Not long after Whistler passed a budget that saw residents absorb a 5.5 per cent increase in property taxes, the District of Squamish found itself in the unenviable position of levying a 10 per cent increase on its own residents.
“It may be difficult politically, but council was unanimous about it,” said Mayor Ian Sutherland in an interview with Pique Newsmagazine . “We wanted to make sure we took the paving budget, which was $1 million — eight per cent of the increase — and instead of putting that into debt, we pay for it up front. You take that and add on roughly three per cent, and that’s normal.”
The three per cent increase is tied to inflation and higher costs of living, a situation the mayor called perennial. However, the paving cost was originally in the capital expenditures part of the budget, which allowed council to access the funds through long term debt. Ultimately, council decided to transfer paving into the operating side of the budget, where, historically, debt is not accrued to cover costs.
“Debt is always an issue,” Sutherland said, “but, more importantly, we felt, as a group, that paving is an operational issue. It’s not a capital project.”
The budget includes about $22 million in expenditures. Large items include protective services at $5.2 million, and general government services at $4.4 million. Payments towards interest and principal of the district’s approximately $20 million debt ring in at $1.3 million. Long-term debt, meanwhile, has been expanded by $4.8 million.
The budget received three readings this week, with council congratulating itself on hours spent and decisions made.
“I really, sincerely hope that all of us can support this budget,” the mayor said in comments likely directed at Councillor Raj Kahlon, who walked out of a previous meeting.
Kahlon was the only councillor to vote against the budget.