There were a lot of questions and answers at a Town Hall meeting in Cache Creek on Saturday, May 11, where 50 community members had an opportunity to review the Village’s 2019 Five Year Financial Plan. Two of the largest issues discussed at the meeting were the proposed 10 per cent property tax increase for each of the next five years, and plans to close the Cache Creek pool following the 2019 season unless a new funding source could be found.
Mayor Santo Talarico, councillors Wendy Coomber, Lisa Dafoe, and Sue Peters, and Chief Administrative Officer Martin Dalsin were on hand to answer questions (Cllr. Annette Pittman was out of town). After introductions, Dalsin — who was Cache Creek CAO from 2000 to 2008, brought back in as interim CAO in November 2018, and given a four-year contract earlier this year — noted that his appointment, as well as that of new Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martini, who started earlier this month, will provide continuity and stability for the Village, which had been without a CAO or CFO since July 2018.
He noted that accounting firm BDO has been hired to review the municipal finances from 2014 to 2018, with recommendations expected soon. Dalsin also said that the Village planned to explore opportunities for economic development, ensure that every member of the community was treated fairly and equitably, and provide assistance for seniors and low-income residents.
He then introduced the 2019 budget and Five Year Financial Plan and went through the numbers. Regarding the tax increase, he noted that for the last few years the Village has been transferring $200,000 to $300,000 each year from the Landfill Legacy Fund (which currently makes up approximately $3.1 million of the Village’s $3.78 million in reserves) in order to make up for not raising property taxes.
“We don’t want to continue taking from reserves,” he explained. “We need to raise taxes. For most single family homes this will be an increase of about $50 a year, but that’s what providesthings like parks, playgrounds, the community hall, garbage pick-up once a week, rejoining the transit system later this year.”
An audience member asked whether the 10 per cent tax increase was reasonable compared with the annual increase in the cost of living. “We think it’s reasonable, since we’ve taken money out of reserves over the last few years,” replied Coomber. “We’re also going back into the transit service, as people have been asking for that, and it costs money.”
There were numerous questions around the proposed pool closure, use of which for public swimming has been free to all for the last few summers (there is a charge for swimming lessons and pool rental). Dalsin explained that the pool is a 50-year-old facility that costs more and more to operate and repair each year, with an annual cost of approximately $165,000. In answer to a question about whether or not the Village should once again charge for public swimming, Dalsin said that that would only raise approximately $10,000 per year.
He added that there would be consultation with residents about the pool’s future in the fall of 2019, and that nothing was set in stone apart from the 2019 year. He added that unless the Village found an alternative source of funding to enable the pool to stay open beyond this year, it could mean a further increase in taxes.
“Until 2016 we had the landfill, which provided significant income. We don’t want to keep dipping into reserves. The pool doesn’t pay for itself, and a one per cent tax increase only raises about $5,000 for the Village.”
Replying to audience comments, Dalsin acknowledged that the pool is an important asset to the community, as it provides recreation opportunities for residents and is a draw to visitors. Asked about the possibility of grants, he said that most recreation grants were fairly small. Citing the increasing cost of maintaining the aging facility, he added that keeping it open could be a case of throwing good money after bad. “It’s more to fix than it’s worth.”
It was suggested that the pool simply be run into the ground, and Dalsin said that was a possibility. He added that council has been discussing the possibility of having a water park instead of a pool. “There would be less staff, less cost, and it would be just as much fun.” However, he was clear that while the pool is important for the community, it represents a significant cost which the Village does not have the revenue to pay for.
There were questions about the Cache Creek landfill extension, with Dalsin explaining that revenue from the site would be dependent on the contracts signed with users by parent company Belkorp. “We have an agreement in place for a percentage of the contracts.” When asked, he noted that the new agreement was at least as good as what was formerly in place when the original landfill was in operation. In response to another question, Dalsin said that the Village encourages Belkorp to hire local employees where possible, but that hiring decisions are up to the company.
It was suggested that garbage pick-up could be done bi-weekly rather than weekly, especially during the colder months, and Dalsin said that the public could be consulted about that possibility. “It’s definitely an option. It means less wear and tear on the truck and frees up an employee for other work.”
A question about the possibility of taxing owners of derelict and/or empty businesses prompted a reply that this was an option being explored with Victoria by local governments, which (apart from Vancouver, which has its own Charter) cannot currently tax these properties. “If [the buildings] aren’t being utilized, we can at least get a revenue stream. They’re not good for the community.”
At the Cache Creek council open meeting on May 13, the Five Year Financial Plan bylaw was given first, second, and third readings. It was expected to be adopted at a special open meeting on May 15.