Council begins trimming the budget

Having added several new items to the Town of Lake Cowichan's 2011 budget, the town's elected officials are now looking at what they can cut.

  • Mar. 21, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Having added several new items to the Town of Lake Cowichan’s 2011 budget, the town’s elected officials are now looking at what they can cut.

During their latest budget meeting, Tuesday, March 15, the town’s chief administrative officer presented mayor and council with an updated budget, taking into account all of the additional items council have listed as wanting this year, during previous budget discussions. This updated budget includes a deficit of $141,714 when taking into account a tax increase of zero. This would account to approximately a 9 per cent increase in taxation to homeowners, which mayor and council are not in favour of.

“Nobody likes raising taxes,” councillor Tim McGonigle said, adding that what to cut, at this point, will be a tough call.

“We reduce services, or we increase taxes,” the councillor said.

At the town’s March 15 meeting, cuts to proposed 2011 budget items were first and foremost on the top of mayor and council’s minds, after viewing the $141,714 deficit figure.

Bringing the issue of tax increases even closer to the front of the discussion was the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s recently-announced 8.89 per cent increase in taxes for property owners in Lake Cowichan; the largest increase of all of the regional district’s electoral areas.

“It makes it more stringent we stay low,” mayor Ross Forrest said. “The pressure’s definitely on us.”

In hopes of cutting around half of the $141,714 deficit, a number of cuts were discussed. One option is to cut 2011’s playground equipment budget down to $50,000, from its current $100,000, in order to save some money, this year. Subsequent phases could be done in future years, McGonigle said.

This money is allotted toward a spray park, and includes a $12,500 grant the town received last year from Success By 6.

Another possible cut is a $10,000 thermal image camera for the Lake Cowichan Fire Department, which fire chief Doug Knott has previously cited as an important, but not necessary, piece of equipment.

“I have a problem cutting from the fire department, for safety,” Forrest said, voicing his opposition to cutting proposed fire department budget items.

Like previous budget discussions, this latest talk became bogged down once the Cowichan Lake Education Centre’s (CLEC’s) deficit was brought up.

As per council’s suggestion that the deficit for Lakeview Park Campground and the CLEC have a combined deficit of $47,240, the centre and campground’s manager Dalton Smith prepared such a budget.

The $47,240 deficit consists only of items performed through Town of Lake Cowichan employees, such as Public Works and administration.

“We’ve said so much in the last couple of meetings, I don’t have much else to say,” Smith told mayor and council.

Mayor Ross Forrest was in favour of the deficit, comparing the CLEC to the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce-operated Visitor Centre, which the town has tentatively budgeted $18,400 for in 2011.

“That’s economic development. We have no way of measuring the impact of that ($18,400),” the mayor said. “I look at the CLEC as economic development, also.”

“What I would like to see is a zero,” councillor Franklin Hornbrook said, speaking against the $47,240 deficit, adding that by the end of the year, he anticipates the net loss to be even greater than the budgeted deficit. This assumption, he said, is backed up by 2010’s deficit of $62,655, compared to the budgeted deficit of $25,100.

The only way to save money, to create an overall deficit of zero, Smith said, would be to shut down the facility during slow winter months. This could save about $9,000 per month. But, he said, the town would miss out on grants, such as the $50,000 grant they’ve recently received from the Ministry of Housing and Social Development.

This isn’t what council seemed to be in favour of, during their March 15 meeting.

“There has to be a long-term business plan to get to that point,” McGonigle said, of this overall zero deficit, adding that this financial goal will not be met this year.

With councillor Jayne Ingram absent from this most recent budget discussion, mayor and council recognized that her voice was missing from the table.

During the next budget discussion, Tuesday, March 29, all councillors will be present.

During this time, overall percentages of tax increases, and which items will be cut, and at what capacity, will all be discussed.

All items touched upon thus far during the 2011 budget discussions will not be finalized until the final budget draft is approved by mayor and council. Until then, all items will remain up for discussion.