The Ambleside & Dundarave Residents Association directors recently sent a letter to the elected officials for West Vancouver, expressing serious concerns regarding the proposed budget increases for 2021. The letter reads as follows:
Dear Madam Mayor and Council,
2020 has been a challenging year for all Municipalities in Canada, no less so for West Vancouver, and has likely been a difficult year for all of you both personally and in your role as Councillors. Thank you for your service.
This next year many Residents will also be facing challenges from both a health and financial perspective. Vaccines will hopefully bring an end to the health part of this crisis by year end. However, the economic consequences will likely be felt for years to come.
Many in the private sector have been laid off or are working reduced hours and have had their pay frozen or reduced. Many small businesses are struggling or have had to close down at great personal cost to owners and employees alike. Many seniors are on fixed incomes and with record low interest rates have seen their income decline or had to take additional risk to their capital to preserve income.
It is in this context that I write to you with regard to the Budget 2021. I attended the Budget Presentation on January 28 and have had only a short time since to review some of the details along with the ADRA Board Members. I am sure you will all agree that given an inflation rate of less than 1% a 5.2% increase in property taxes proposed by staff seems to be unreasonable. For many years now property taxes and the cost of running West Vancouver (driven mainly by increasing numbers of employees and salary costs) have increased well above the rate of inflation. This when the population of West Vancouver has been flat. Why?
The Public sector cannot just continue to download increasing costs through increased taxes onto Residents and Businesses. They need to seriously evaluate how to reduce these costs AND the burden on taxpayers. Unfortunately there seems to be nothing regarding the strategic objectives costed into this Budget to actually help our small businesses in West Vancouver.
Mr. McIsaac, on behalf of ADRA, has forwarded a list of questions to Mr. Bartlett related to the 2020 Budget that are relevant today and yet remain unanswered. Questions of the 2021 Budget were included in the list. In a phone call on Friday January 28 Mr. Bartlett, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) undertook to provide a speedy response to these questions.
In addition to the concern about the 5.2% proposed property tax increase (and this does not include any increases re Translink, School Taxes and Utilities usage) ADRA has the following concerns:
a) Costs are proposed to increase 6.3% or $6.3 million. $1.4 million of this relates to adding 13 new full time staff. We cannot continue adding staff especially when our population is not growing. Surely we should be freezing recruitment and reallocating staff from under resourced areas to areas where more staff are required. In addition we should be at least freezing salaries for non-union staff and management. We cannot continue to see salary and benefit costs rise
b) Revenues include $4 million of a one-time $5 million Grant from the Province of BC related to COVID Safe Restart. $4 million has also been added to expenses. The BC Government provided guidance to CAO’s as to what is considered as eligible costs under the program and the money can be used in 2020, 2021 or 2022 in respect of:
1. Addressing revenue shortfalls.
2. Facility reopening and operating costs.
3. Emergency planning and response costs.
4. By-law enforcement and protective services like fire and police.
5. Computer and other electronic technology costs (to improve interconnectivity and virtual communications).
6. Services for vulnerable persons.
7. Other related costs.
Of the $4 million only $1.8 million of the proposed spending clearly relates to COVID restart. $3.2 million less so. Eight additional staff are added as well, costs included.
$1.7 million is related to Support for Strategic Objectives and it is particularly hard to see how any of this relates to COVID Safe Restart at all. Much of it is for Consulting for things such as Environmental Strategy Update, Transportation Consultant Service, Strategic Transportation Plan, Public education events re Climate Change, Ambleside Town Centre Planning etc.
Particularly egregious is $312,000 re planning for a yet to be approved Arts Centre.
None of the $1.7 million seems to be eligible and certainly does not seem to be being spent in the spirit for which the BC Government gave the Grant to Cities and Municipalities.
Also allowed is using Grant Funds to replenish any statutory reserve funds. Our understanding is that $8 million was borrowed last year from the Endowment Fund largely for the Municipal Hall seismic upgrade. Budget 2021 is proposing spending a further $3.2 million of the Endowment Fund for the Capital Budget in 2021. The Grant funds instead of being spent, as outlined above, could be used to repay the money borrowed in 2020. This would have reduced expenses and the percentage increase in property taxes proposed.
c) In the General Fund summary it is proposed that $2.9 million from projected land sales are included in Operating Revenue. We would suggest that this is highly inappropriate and that such funds be allocated to the Endowment Fund or for Capital Assets.
In closing, the above are issues that stand out from a very preliminary review of the proposed Budget 2021. We would hope, as you consider the Budget, you will take into account the comments above.
In these difficult and challenging times we do not consider a 5.2% increase in property taxes appropriate. This is a time to focus on core services delivery and essentials and not to be pursuing major new strategic objectives.
Heather Mersey, President
Ambleside & Dundarave Residents Association
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