The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District passed its 2007 budget by the skin of its teeth.
Two directors, who between them hold the lion’s share of the weighted vote, voted to not support the regional district’s $2.2 million budget. It wasn’t a matter of any specific allocations within the document two of the members were against, it was rather an issue of authority.
Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland and Councillor Raj Khalon initially voted to not support the budget because of what they considered a fiscal inequity. Electoral directors, of which there are four, each have $47,000 discretionary funds to allocate anyway they see fit within their electoral area. Mayor Sutherland was concerned that the board could end up being liable for financial decision independently made by individual directors.
“Believe it or not we’re all accountable for how we spend that money,” said Sutherland.
After lengthy discussion about the necessity to reconvene later in the week to re-address the budget in order to meet the March 31 deadline, Sutherland re-addressed the issue at the end of Monday’s meeting. He offered a compromise solution.
“I would like to see any electoral area expenditures put on the (SLRD board) agenda for information, so if for any reason anyone on the board wants to quibble with the information they can. If they don’t it would be considered passed and the EAs could act on it,” said Sutherland.
“All I ask is that the information goes on the agenda so all members of the board, and more importantly, all members of the public, see what’s being spent.”
Chair Russ Oakley, director for Bridge River Valley Area, formerly Area A, noted that this move represented a step backward for the SLRD.
“It’s not that very different from where we were up to three years ago,” said Oakley. “Before we introduced the bylaw that allowed EAs to have discretionary funds all expenditures came to the board.”
Area C director, Susie Gimse, voiced the concern that she hoped the amendment would not be used to stall projects.
“There are safeguards that prevent us from doing anything stupid,” Gimse noted, before voting in support of Sutherland’s amendment.
The other budget concern Sutherland raised was in reference to differences in remuneration that electoral area directors and municipal directors receive. Electoral area directors currently receive $9,342, while municipal directors receive $6,585 a year. Calling into question the validity of the $2,757 discrepancy, both Sutherland and Khalon compared workloads of individual electoral areas.
“The outlying areas don’t have as much workload,” stated Khalon.
Several times during the discussion Sutherland made the point that the issue was not about the amount, but the fact that it was inequitable.
“I don’t care we go up or go down, we shouldn’t have different rates for what we do,” said Sutherland.
SLRD administrator Paul Edgington explained that the difference in remuneration stemmed from the nature of the various portfolios.
“Electoral area directors deal with both municipal and regional issues, while the municipal directors deal primarily with regional issues,” he explained.
A decision on compensation was deferred to the next board meeting pending further discussion.