The protection of trees and replacements, as well as funding for climate change are two major concerns raised by residents who gave feedback on the Town of Qualicum Beach’s 2021-2025 financial plan.
Council gave the public an opportunity to provide input on the budget at its meeting on Dec. 9, before giving it second reading.
Jay Smith wanted to know the town’s commitment to protecting the trees, replanting them and creation of urban bylaws. He cited other jurisdictions like the City of Parksville have earmarked funds to address these issues.
“I am concerned as are many other citizens that we are lagging further and further behind and we’re one of the last municipalities on the Island to come up with a urban plan and bylaws,” Smith commented.
Lois Eaton wanted to know if the town has budgeted for climate changes as well as lawsuits. She asked where the money is coming from.
Coun. Teunis Westbroek asked director of finance John Marsh if staff has been tracking the town’s expenditures on tree replacements and on initiatives in anticipation of climate change.
Marsh acknowledged they do have records and will include them in the report when the budget comes up for third reading on Jan. 13, 2021.
Meanwhile, Marsh reported to council how the provincial Government’s $2,359,000 COVID-19 Restart Grant is assisting the town in addressing increasing expenditures and revenue shortfalls. He said it’s additional money that has relieved some of the town’s financial pressures.
“It certainly is helping with a number of initiatives that we want to do this year and moving forward,” said Marsh.
One of the projects that town needs to undertake, Marsh cited as an example, is the $300,000 information technology improvements. He said they are do for renewal and the grant makes it possible.
“We have a number of technological issues that we have regarding security,” said Marsh. “Security of our technology has become a large issue. There’s a lot of hackers out there that are trying to penetrate government systems and we’re doing what we can to protect the town’s infrastructure. A lot of those penetrations have been from Eastern Europe which is interesting because we are able to identify where it’s coming from.”
As well, the grant will help with the town’s community development initiatives that include COVID restart plans.
“Staff and in particular, (director of planning) Luke Sales is looking at some opportunities to try and enhance help for our business community,” said Marsh, who added that more details on the initiatives will be provided in the next budget report.
Marsh also pointed out the forecast 3.5 per cent increase in taxes next year that comprise of 1.5 per cent inflation, one per cent for services charges and one per cent for capital projects will remain unchanged.
Coun. Scott Harrison commended Marsh and staff for containing cost increases as best as they can considering the town’s desire to achieve some goals in the strategic plan. He added that despite the pandemic, he was impressed that homeowners were able to pay their taxes on time.
“That really took a lot of pressure I think off on our staff,” said Harrison.
Harrison still wants to see the projected tax increase reduced a bit. He suggested that council and staff review projects that can be deferred for one year.
“I don’t think there’s going to be huge variance but it’s worth having a discussion,” said Harrison.