District of Squamish (DOS) Council and staff weighed two very different budgets at an in camera Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, with just one month left before they must submit their final budget to the province.
On the one hand is a staff recommendation on the budget that would increase property taxes 17.5 per cent this year, in order to maintain current service levels.
On the other hand is a revised budget put forward on April 7 by the finance standing committee, which in a stunning turnaround advocated for a four per cent decrease compared to last year's budget. That would likely involve cuts to services, leaving several positions vacant, and possibly some layoffs of district workers.
Whether there is some middle ground between the proposals has yet to be seen, but Mayor Greg Gardner says the people of Squamish need to see what could be lost before they make any decisions or attempt to reconcile the two budgets.
"(The finance committee's recommendation) is a 21.5 per cent decrease off the staff recommendations, which is quite a gap," he said. "We haven't made a decision yet... but we asked staff to bring forward a budget to reflect that (four per cent decrease) so council can see what impact that would have on services for the community. We will review that budget and make some decisions about what services we wish to provide or not provide, and ultimately what our decision on taxes should be."
Squamish has until May 15 to file a budget with the province, and the clock is ticking said Gardner.
"We are later in the process than we would like to be, but we do have sufficient time to make good decisions."
On top of the proposed four per cent decrease, the DOS has also received new calls for spending that would result in a tax increase. That list of items includes a temporary full-time position for a trails contractor, and additional funding for transit shelters and extended hours.
Councillor Paul Lalli sits on the finance committee, and was responsible for bringing forward the recommendation for a four per cent decrease.
"The economy is a big factor," he said. "For the past six years one of the biggest employers in Squamish has been the construction industry and Kiewett, which is handling the Sea to Sky Highway construction project. With the economy construction has slowed down considerably, and obviously the highway project will be completed relatively soon, so employment is a huge factor.
"Elected people can't control interest rates, we can't control gas prices, but we sure can control property taxes."