After a trip back to the drawing board, Ucluelet’s municipal council is no longer asking local business owners to foot the entire bill for the town’s new bylaw officer.
The new officer’s top priority will be to crack down on unlicenced vacation rental operations with helping to deter illegal camping and public drinking also on the to-do list.
During a public meeting last week, the district announced it has changed its original funding strategy that called for business licence fees to pay the officer’s salary, and will now fund the position from three sources: business licence fees, property taxes, and small craft harbour funds.
“This is based on conversations that we’ve had amongst ourselves with our staff and also, of course, with the meeting that we had a couple weeks ago, with a lot of the business folks that have business licences and are operating businesses in our community,” said Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques.
“We really appreciate your input and we did take into account a lot of what was said, so we thank you for that and just a reminder, I guess, that we’re all on the same team here. We all live and work here and want to continue to live and work here in a good way.”
Ucluelet is now proposing a 20 per cent increase across all of its roughly 47 business licence categories and St. Jacques said the increase would bring an expected $13,957 worth of additional revenue.
“The additional $13.9 [thousand] is not enough to cover bylaw, so we’re looking at a few different sources,” she said. “We’re looking at the business licences, property taxes and we’re also looking at small craft harbour.”
She added last year’s business licence fees generated $70,000 and that the Ucluelet chamber of commerce would receive $30,000 of the business licence revenue this year.
Council was asked how much property taxes would increase to pay for the bylaw program, but district CAO Andrew Yeates said that won’t be known until council has finalized it’s budget.
“Council still has a lot more work to do on their financial plan and the budget and once that’s sorted, we’ll know,” he said.
St. Jacques said council is mulling a variety of projects and programs in its current budget discussions.
“We also have discussed and would like to beef up our savings accounts a little bit for things that come up, so that we’re prepared,” she said.
“So we are discussing a possible tax increase for that purpose.”
Several business owners raised concern about being hit with both a business licence fee increase and a property tax increase, but St. Jacques said bylaw enforcement must be paid for somehow.
“We do our best to look after the community in the most economical way that we can. Our main source of revenue is taxation. It’s the same for every municipality. That’s what we have,” she said.
“It’s been certainly made clear to us that a full-time bylaw person is required and is wanted in the community.”
Ucluelet local Dennis Morgan asked why Resort Municipality Initiative dollars couldn’t be used to fund the position.
St. Jacques responded those funds are strictly regulated by the provincial government and can only be spent on specific, tourism-related projects.
“People have made cases. Different communities have tried different things but they [the provincial government] don’t consider that as tourism infrastructure,” she said.
“It’s more like toilets and pathways and parking lots and things like that. We’d like to use some of those funds towards water and sewer infrastructure because that’s a big responsibility for us and a big expense.”
She said the district receives roughly $200,000 of RMI funding from the province annually.
Coun. Mayco Noel said Ucluelet’s Chief Financial Officer Jeanette O’Connor is tuned in to the province’s RMI restrictions and helps steer council towards allowable expenditures.
“It’s clearly listed what you can spend the money on and what you can’t spend the money on,” he said.
“Jeanette, kind of, keeps us out of jail on what we can and can’t spend it on. We’d love to just spend it on sewer and bylaw and then we’d just all go home. But, unfortunately, we have to use the money for what we’re restricted to use it for.”
Ucluelet has not had a full-time bylaw officer since the district axed the position in 2012 and St. Jacques said the decision to terminate the position was made by the previous council.
“Sometimes, something will come up where they just have to make adjustments. It could have been such that the bylaw was in place but that money was needed for something else that was a higher priority. They need to have that flexibility so that they can do that,” she said.
“When you vote for council. You are, to a great extent, putting your confidence in their ability to make good decisions. So, you have to allow some of that to be able to happen.”
Ucluelet pushed its business licence deadline from Jan. 1 to May 1 to buy time to hash out the fee increase and bylaw funding strategy, but council assured anyone with a 2016 licence is currently allowed to operate and new business licences are being dished out in the meantime.
“We’re allowing them to run until our process finishes and we know exactly what to charge them, so it’s important to note, new businesses are not being deterred and they can start up,” St. Jacques said.