Langley Township can consider everything from borrowing money to reducing the number of new RCMP officers hired to reduce this year’s potential property tax increase, council heard during a budget planning meeting on Monday, Jan. 11.
The current extremely preliminary draft budget has a 4.14 per cent shortfall over expected revenues, which means council could cut costs, raise fees, or increase taxes to reduce that number.
“This is a starting point, and we are looking forward to some direction from council,” Mayor Jack Froese said near the start of the meeting.
The draft budget already includes some projections related to COVID, including a significant federal grant that municipalities across B.C. are receiving to help them transition through the COVID-19 pandemic. That alone covers more than five per cent of costs, and drops the revenue shortfall from more than nine per cent.
Township staff have already included a number of adjustments in the budget, some for increased costs, others reductions to bring costs down, and in a few cases, extra money coming in.
The number of building permit fees is higher than was expected as construction continued to boom in 2020 and the projection for fees in 2021 has increased as well, said Township administrator Mark Bakken.
Bakken noted that just before the end of the year, a staffer took a photo of the filing cabinets that hold building permit applications, and not only was it full, but there were more files piled on top and around the cabinets.
“Almost hanging from the ceiling,” Bakken said.
Meanwhile, the Township had negotiated reduced leases for its Willoughby Community Police Office, as the CPOs are currently closed, and is considering reducing its new RCMP hires this year from three down to two.
Last year, the Township approved adding 10 new officers to catch up to population growth, but many of those officers haven’t arrived yet – COVID has slowed down training of new recruits – which also reduces some costs.
The council can also consider borrowing money for some Township building needs, Bakken said.
“It’s a very difficult subject, because of course we don’t take borrowing lightly,” he said.
He noted that the cost of borrowing is extremely low right now, as the Bank of Canada has slashed interest rates. “We are looking at historically low rates of interest for some of the projects we are considering.”
On the downside, the Township is seeing much lower revenues from its rec centres, pools, and ice arenas, which spent much of 2020 closed and are still either closed or seeing reduced and restricted usage.
It’s unknown when users will come back, or if all of them will ever come back, Bakken said.
Councillor Kim Richter suggested the Township needed to create a bare-bones budget to get tax increases down to the average cost of living increase, if not lower.
“It seems to me this number needs to be dramatically reduced,” she said.
She also worried about what the budget will look like in 2022, when there won’t be a federal grant covering about five per cent of municipal costs.
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh asked if it was possible to defer for a bit longer the arrival of some of the 10 new RCMP officers, so as to reduce costs further in 2021.
The mayor noted that the pandemic is still going to impact this year’s finances in a big way.
“It’s a COVID budget, and this COVID pandemic is stretching on.”
The council will gather again for a workshop meeting to go over the budget in more detail in the next few weeks and is expected to hammer out a proposed budget and property tax number in the next couple of months. Budgets have to be finalized in the early spring.