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Squamish could see a tax hike of 2.67 per cent

Tax hike could be accompanied by a rise in utility fees

Squamish residents could see an overall tax increase of 2.67 per cent when the budget is finalized in May.

That was the message Tuesday, March 29 at a Squamish council budget town hall meeting.

Along with the proposed increase in taxes, Squamish residents could also see up to a 15 per cent hike in their utility fees.

For example, on a house assessed at $374,000, the annual taxes now amount to $1,348. When the tax hike comes in, there will be an increase of $35 in the final tax bill of that house. And those paying $644 in utilities now might have to pay $79 more.

The Squamish Service Initiative, a district led initiative to cut costs at the municipality, had helped the district achieve a surplus of $1.7 million.

With that much in surplus, there could actually have been a tax decrease of 2.3 per cent, the Squamish CAO, Kevin Ramsay told an audience of about 20 residents.

But a slew of capital projects, salary increases, inflation, and increased services such as the commuter transit bus not only wiped out the surplus but also forced the council to consider a tax hike to fund the projects.

Some of these projects include flood protection, the construction of long delayed O'Siem Pavilion, council remuneration, and hiring an extra RCMP officer. Council also had to add $900,000 to address dike seepage at the last moment.

The budget documents, divided council priorities into high, low, and medium offering a glimpse into the ideas that shape the budget.

Some of the high priorities include: the additional RCMP officer, Brennan Park repairs, dikes, bridge maintenance, O'Siem Pavilion, council remuneration, equipment for new fire dept volunteers, and bicycle lane maintenance.

There were four items on the council priority list: a strategic financial plan, a marine management plan, a social planning review, an amenities policy, and the subdivision bylaw update.

The absence of economic development as a council priority rankled with those present in the meeting.

Eric Andersen, while congratulating council on a marine development strategy, said the district needs to focus more on economic development.

"The entire evening could have been focused on the district's role and initiatives in community economic development," he said.

"Clearly, this is what the public has an interest to discuss."

Maurice Freitag, president of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, also said he would have liked to see more resources allotted to economic development.

The Chamber, he said, is working on an economic development strategy and is willing to share that with the district and the community in the near future.

Mayor Greg Gardner said council had heard the "chatter" in the community about economic development and the district will create an economic sustainability coordinator position after the budget is finalized in May.

Gardner answered a range of questions including some on the staffing of the RCMP and fire department, adventure centre debt, the bloated land fill, the transfer of BCR properties to the district, downtown gateway project, high industrial use cost, and the gateway project to downtown.