Cache Creek held a special council meeting to discuss its 2020 budget and Five-Year Financial Plan on Thursday, May 21. The meeting was livestreamed on Facebook by the HUB Online Network, and questions from the public were submitted online. All members of council were present, as were Chief Administrative Officer Martin Dalsin and Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martini.
Mayor Santo Talarico began the meeting by noting that at a later date, “when COVID-19 subsides and we can get our distancing rules relaxed a little bit we’ll be giving the public an opportunity to comment and bring forth any concerns they have with the budget or any ideas that should be explored.” However, he added that for the sake of satisfying the province, the budget and financial plan would be given first, second, and third readings, then adopted, at the meeting.
When a motion for first reading of the Five-Year Financial Plan bylaw was moved and seconded, Coun. Annette Pittman said she would have liked to see a breakdown as the Village has had in the past, “where we’ve shown the general expenses, total administration, protective services, etc. all the way down. This is just too non-informative for myself as presented.” There was no further discussion, and the floor was given to Martini.
She noted that the Community Charter requires that a balanced budget be presented annually, and said that she wanted to speak about the current economic situation of the Village. “In 2019 we had a pretty rough year, with lots of our assets breaking down and requiring substantial financial input in order to bring them up to speed and provide proper services to the Village. The current budget reflects somewhat more investment in our assets and trying to avoid those breakdowns down the road that would create discomfort to the public.”
The main source of revenue that enables the Village to operate is the municipal property tax. There are also user fees for water, sewer, and garbage, but Martini pointed out that all other sources of revenue, such as government grants, are uncertain. There are three funds: general operating (which includes public works, streets, administration, recreation, and the fire department), water, and sewer. She noted that in the past the water and sewer funds have operated at a deficit and been subsidized by the general fund, so at the beginning of the year the user fees for water, sewer, and garbage were increased to decrease the amount taken from the general fund in order to balance them.
“Another item that is not to my satisfaction is the fact that the Village does not have very strong reserves, so that in case something happens the ability to respond is limited. We do, as a Village, have the Landfill Legacy Fund, but that is not a true fund that was created by the Village based on the operation and saving abilities. It is a legacy we’re using to operate instead of using for creating capital infrastructure, which is not a good practice.”
She said that a major concern was the Village’s accounts receivable, as there are a lot of taxes that have not been collected in the past. At the end of 2019 there was approximately $50,000 in uncollected property taxes and utitilty bills. “It doesn’t allow us to operate everything we’ve budgeted for in the past. Some of the items we planned for 2019 had to be pushed into 2020 in order to deal with them. Collectability of taxes is a major concern for the Village.”
Martini said that due to COVID-19 and the financial struggles of many people this year, council decided not to raise property taxes. An increase of 10 per cent annually for general taxes in all categories is planned for the years 2021 through 2024.
The finalization of several capital projects is included in the 2020 budget, including the wastewater treatment plant, sealing of cracks on roads, improvements to the community hall, fixing the fence at the airstrip which burned down in 2017, purchasing more equipment for the fire department, and replacing the bridge off the east Trans-Canada Highway (across Cache Creek itself west of the Brookside Campground) that washed away in 2017. These will be paid for out of grants received from the province.
Martini said she would like to see more money budgeted to create more substantial reserve funds. “But as long as we don’t collect as much revenue, and we have the general operation to run the Village, we won’t be able to save a lot of money to set aside in reserve funds.”
First, second, and third readings were all passed by three votes to one, with Pittman opposed each time. The bylaw was then adopted, again with Pittman opposed. The 2020 Tax Rates bylaw was also given three readings and adoption, with no one opposed.
Talarico noted that while much of the tax money collected by the federal and provincial governments goes to debt or interest payment, the taxes collected by a municipality are spent in the municipality, and the budget is scrutinized to give the public the best budget possible. “If there are any budget increases in the future, it’s some solace to know it’s spent in the community.”
There were a handful of questions from the public, with one resident who inquired about road sealing and protective measures against road washout being referred to public works. It was clarified that the public would be allowed to have input into the future of the Cache Creek pool — which council decided to keep closed for the 2020 season — at the public budget meeting scheduled for a later date.
A member of the public asked if there was money in the budget to maintain the pool this year so that it does not suffer further damage from being neglected, in order to allow it to possibly be reopened in the future. Martini replied that even though the pool would not be open this year, about $40,000 was in the budget for maintenance. Asked if there was a hope that the pool might be opened for the 2021 season if COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Talarico replied “There’s always hope.”
Information about the 2020 budget and Five-Year Financial Plan can be found on the Village’s website at http://www.village.cachecreek.bc.ca/.