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Pemberton applies COVID lens to 2021 budget

Municipality opens months-long process at Committee of the Whole
Trail widening at One Mile Lake Park is one of the items on the Village of Pemberton’s 2021 budget.

When Village of Pemberton council considered the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its budget in 2020, ultimately resulting in slashing its tax rate increase to zero per cent, it had to do so on the fly.

But nearly a year into the global health crisis—and after finishing 2020 with a surplus—the municipality will be able to account for it throughout the months-long process, which kicked off at Committee of the Whole on Feb. 2. As of Feb. 3, the surplus figure was $683,247 for all funds and departments, though the number will change as some projects that are still outstanding are accounted for.

The 2021 draft budget currently shows “zero increases and Non-Market Change of $75,477,” though Manager of Finance Lena Martin’s report also noted that council will revisit those figures later on in the process after considering project and capital budget numbers.

Martin’s report noted that the draft, with a zero-per-cent tax increase, results in the operating budget having a deficit of $57,382, which is chalked up to there being 27 pay periods, rather than 26, because of the leap year in 2020.

“That is not for any increase in salary. That is just a calendar shift in terms of pay periods,” she said.

One consideration council will make is to potentially shift its $206,960 in road reserves to operational reserves, at least for this year, to cover the additional pay period and allow flexibility for other expenses while maintaining a lower tax impact. If the reserves are allocated, used for all projects in the draft budget, it would offset all but $34,193.51 of the tax increase, working out to a 1.87-per-cent rise.

Councillor Ted Craddock was concerned about the reallocation, noting past reports have suggested significant road spending for years to come.

“We’ve been working for years to build that reserve up,” he said. “Here we are going to put it all into operational. I’m somewhat concerned about that.”

Safe Restart Grant

Martin noted that the shift would just be temporary while adding that the VOP received a $987,000 COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for Local Governments from both the federal and provincial governments late in 2020, and every effort would be made to spend that on qualified initiatives rather than dipping into reserves.

“This is just a short-term solution for this year for COVID-19 recovery for keeping our tax rates low,” Martin said. “If you are comfortable with changing the rates of the taxes, we could increase the amount of capital reserves. 

“Also, we are going to continue for updates to the COVID grant funding that is available and for every dollar that we can find from the grant funding, we can take away from the operational reserve. We would only draw on it at the end of the year if it was required.”

The VOP spent just over $63,000 of the safe restart grant in 2020 to cover costs such as loss of park event revenue, computers and technology, cleaning supplies, remote meeting expenses, communications and signage and other public works costs. In 2021, the budget proposes tapping into nearly $91,000 of that cash for similar costs, as well as One Mile Lake trail widening, an emergency communications electric sign, a commercial bunker gear washer and dryer for the fire hall and a financial
software upgrade.

“We are obviously continuing to look for additional projects that we can add, and as we go through budget sessions 1, 2 and 3, especially for 2021, we can identify further additions,” she said.

Next steps

While the VOP is entering the process with an eye toward keeping any increase modest, Martin noted that the draft does not contain changes to taxes collected on behalf of other governments as those individual bodies, not the VOP, make those decisions.

The current plan is to hold the second budget session at Committee of the Whole on Feb. 16, with a discussion of the budget’s tax implications at Committee of the Whole on March 2. 

The public budget session is set to take place before council’s regular meeting on March 16, with the third budgeting session, including discussion of the Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw, to follow at Committee of the Whole that afternoon. 

The first three readings of the Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw are slated to come before council at its April 13 regular meeting, with fourth and final reading at the April 27 regular meeting. Also on April 27, the first three readings of the Tax Rates Bylaw will come forward, with fourth and final slated for May 11.

The full draft budget is available at