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Squamish council wrestles with 2013 budget

Draft budget includes 12 per cent tax increase

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Squamish council was given a blunt introduction to the 2013 budget process. The District of Squamish general manager of finance has asked councillors to roll up their sleeves and work hard on the district's next five-year plan.

The draft budget presented to Council proposes a double-digit tax increase.

The DOS is facing spending demands from a number of fronts. Finance manager Joanne Greenlees noted the community is facing what she has called an infrastructure deficit, an increase in policing costs and increasing vital core services.

The first open DOS budget meeting was held on Feb. 26 and following the all-day meeting was another meeting the next day. A third meeting took place Monday evening.

Greenlees provided a budget overview in the first meeting, opening the second by telling council that critical infrastructure and service decisions are needed.

"If we want to continue with the level of services that appear to be demanded and not neglect our fiscal responsibilities with respect to maintaining our infrastructure and closing that deficit then we believe that it will take the bold step of saying that taxes have to increase," said Greenlees. "That really is one of the key messages here."

Coun. Ron Sander didn't appreciate getting a draft budget with a proposed 12 per cent increase.

"I don't know too many businesses in town or families in town that increase their bottom line by 13 or 11 per cent," Sander said. "So, what we're saying is we want to take something out of everyone's pocket. I'm not at all enthusiastic about that.

"Perhaps our Christmas wish list was a little too big. I think we have to get smart about this and get this down to where the average business and family can stomach the increase," he said.

Coun. Ted Prior shared Sander's concern: "If we're running our business that much out of line that we need that much extra money I think we've got to look at the way we're running our business."

Coun. Bryan Raiser pointed out that the DOS isn't a business.

"We're here to provide services and we have to decide what those services are," said Raiser.

Coun. Susan Chapelle agreed with Raiser. She said there's a massive difference between what the public expects and what can be provided.

All the meetings have been open to the public and the members of council encouraged people to attend future meetings then give council feedback on the financial plan. Communications Manager Christina Moore said district staff took steps to make sure everyone can be involved. All the information available regarding the creation of the 2013 budget is available on the district's website along with a feedback form.

Gondola gets next needed permit

The proponents of the Sea to Sky Gondola have cleared yet another key hurdle.

DOS granted a development permit for the proposed construction of the base area, which will include a ticketing building, the gondola base building, a coffee shop and a two-storey building containing washrooms and administration offices.

The development permit allows for a two-phase project that will see the main entry road paved along with the accessible parking spots in the first phase. The rest of the parking area is to be paved in the second phase. The area will hold a total of 294 cars and seven busses.

Details from DOS planner Sarah McJannet were presented on Tuesday, March 5. She noted that the site on the east side of Highway 99 will only be accessible through a right-in entrance, meaning southbound traffic won't be able to turn left into the new development. Leaving the site will only be done by going north. Traffic leaving the gondola site wanting to go south will have to drive north to the entrance to Stawamus Chief Provincial Park and use the park exit to turn around.

Coun. Ron Sander said he has supported the project from its early days.

"I think it's a great project. I think it is a real game changer for the community," said Sander. "It is a pretty impressive feat going from concept to reality."

The proponents are working to open the gondola next spring.

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