Village of Pemberton considering budget adjustment in face of COVID-19 

Council puts forth reserve transfer cut to avoid tax increase

click to enlarge SCREENSHOT - BUDGET ADJUSTMENT Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman during the Committee of the Whole meeting, held remotely on April 7.
  • SCREENSHOT
  • BUDGET ADJUSTMENT Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman during the Committee of the Whole meeting, held remotely on April 7.

As the Village of Pemberton (VOP) continues its 2020 budget process, the municipality is considering some adjustments as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue.

In council's Committee of the Whole meeting for its third budget session, held through a publicly accessible Zoom meeting on April 7, chief administrative officer Nikki Gilmore said the initial budget was considering a roughly five-per-cent tax increase, but with the drastic change in the world since its last session on March 10, the VOP has changed course in order to avoid an increase.

After the last council meeting, Lena Martin, the VOP's manager of finance and administration, sought to cut more than $63,000 from the budget to limit the rise to five per cent, but in the interim, found further cuts to negate the increase altogether.

"We have obviously been monitoring and assessing the impact of COVID-19 on our community, but we also have to look long term at our whole year," she said. "This is our only opportunity to collect taxes that are needed to sustain us ... until July of next year without knowing what, really, the future holds for financial stability for a lot of people."

Council was in agreement on many of the extra cuts, though a few generated some debate.

One such item was limiting the 2.2-per-cent consumer price index (CPI) raise, calculated in December, to only union staff for whom a raise had already been negotiated, meaning non-union staff and council would receive no raise.

Councillor Ted Craddock said he is generally against CPI increases, but at this time, felt uneasy leaving out some staff.

"I don't feel comfortable that some of our staff will be receiving it and part of the staff won't," he said.

Coun. Amica Antonelli, meanwhile, noted that several Pemberton workers would not be receiving an increase, while Mayor Mike Richman reiterated that the move is in line with financial projections.

"It's not that we're just trying to cut a raise out of people's salaries. It's that we don't expect the cost-of-living index to go up 2.2 [per cent] as predicted," Richman said before council approved a plan with no CPI increase for non-union staff.

Martin noted that other municipalities are going ahead with CPI raises for staff members, which could make it difficult for the VOP to attract staff if they don't follow suit.

There was also debate over hiring for two new roles, though one of those, a full-time, half-year emergency coordinator, could serve as an expansion of the existing part-time role.

"This role doesn't necessarily have to be with a new person. All we have now is a part-time person who is doing a full-time job," Gilmore said. "The rest of her job is not being done at all."

Gilmore said there is "desperate need" to expand the role, with Coun. Ryan Zant agreeing, noting that expanding the position would help staff better prepare for potential new waves of COVID-19 cases later in the year. Richman added that while the virus is top of mind, it doesn't preclude other emergencies from hitting the community at the same time.

"The current circumstances certainly point to the fact that having proper emergency coordination staff is pretty important to us," Richman said.

Meanwhile, council opted against hiring a new part-time bylaw officer.

Among other cuts to the budget was reducing the education, training and travel allotment for staff and council, especially with several conferences already cancelled. As well, council voted to defer both the retrofit of the train station washroom, which will remain open during the pandemic, and the planned refinishing of the Pemberton sign, to 2021. Half of the Development Cost Charges Bylaw Phase 1 will also be put over to next year.

Meanwhile, council voted to allow for six months of portable toilets at the community barn, down from year-round use. The toilets are currently not in use due to the pandemic.

Council halved the community enhancement fund to $7,500, as well. In 2019, much of the money went to events, many of which are, at best, up in the air this year. However, council still wanted to have funds available to support initiatives such as the Pemberton Secondary School (PSS) Red Devils Alumni Association, the PSS bursary program, the Men's Shed and the Pemberton Wildlife Association, all of which received funds in 2019.

To keep the tax rate steady, council voted to cut $41,526 from its reserve transfer.

Council will give first three readings to the proposed 2020-2023 Five Year Financial Plan at its regular council meeting on April 21, while at its regular meeting on May 5, it will get fourth and final reading. Also at the May 5 meeting, the tax-rates bylaw will receive its first three readings and, if applicable, the water, sewer and frontage rates bylaws will as well. The tax-rates bylaw will receive its fourth and final reading at a special meeting that is still to be scheduled.

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