No decision yet on Qualicum Beach fire hall

One resident suggests eliminating tax-exempt status for community organizations will help

Tough decisions remain for Qualicum Beach town council as it tries to decide how to spend $1.8 million for capital projects in 2013.

Staff put forward its priorities and a couple of residents gave their input at council’s regular meeting Monday night. It’s part of a financial-plan-approval process that has included some heated debate at a recent committee of the whole, and some pointed comments from a couple of residents Monday night.

The process may end this fall with the adoption of the financial plan and 2013 budget. Or perhaps not until until Spring 2013. It may mean a new fire hall for Qualicum Beach, extensive Memorial Avenue improvements, a new boat ramp and more. Or none of the above.

Clearly it’s a moving target, and resident Deborah McKinley urged council to take aim outside the box by cancelling the tax-exempt status 23 separate organizations in town, like churches, museums, golf clubs, service clubs, TOSH and others.

McKinley suggested collecting taxes from these organizations for the next three years would allow the city to collect $815,000 more in taxes.

“That’s approximately one-quarter (the cost) of the new fire hall,” she said, adding that many of these “competent entities” have “enviable financial statements.”

McKinley cited safety concerns, especially as they relate to the earthquake-readiness of the existing facility, as her main motivation to get this fire hall project happening right away.

“When the big one happens, I would like to think the fire department will be fully functional and not immobilized by a building that comes crashing down,” she said.

Another resident, former Mayor Art Skipsey, told council he sees “no signs of restraint” in the way the town currently spends tax dollars.

“Every weed picker has his own truck,” said Skipsey.

Town council took it all in without comment.

The town’s financial administrator, John Marsh, presented staff’s capital-purchase priorities for 2013, which totalled about $800,000 and included culvert relining on Yambury Road, other sewage/drainage work and rebuilding the town’s boat ramp, which Marsh said is “beyond repair.”

Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said he didn’t believe the timing was right to approve any work on the boat ramp.

“That needs to be put on the back burner until we decide what we’re doing with the waterfront master plan,: he said.

Council gave the bylaw related to the financial plan second reading, and it’s expected the plan and further discussion about priorities and the fire hall will be part of council’s next regular meeting Oct. 22.