Council takes first kick at 2016 budget

Trent Ernst, Editor

Over the last few years, Council has been working on their budget at the start of the year. In 2014, they didn’t start working on the budget for 2014 until 2014 was already underway.

For the 2016 budget, Council wants to get ahead of the budgeting process, and so on September 30, staff and Council met for their first look at the budget.

“Staff’s Goal is to have provisional budget by the start of 2016,” says CAO Barry Elliott.

At the meeting, under discussion was a proposed timeline for the budgeting process, department highlights for 2015, and a look at actual income and spending for 2015 vs the budget.

Building Official Ken Klikach says his department has saved some money on projects in capital. His biggest issue for the year was getting materials. “The LED lighting just arrived this morning,” he said. “It’s been on order for three and a half months.”

He says they have started to change out some of the lights in the Community Centre and it’s looking really good.

Operations Manager Doug Beale says his department has been focus on aging infrastructure and recycling.

Economic Development Officer Jordan Wall says the focus has been on tourism. “Numbers are booming,” he says. He has also been working on making it easier for large projects to get in contact with local businesses via the chamber. He’s also been working to help major industry get permitting and working on provincial relations, including a successful meeting with the Premier at UBCM. For next year, the focus is on unifying signage and image.

The finance department has had a successful but challenging year, says Chris Leggett, with a number of new projects. Compare Chetwynd’s 23 capital projects with our 80, he says. They have no investment portfolio yet have five people in their finance department, while we have three. “We have a very dedicated staff here.”

He says the partnership with Screaming Eagle Ventures has been successful. It has been a tremendous amount of work. “It hasn’t been entirely perfected,” says Leggett, “but it has been very successful.” They have just started a year-end audit, which should take two weeks to complete. “It took more time in the build process than I was expecting.”
Councillor Mackay says his concern is he doesn’t want the District to micromanage the golf course. He doesn’t want staff to spend too much time on it.

Fire Chief Matt Treit says the department is running well, though has seen staffing challenges over the year. “People have left. People are working out of town, but the members we have are very dedicated. They’ve put in lots of effort in training: confined spaces. auto extraction, fireworks.”

Some of the highlights for the year, he says was Fire Prevention Week at Tumbler Ridge Elementary, the pumpkin drop at the Pumpkin Patch Party, the Grizfest parade and a mock motor vehicle accident just before grad.
He says he continues to do inspections on commercial properties, and inspections on wood stoves. He says bylaw enforcement department (which he also runs) has been awesome. The Bylaw Enforcement Officer is very positive and does good job of explaining issues.

Aleen Torraville has been Acting Director at the Community Centre. Her focus has been on employee relations and HR issues. She attended training on employee management, and has focused on this. Wearing her other hat as Administrative Service Manager, she has been reviewing District policies to update as well as new policies and working with department heads on updating bylaws.

CAO Barry Elliott says they are now three quarters of the way through the year, and 95.42 percent of projected revenues are in, so now is a good time to look at variances in the budget.

Councillor Krakowka asks if the fluctuating dollar value will affect the cost of the new Ladder Truck, as it did the signs at the new Visitor Centre? No, says Chief Treit.

Councillor Howe says we are three quarters of the way through, but are five million under budget. “That’s not a good thing; are we expecting a surge of work over winter, or what?”

Clive Freundlich, who has been helping with the budget says that most of the money will go into a reserve to fund the completion of that project next year. “Typically, the community’s track record has been to get $2-$3 million in capital projects finished.”

Councillor Krakowka asks then why do they budget for the projects if they have no plans to finish them? Elliott says the goal is to try and finish them, but the District’s first objective is to keep the lights on, and to take care of the critical municipal services. “Any additional capital expenses are just that; additional. If all the stars align, we can get all this done, but it’s very often that the stars don’t align.”

“What happens next year, with all the work that didn’t happen this year, and all the work that wants to happen next year,” asks Krakowka.

Freundlich says this is very common for municipalities “As we move through the year, we get more information and can refine what happens.”
Councillor Mackay points out this is why Council is working on the budget in September, so the District can be ready for next year to get going and get contractors. He points out that Klikach said he was waiting three and a half months for stuff. “If we were ready today, we could order now for next year.”

Leggett points out that you don’t want to hit 100 percent of your budget. You want to budget more than you think you can do so staff is always occupied. Mr Beale and I were talking about this today. He says that the District wants to be budgeting a number close to where you want to be. “And if you take out the fire truck, which we haven’t paid for, and the water park and council initiatives, you’ve accounted for basically four of that five million.”

Councillor Howe asks if it would it be better to separate purchases and projects? “I’m more concerned about the workload for next year.”
Council turns their eye to variances in their special projects budget. The mayor asks about the return to work initiative. “What was that used for? I thought that was to be able to hire more people at Public Works?”

Elliott says Council spoke about that, but they also talked about creating a transition group and working with people. “It was fairly vague, but it was my impressing that it was more geared towards the work of the transition team.”

