Town budget discussions begin

There was a lot to discuss during the Town of Lake Cowichan’s first 2011 budget meeting, Tuesday, January 18.

  • Jan. 24, 2011 7:00 p.m.

There was a lot to discuss during the Town of Lake Cowichan’s first 2011 budget meeting, Tuesday, January 18.

By the end of the two-hour meeting, the town’s elected officials decided to pass forward items they didn’t have time for, to a meeting scheduled to have taken place Monday, January 24. Gazette readers can learn more about this meeting in next week’s issue, but until then, the following is a run-down on what was discussed during the January 18 meeting.

The town’s elected officials decided to wait on considering whether or not they’d like to increase taxation, and how much an increase would be, until they’ve gone over all of the budgetary items. This, the town’s chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez encouraged, will help paint a clearer picture of necessary budgetary increases, before a tax decision is made, which they could very well be forced to change.

Water Park

The Town of Lake Cowichan’s elected officials still need more technical information from the town’s superintendent of Public Works Nagi Rizk, but it looks as though Duck Pond will see a water park installed at some time this year.

The Town of Lake Cowichan began discussions around a water park last year, when they received a $12,500 grant from Success By 6 to build one. The town’s elected officials have since decided to devote this year’s annual $25,000 parks upgrade budget toward the water park, making a total available fund of $37,500.

During the January 18 budget meeting, Rizk reported to mayor and council that he has visited a water park similar to the one proposed for Lake Cowichan, in Duncan. Following the visit, he estimates Lake Cowichan’s project to cost around $100,000.

“Is there any way of doing this without spending $100,000?” councillor Jayne Ingram asked.

Councillor Tim McGonigle suggested that, perhaps the water park can be done in phases, similar to what is being proposed for the Centennial Park renovations.

Mayor Ross Forrest agreed with this sentiment, in that with one working section, they could determine just how popular the water parks is, and then decide whether or not to expand it into the next phase.

“It’s nice we got the grant, but are we going to spend $100,000 for $12,500?” McGonigle asked. Service clubs could be a source of funding.

“The Kinsmen has come to council in the past to build a water park,” McGonigle said. Volunteer helpers, similar to what took place at Parkstone Park last year, could also come in useful in keeping costs low.

Councillor Bob Day motioned, to approval, that the town look into a water park for $100,000, to determine its feasibility. The money hasn’t officially being allocated yet; it’s just to work with during preliminary planning stages.

“At least that gives staff a number to look at,” Forrest said.

Reserve funds

Although the Town of Lake Cowichan already has an equipment reserve fund, it isn’t enough.

“Everything ages, and will need to be replaced,” the town’s director of finance Ronnie Gill said, during the meeting. “And we haven’t been putting money away.”

Many communities are having this problem right now, Gill said, and although Lake Cowichan is doing better than a lot of places, there’s still room for improvement.

“If you don’t have reserve funds, you’ll budget a little higher,” the town’s chief administrative officer Joseph Fernandez said.

This issue was last brought up during the January 4 council meetings, wherein a contingency fund for snow removal was discussed. Currently, the town budgets $50,000 per year for snow removal; far more than the town typically uses. The high amount was decided upon in order to accommodate for particularly snowy winters. Leftover funds from the snow removal budget go into a general surplus, which can’t be utilized without amendments.

During the January 24 budget meeting, Fernandez said that council can pick different areas of qualification for each contingency fund they create. Snow removal, for example, could also accommodate flooding.

During the meeting, mayor and council seemed to be in agreement that the town could benefit from the introduction of more contingency funds; the particulars of which will be looked into during future meetings.

Garbage budget

One major method of keeping the town’s garbage collection expenditures low this coming year will be education, the Town of Lake Cowichan’s elected officials decided during their January 18 meeting.

This was the latest discussion mayor and council have had with regard to lowering garbage expenses, with past discussions involving the elimination of special collections, at a savings of about $8,000, and the collection of organic waste, therefore reducing collection and tipping fees by as much as 40 per cent.

The education, this coming year, will be around recycling, and composting organic waste.

“It’s a huge cost,” the town’s director of finance Ronnie Gill said, of tipping fees. “The more they recycle, the more they save.”

The 2010 budget allowed $324,880 for garbage expenses, which is covered mainly by utility bills. But, utility bills do not cover the full expense, with about $30,000 of the remaining expenses coming through property taxes.

During their first budget meeting, mayor and council also discussed the possibility of extending bi-weekly pickup, in order to cut costs, with residents allowed only one garbage can of refuse.

“It would force people to recycle,” mayor Ross Forrest said. “This is one way we an reduce.”

Bear season is one concern, councillor Tim McGonigle said, but could be avoided with the use of proper storage, which residents should employ, anyway.

Forrest suggested that weekly collection continue to take place during the summer, due to the heat. Bi-weekly pickup can not take place until 2012, as the 2011 collection calendars have already been distributed. The idea will be discussed at future meetings.

Other items discussed

• The CVRD has approved of the Town of Lake Cowichan’s plans of lighting the entrance to the Cowichan Lake Education Centre. The specifics of this project have yet to be determined.

• The Scout/Guide Hall will come down some time this year. $20,000 has been budgeted for this item, of which $1,200 will go toward a hazmat assessment of its potential health dangers.

• Fluoridation, at a cost of about $12,000, will remain in the budget for 2011, as the item has yet to come to a referendum, after which time it could be eliminated from the budget by 2012.

• The town’s superintendent of Public Works Nagi Rizk is still trying to complete flood protection upgrades to the lift station, located in Central Park, on time. A snag has been hit by a February 25 completion date required from a $153,466 grant the Town of Lake Cowichan received for the $234,229 project. This is short notice, and the worst time of year to do the project, Rizk said.

The lift station, which is one of five such stations that serve to push sewage further on down the line, is to be elevated above the 200-year flood plain. Rizk is currently looking at relocating the station across the street, next to the Riverside Inn.

What’s next?

The Town of Lake Cowichan’s staff and elected officials were scheduled to resume budget discussions Monday, January 24, at 3 p.m. Discussions around parks, administration, capital, and other items, were scheduled to have taken place. Read about this meeting in next week’s Gazette.