The Comox Valley Regional District board narrowly adopted the 2012 budget in a 5-4 weighted vote Tuesday. The resulting tax changes will range from about a two per cent reduction to a three per cent increase, depending on the area. The total consolidated budget is $66.2 million while the net operating figure for the year is $51.2 million.
The naysayers were Courtenay directors Starr Winchester, Jon Ambler and Manno Theos, and Comox director Ken Grant, who filled in for Tom Grant. The bone of contention concerns a review of the Regional Growth Strategy.
Last week, also by a 5-4 vote before third reading, the board opposed a Winchester motion to decrease the RGS budget to last year’s approximate $95,000 surplus and to budget the amount over the next five years.
The district has budgeted $230,000 for a review of the RGS, a government-mandated land use document.
Ambler feels most elements of the RGS are needed but has concerns about funding a review that will inevitably happen in due course.
“I believe committing a large amount of money is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Ambler, noting B.C. municipalities that have scrapped their RGS implementation agreement.
The 2012 budget reflects ongoing capital projects in various services such as the partial landfill closure and temporary transfer station at the Campbell River waste management centre ($4.1 million), the Headquarters Road supply main duplication project ($900,000) and upgrades to the Courtenay pump station ($2.5 million).
The budget’s non-capital strategic initiatives include a transit service expansion. Along with the operating contract, $20,000 has been included to provide free bus service for Empire Days, Canada Day and Nautical Days. Funding is required because the events occur on statutory holidays when transit service is not provided, a staff report states.
Winchester thinks transit is “100 per cent beneficial on days like this” but questions why the service is provided free of charge.
Grant said bus fares would not deter him from riding a bus.
“I’m not sure of the rationale of giving away tax dollars,” said Grant, who supported Area C director Edwin Grieve’s suggestion about sponsorship.
The intention of offering the service is to promote transit, increase ridership, and to assist riders unable to attend special events due to mobility issues or lack of transportation. Geoff Garbutt, executive manager of strategic and long range planning, also noted communities throughout the province that provide free bus service on New Year’s Eve.
The board approved a motion to support Cumberland by providing free rides to Empire Days but deferred the rest of the policy concerning the other two events. A report will be on the April committee of the whole agenda.
Cumberland director Gwyn Sproule thanked the board for considering the village.
“It certainly keeps congestion out of the downtown,” she said.
Strategic priorities can be found mid-April at www.comoxvalleyrd.ca/budgetbinder/strategic.pdf.
For more information visit www.comoxvalleyrd.ca. Click on Finance and then Budgets.