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Squamish Council plays budget catch up

Increasing RCMP costs add over $700,000 to budget

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With the municipal budget submission deadline approaching, Squamish Council heard from district staff that the process is behind schedule again this year.

Added to this, councillors learned that just to cover all required costs and keep service levels consistent with last year a 3.8 per cent increase in general taxation is needed.

The average assessed home value in Squamish is $374,000 so a home assessed at the average value will pay $53 more in tax this year over last year if a 3.8 per cent increase is ultimately passed by council.

According to the District of Squamish (DOS) finance department, the average tax increases imposed by councils over the last 10 years has been 6.1 per cent.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday (March 20) council was told by DOS staff that the increase in policing costs faced by Squamish is the biggest budget hit this year. The MOT recent census showed the population of Squamish is well over 15,000 so the community is responsible for paying for 90 per cent of the RCMP policing costs. Until this year, Squamish has been paying 75 per cent of the costs. The jump represents an increase of $728,000 in Squamish's annual budget.

Kevin Ramsay, the CAO, said the DOS has no control over increased policing costs.

He added that collective bargaining is currently underway with the two unions representing the town's work force.

"Our position as staff right now is we're looking at zero per cent," said Ramsay.

Ramsay said the general managers don't have any slush funds in their department budgets. By asking the department heads to comb through their budgets Ramsay said council doesn't have to go line by line through the community budget.

"That's the job of the general managers," he said.

A series of meetings is scheduled to finalize the 2012 budget and one of the meetings will be a public information open house and feedback evening. This is scheduled for April 2 in the seniors' centre starting at 6 p.m. The final budget meeting, where the budget bylaw will be implemented, is scheduled for May 1.

"It will take focus and perhaps some long days to provide the quality of review that will be necessary for council to feel comfortable moving forward to final approvals," Ramsay told council.

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