He points out that Public Works is currently employing three displaced miners.

Howe asks if some of that money could be used to hire people for snow clearing come winter. “How does that work with union,” he asks?
Elliott says the union is very supportive of helping neighbours and friends. There are some conditions, yes, but these are their neighbours and friends.
Finally, Council looked at variances with core services. Councillor Howe asks what happened with the roads this year. Beale says patching, crack sealing, ditching. “Stuff like that.” He says he can’t spell out everything right now, as there are quite a few accounts under the road heading.

Councillor Krakowka asks why they are under budget on fleet spending. Beale says winter takes up quite a bit of that budget. “It will climb as we winterize vehicles, get consumables for graders and loaders, etc. Summer time is a bit of a lull.”

Howe asks about the traffic line. Beale says that traffic lights and signage fall under that account.

He also asks about why the airport budget is so high? Beale says it is unmanned, but the District has to do regular checks, and things like weed whacking and weed control. “The runway’s life is nearing its end, so it requires maintenance. The lights have to be checked a couple times a week. The terminal building needs to be maintained… that sort of thing.”

The mayor asks about the golf course. “Are we looking at a way to not be as involved as we are? We seem to have built a system we don’t want. It’d be nice to get past this.” The item is tabled.

The mayor asks about cemetery improvements. Elliott says there is no reserve fund, so it is something the District will fund out of surplus.
Howe asks if the five year plan is just adding inflation?

Freundlich says no. “There’s a fairly detailed plan. It’s very general, but staff can see programs coming to end or costs coming up. Recurring operating expenses is fairly basic. We’re pulling out big special projects, which makes it easier.”

Howe asks if the District accounts for two percent year over year growth in income too?

Freundlich says for most categories, yes, but not for user fees.

Leggett points out that Council decided to not raise taxes at all, so it isn’t assured. Howe asks if the difference is made up for from new construction?
Freundlich says there’s always new construction, so as a general rule, yes.
Howe asks about the tax sale. He wonders it the penalty assessed to the owners that haven’t paid their taxes, meets or exceeds the 5.7 percent the District is mandated to pay to the potential property buyer?

Freundlich says the owner of property, if or when he redeems it, would pay the upset price, plus the interest rate paid out to the buyer. “In Vancouver people would bid up the price 200,000, to 300,000 just to collect that extra interest.”

Howe asks why the District didn’t do that?

Freundlich says that some municipalities will say in their opening statement that these are people in distress, and that taking advantage of these people is distasteful.

Finally, Elliott says now is the time for Council to put forward projects they see as priorities, to get some sense of what council wants.

Councillor Scott says she wants to see work on the walkways and paths. “People are starting to walk beside them because they’re too rough. Better access for Pedestrians at VIC.” She points out there are no benches or garbage cans at VIC, either.”

The mayor suggests a walk around the place to see what is needed to finish it off.

Councillor Howe wants to see RV parking at VIC centre. He would like to see more signage on the outskirts of town saying no tire chains in town. “They’re starting to tear apart our road.” He wants to start on sidewalk repairs, and look at road repairs and cost. “ The flipped asphalt is not holding up like it was supposed to. We need a long term plan for road repair.”

He wants to look at a weight room expansion and a water slide for pool. He wants to investigate a shift schedule for downtown snow removal, so that streets can get cleared when there aren’t vehicles parked there.
Councillor Krakowka says he agrees about the walking trail, and wonders if it could be done this year, as there’s lots of money in the Council Initiative Budget. Elliott cautions it is better to do it right than quick.

He asks about the signpost. Beale says the pole had some rot. A temporary fix was to put in I-beams, but when we went to put them in, they discovered more rot. “I’m not sure where we want to go with it,” says Beale. “In order to incorporate the actual signage, you need a new pole. Need something like hemlock or cedar. Not sure what direction to take. It will take a lot of work.”
Krakowaka proposes planting a Christmas Tree in the Roman Walkway, and moving the post over to near the VIC.

Councillor Howe wants to look at land sales. He wants to see a comprehensive list of what’s for sale, maybe a map, so that we’re ahead of the curve here. Possibly some signage.

Councillor Mackay agrees about walking trails. He says it’d be nice to have a circuit that connected through the bush, and suggests working hand in hand with Community Forest to find a suitable route, staying away from land that will be developed.

With the return to work initiative, he says kids are going to school hungry. School has to go out and raise money for electives. “When classes have to go out and raise money, something is wrong. We have a couple people that take it upon themselves to help, but I’d like to use some of the money for return to work initiative go towards that.”

He says he wants to look at getting some of our crown land back at a reasonable price.

Mayor McPherson says he wants to get a plan submitted for the area out by boat launch. “I think we should do what we have to do. I’m not saying we need a campground there right now, but let’s do what we need to do so that we can do it in the future.”

The next budgeting meeting is scheduled for October 28.