have serious concerns about the masses who will be encouraged to visit a regional park in vehicles that need to get through Horseshoe Bay on pretty well any day of the year, and then onto the ferry, through Snug Cove and over to the Cape, and while camping raises even more issues: potable water, sewage, fire protection and garbage, and while, fairly, I may be accused of demonizing the masses, it is equally unfair to demonize our wealthy neighbours.

When I moved to Bowen there was an us/them dynamic with Hood Point and a very unfortunate opinion piece in a national magazine about how ridiculous our choice of Citizen of the Year was, someone who’d helped create our recycling programme, written by someone who enjoyed our hospitality every summer, but nevertheless parodied our choices.

As we’ve shared more, that attitude has largely disappeared to the point that I am mindful of how much we relied on the generosity of our “major donors” when we raised funds for The Hearth and Library’s shared annex, the Health Foundation building, and when there’s continuing fundraising for Snug Cove House and the Community Centre.

It is very unfortunate to approach our wealthy neighbours with our hands out, asking for contributions to much needed and desirable projects, while sniffing about the size of their homes on waterfront lots. I promise to lay off fear-mongering against the toiling masses stuck in their tiny apartments in Surrey if you (whomever) will do the same for our more fortunate potential long-term community members.

The necessary analysis is more complex than either simplistic portrayal. Deal?

- Judith Gedye