The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s (ACRD) 2020 budget attempts to strike a balance between minimizing tax impacts for its communities and maintaining the same level of service during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The ACRD board of directors adopted the 2020-2024 Financial Plan at a special meeting on Tuesday, March 31 that was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recording of the meeting has since been uploaded on the ACRD’s website.
The plan shows an overall tax increase of 6.64 percent, applied differently in each electoral area. The City of Port Alberni, which is a member of the ACRD, will see a tax increase of 0.3 percent, but according to Chief Financial Officer Teri Fong, the average household will not see a tax increase because of rising property values.
Directors struggled to reduce expenses without eliminating services. Director Sharie Minions said she wasn’t sure that the ACRD is capable of making “significant cuts” that would provide “meaningful financial change” for communities. She instead suggested advocating to senior levels of government for economic assistance.
“We need to do everything that we can that is responsible to leave a little bit more money in property taxpayers’ pockets,” Director Josie Osborne agreed. “I just don’t think [a large tax reduction] is possible without a serious reduction in services.”
Directors agreed to add $30,000 to the Alberni Valley emergency preparedness budget for COVID-19 response and recovery.
“The $30,000 is just a guess at this point,” Fong said in a later interview. “There are so many unknown factors. We just wanted to make sure the board has the ability to respond where we need to.”
The board also agreed to reduce some expenses that could be avoided in this fiscal year and deferred several projects to later years, including new vehicle purchases. Fong said that the ACRD expects to see a decrease in revenues this year due to COVID-19, especially at the landfills and the Long Beach Airport.
Like the City of Port Alberni, the ACRD is not capable of deferring tax payments for home or business owners—this instead falls under the purview of senior levels of government.
Directors chose to keep audio and visual upgrades to the board room in the budget for this year, at a cost of $13,000. These upgrades will allow for the implementation of meeting livestreams.
“I think the fact that we’re conducting a budget meeting that literally no one has access to right now highlights a big problem in how we’re operating,” said Minions. “We are a bit behind the times.”
The ACRD’s next board of directors meeting (scheduled for Wednesday, April 8 at 1:30 p.m.) will be streamed on the ACRD website.