After weeks of marathon meetings the District of Squamish council and staff have at last completed a five year financial plan with calls for an across the board property tax increase of roughly 2.9 per cent in 2009 - slightly higher than the four per cent decline advocated by the financial standing committee but also far less than the initial 17 per cent tax increase put forward by staff in February.
The financial plan received first, second and third readings at a special committee of the whole meeting on Monday, May 4 and Mayor Greg Gardner plans to give it fourth and final reading at a special council meeting on May 12, following an afternoon public open house - four days before the provincial deadline.
"It's a very complicated and complex document with lots of time spent on it by staff and council, and I encourage the community to read it," said Gardner. "People want to know the bottom line in terms of an overall tax increase, and the amount we're moving forward is a 2.9 per cent tax increase... it affects different property classes differently, but overall that's where we're at."
Gardner noted in an interview with Pique on Wednesday that he was very pleased with the final budget, and that it was the first time in many years that support for the financial plan has been unanimous among councillors.
He has not counted the hours put in recently, but Gardner says councillors had two to three all-day meetings a week recently to go through 2,000 lines of the operating budget and the capital budget to look for savings.
"There isn't a single answer to what we did in the process (to reduce the budget). We went through it on an almost line-by-line basis to look at prioritization, what absolutely had to be covered and what was expendable. There are some efficiencies we tried to find that also helped," said Gardner.
"I'm proud of the budget. Although we kept the overall increase to less than three per cent, there are no major decreases in service levels."
The budget does include the more than $600,000 that Squamish could be asked to pay for RCMP under the provincial funding formula. When a population reaches the 15,000 mark, a community is responsible for 90 per cent of policing costs, going up from 70 per cent. According to the 2006 census the population of Squamish was 14,949, but the province has revised that number to over 15,000.
As well, council found $200,000 from last year's RCMP budget that they used to increase the number of RCMP officers in Squamish this year.