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District of Ucluelet proposes budget cuts

Property tax increase scenarios of 2% and 0% under review
The District of Ucluelet is considering several budget cuts, including: a hiring freeze, deferring tax funded projects and reductions to the parks and recreation department. (Pixabay photo)

Ucluelet’s chief financial officer Donna Monteith proposed several budget cuts during the April 14 regular meeting to address financial concerns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monteith said the District of Ucluelet is expecting losses in all planning areas, like rezoning, development, and any planning related activities.

Most likely, notes Monteith, there will be a 50 per cent reduction in the recreation—about $200,000 in registration fees—and a minimum 10 per cent loss in water and sewage usage.

To support residents and businesses, district staff is reviewing property tax increase scenarios of two per cent and zero per cent. No fees for Business Licenses in 2020 are also being considered.

“Those two things together are about $250,000,” said Monteith.

The district is proposing several cuts to operations to make up for the loss of revenue, including: a hiring freeze, deferring tax funded projects, cancelling the transfer of money to reserve funds for fire department/parks, and multiple reductions in parks and recreation departments.

Manager of parks and recreation Abby Fortune said her department had one of their best years ever.

“We don’t know what the summer is going to look like. We are just going to have to adjust with the parameters set out by the province,” said Fortune.

“The thing with recreation is it’s money in, but it’s also money out. It washes a little bit,” she adds.

Monteith said the district plans to use the prior year’s surplus of no more than half-a-million dollars to take care of the rest of the remaining projected shortfalls.

“We only actually have $1 million or $1.2-million that are surpluses that are not restricted. If you take a $5 million operating budget, $1 million is not actually going to get us too far. I want to be cautious of what’s going to happen in 2021. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year or how long this is going to go on. I want to make sure we have a surplus for next year if we need it as well,” said Monteith.

She went on to tell Ucluelet’s mayor and council that a reduction in taxes is not really an option.

“We can bring them to a zero increase, but we can’t really look at reducing taxes because we don’t have the cash fall to do it and we have too many essential services to provide,” said Monteith.

On March 12, the District proposed an almost $11-million draft budget that included a taxation increase of four per cent.

An online meeting is scheduled for April 28 for the first and second reading of the revised five-year financial plan. The public will be given the opportunity review the proposed changes and provide feedback before the revisited budget goes to third reading and adoption prior to May 15.

“We are taking a fairly calm approach. I think we can certainly address any cash falls that may come and also keep 2021 in mind,” said Monteith.

At the end of the April 14 regular meeting, mayor and council voted to approve a Revenue Anticipation Bylaw. The proposed Bylaw seeks authorization for the District to borrow up to $3,945,921—or 75 per cent of property taxes imposed the preceding year—from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA).

“We get the money and then we are able to pay our bills as required if there are a whole bunch of people that don’t pay their taxes on time,” notes Monteith.

Councillor Lara Kemps said the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing should be rolling out new information regarding property tax deferment and due dates in the upcoming week. Annual property tax notices are sent out every May.

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