Burns Lake council deals with budget deficit

Grant application to repave Eighth Avenue not accepted; recreation fees to increase for some users.

During the third meeting for the 2016 budget, Burns Lake councillors were informed that a grant application to fund the repaving project of Eighth Avenue was not successful.

Last year the municipality applied to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) strategic priorities fund to undertake phase one of the proposed repaving project.

The reason given by the strategic priorities fund for declining the village’s application was that the fund was “considerably overprescribed” in 2015, with 222 applications – of these, only 58 projects were approved.

In a report submitted to council, director of public works Rick Martin outlined alternatives to the originally intended sub-surface repairs, curb, sidewalk, and gutter installation. He recommended that the village maintains Eighth Avenue until another grant application is successful.

During a council meeting in August 2015, council asked staff to look into borrowing options to fund the Eighth Avenue repaving project in case the UBCM grant was not forthcoming. This decision was reconsidered in a later meeting as it would involve a substantial increase in taxes and would reduce the village’s borrowing capacity for up to 25 years.

In terms of how to move forward, village staff referred to the director’s report to use $42,000 a year from the operating budget to go towards patching Eighth Avenue until a grant was successful. The report also recommended using gas tax funds and funds received from the Burns Lake Community Forest to repave other roads in need of repair, including Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold clarified the new repaving strategy.

“The goal with Eighth Avenue was to do a complete replacement, but at this point we won’t put a lot of money in it other than a portion of the $42,000 to do patch repair.”

In the end, council voted to use 134,000 from gas tax and an additional $26,000 from general revenue for a total of $160,000 to go towards repaving projects to be prioritized by the director of public works.

During the budget meeting, councilors also discussed how to alleviate the deficit that the village is facing. There were some changes to the budget since the last budget meeting based on the receipt of additional information – the village is now facing a deficit of $52,133.

Council responded by going over various projects and services in order to look at what could be done to decrease the deficit, including the option of reducing the animal control budget.

The village has been dealing with an increase in the budget for animal control since the recent closure of animal shelter Turtle Gardens.

In a report prepared by village staff, it was estimated that it would cost the village roughly $900 a year to transport dogs to Prince George since Turtle Gardens is no longer in operation.

The increase in the budget also reflected a request from the Lakes Animal Friendship Society to help support their yearly spay/neuter clinics for $7140 in 2016 and $3570 per year thereafter, since they have recently lost a funding partner.

It was argued that the program could save the village money in the long term – as animal control fees seemed to have been significantly reduced after the clinics started, although some savings can be attributed to switching from a contracted animal control officer to an in-house officer in 2010.

Councilor John Illes argued that since the spay/neuter program benefits not only the village but also the regional district and local bands, they should all work together to fund it outside of the village budget.

Councillor Kelly Holliday expressed how important she felt the clinics were in terms of public safety, and councillor Chris Beach added, “I feel like the clinics have gotten overpopulation to a controllable level; I’m worried about the ramifications if we don’t fund this.”

In the end, council voted to remove the $7140 from the proposed 2016 budget and approach the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako to embark on the process for a referendum in order to fund the clinics.

Finally, council addressed the ongoing budget issues concerning the Lakeside Multiplex.

The village has been dealing with a significant increase in the recreation department’s budget. From 2013 to 2015, the department’s average deficit increased from $86,193 to $163,703 (excluding the ice arena). Increasing expenditures are mainly attributed to longer days of operation of the Lakeside Multiplex, increased maintenance and additional staff.

In order to address this issue, council voted to raise Lakeside Multiplex user fees for members from outside the village boundary. User fees will increase for electoral areas B and E members as well as visitors to the community by 25 per cent.

During discussion, Beach explained his support for the fee increase.

“My objective is not to penalize people using the facility, but I think the regional district should be paying into it like they do already with the [Tom Forsyth Memorial] Arena; the [Lakeside] Multiplex shouldn’t be the burden of the village tax payer,” said Beach. “That being said, it is a risk, this could backfire on us; it could result in fewer users and less revenue.”

Councillor Susan Schienbein also suggested the possibility of doing the same for the curling club as the club has had similar financial issues as the Lakeside Multiplex.

Council moved to approach the curling club about the option of raising non-village member fees by 25 per cent as well.

Mayor Strimbold concluded the discussion by justifying the move to increase fees for both the Lakeside Multiplex and possibly for the curling rink. He said this would not only help alleviate budget issues but it would also be a fair decision, which would ensure that the entire recreation center is supported by both the village and the regional district equally.



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