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Building a budget

The victorious, the vanquished and the vexed

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In budgets, like in sports, there are winners and losers, the victorious and the vanquished. As the District of Squamish begins to hammer out its budget, so too does the annual parade of hopeful and hopeless wend its way in and out of town hall.

The process thus far is simple enough, and it begins on the capital spending end of things. In comes a stakeholder, like, say, the library, represented here by Hannah Dudley. She begins by explaining what was spent in 2007, and what it was spent on. Then, equipped with statistics on the growth of the library, she steels herself for a swipe at the district’s 2008 coffers: $6,170 for a new energy-efficient hot water tank and dual flush toilets, plus $18,000 for signage. Council then votes, in this case nixing the signage, but approving the tank and toilets.

It goes on like this. The fire department wants a new vehicle storage garage, which will cost $45,000. Council approves. The fire department also wants a new full-sized van, also priced at $45,000. Council disapproves. Search and rescue, meanwhile, lands itself a nice new Ford F350 for $120,000.

Sometimes, players in this process become vexed. The sought after dollars can come from a number of places, be they revenue, reserves, long term debt, development cost charges or grants and contributions.

According to councillor Corrine Lonsdale, the district too often accrues long-term debt for unnecessary projects. The way she sees it, the past five years have been distinguished by a frivolous borrowing policy. She’s reacting to the $1 million request for repaving from Transportation and Development Services.

“There’s a limit to how much we can borrow,” she says, “and at some point and time, we’re going to hit it, and there won’t be any paving at all. I’m getting really frustrated with all of this borrowing.”

Sometimes it’s not the borrowing that bothers people, but the proposals themselves. Talk of designated bike lanes inspires councillor Greg Gardner to make a motion requesting a study on the notion of painting a bike lane from Valleycliffe to Dentville. This gives mayor Ian Sutherland something to snort about.

“When you ride bikes in Dentville,” he explains, “you ride on the side of the road and go from A to B. I’m not sure why we need a comprehensive study.”

Well, says councillor Mike Jenson, apparently something of a cyclist himself, riding down the side of the road can be dangerous.

“It’s not dangerous to ride on the side of the road if you use your bike properly,” retorts the mayor.

No one agrees.

Besides, continues the mayor, there’s already the corridor trail, which follows the same North/South continuum, and is set to cost $850,000.

“It’s used by different people,” Jenson insists.

“It’s used by the same people,” Sutherland refutes.

And so on, except the Sutherland finds himself the lone man out on this issue. A study there shall be.

Balancing a budget is tough, especially in an election year. People are watching — witness Squamish Environmental Conservation Society president Catherine Jackson busily taking notes in the chambers’ public gallery. But, as with all things involving money, politics and the public interest, happiness is exclusive.

When declaring her opposition to the fire department’s full-sized van, Lonsdale summed it up nicely: “With so much else in the budget,” she said, “I just can’t support it.”

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