Qualicum Beach town council heard concerns about its proposed five-year financial plan, including lack of funding allocation for climate change and urban forest planning.
“I am concerned, as are many other citizens that we are lagging further and further behind,” Jay Smith said to council during a public input opportunity. ”And we are one of the last municipalities on the island to really come up with an urban plan and bylaw and those are going to have to have some kind of financial commitment.”
Tree replacement is not part of the draft financial plan, but Coun. Teunis Westbroek said he believes the town is doing its part in replanting when new lots are cleared.
“We don’t have an overall financial commitment, but when it comes to removing trees we have a plan to replace them,” he said.
Some citizens expressed concern that there was no money set aside in the financial plan for costs associated with climate change. Staff will take public opinion into account before presenting the plan to council for a third reading, according to John Marsh, director of finance.
Westbroek asked Marsh if it is possible to track money the town spends on climate change anticipation, such as sea level rise and flooding.
“I don’t want people to think that we don’t have a plan for it or we don’t spend money on it. I think we spend a lot of money on it, but it may not be as identified as easily for people to see,” Westbroek said.
Council passed a second reading of the plan at its Dec. 9 regular meeting — this was deferred from Nov. 18 to give staff additional time to consider a COVID-19 recovery grant of $2.3 million from the provincial government.
The town has identified allocation for about $900,000 in 2020 and $1.17 million in 2021, according to Marsh in his staff report to council — this will leave approximately $284,000.
“Most of the items we have identified that relate to the COVID grant are actually items that are in the existing budget, so they are not really new asks,” Marsh said.
This includes $300,000 for technology improvements to improve virtual communications and increase virtual security.
“Security of our technology has become a large issue — there are a lot of hackers out there that are trying to penetrate government systems and we are doing what we can to protect the town’s infrastructure,” Marsh said.
Bylaw requires council to adopt the five-year financial plan before May 15. Staff will come back to council after taking its, and the public’s input into consideration, according to Marsh. The recommended date for a third reading from staff is Jan. 13.
Coun. Scott Harrison suggested staff look at any projects that could be deferred for a year to reduce tax increases for small businesses.
Alongside the concerns, members of public also expressed compliments to Marsh and staff for the detailed plan.