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Committee of The Whole Meets Again

2024 budget discussion dominates the agenda

January 30, 2024 Edition

Event: Lions Bay COW Meeting

Time: 5:00 pm

Agenda: HERE

Video link: HERE

Present at the council table were Mayor Ken Berry, Councillors Neville Abbott, Marcus Reuter and Michael Broughton, along with Chief Administrative Officer Ross Blackwell, Public Works Manager Karl Buhr and Financial Officer Joe Chirkoff. Deputy Corporate Officer Marina Blagodarov was also present. Councillor Jaime Cunliffe offered her regrets.

This was the second Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting called to address the budget. One resident was present in the gallery, and nine people tuned in online. The agenda was adopted after the addition of the Public Participation and Public Comment components had been added, both required elements that had been missing from the posted agenda.

The meeting began with the single agenda item noted: a review of the 2024 draft budget.

As has been noted before, COW meetings are an opportunity for Council to engage in deeper discussion of topics such as the budget. No votes are taken nor final decisions recorded.

CAO Ross Blackwell noted that the examination of the budget is a two-part process, with the goal of reaching a consensus on the base budget, and addressing the supplemental details. He added that the objective for the evening was to gain a sense of Council's opinion of the projected Utility Rates, as well as the core budget. Staff from each department (Works, Fire etc) will make presentations before Council at the next meeting to address the supplemental details.

Financial Officer Joe Chirkoff's explanation of Schedule A was interrupted by a disagreement between Mayor Berry and Councillor Reuter regarding the camera. A recess was called to resolve the issue and the meeting resumed after a 10-minute delay.

Topics discussed included:

  • a closer analysis of line items on Schedule A (Page 3), including further explanations of amortization and depreciation, and the value of the cash surplus.

  • Chirkoff directed attention to a table (Page 2) which reconciles changes from the draft budget given to Council at the last meeting and the current document.

  • Councillor Abbott brought up a concern with the Lions Bay Beach Park (LBBP) grant, and requested that staff provide a table for all outstanding grants, including columns for what's been spent, claimed, outstanding, and anticipated costs. Chirkoff agreed to this request.

  • Focus turned to General Fund Water costs (Page 18), resuming where discussion left off at the last budget meeting. Topics included costs for servicing the hydrants, leak detection and rock scaling to keep water-access roads clear. Also addressed were hydrology costs (leakage), hydrometric analysis, and examination of flow rates in the creeks, in anticipation of potentially record low rains and high leakage this summer. Public works salaries (Page 20) were down, as the department was understaffed. Chirkoff noted a new hire has been made, and there was discussion about the training levels of staff that are required to be certified to the level of village water distribution systems. Buhr noted that staff are currently correctly certified, but that in two years the senior, currently certified employee expects to retire, so more staff and training will be required.

  • Parks (Page 22): Jetty maintenance and repair, including the need for a new dock, which will likely have to be done before next winter.

  • Fire (Page 25): Noted that the change in the actuals reflects the recent bi-yearly payout to firefighters. Councillor Broughton asked about the feasibility of paying out firefighters more frequently, as an incentive for volunteerism.

  • Solid Waste (Page 28): Noted that the collection contract costs roll over each year with a three percent increase, and the recommended five percent increase is the same as last year

  • Bylaw (Page 31): Showed no significant changes, with a three percent increase based on budget from previous years. Blackwell referenced a staff report he presented to Council regarding reallocating the existing budget around provision of services, but assured Council that this didn't mean changing the budget numbers, just reallocating services. Parking meter costs are broken out with software costs (Page 32). Buhr said he's looking at going to all-app route in the future. Blackwell noted the inordinate amount of staff time taken up with parking issues, and said that a bigger discussion is needed. Abbott noted that Council has dealt with this every year, and that parking /bylaw enforcement issues are the new normal.

  • Sewer (Page 33): Noted that there were fewer inspections to sewer lines than last year, which accounted for the drop in costs. Some discussion of utility rates, that a parcel tax should be required for maintenance of sewer equipment, and the possibility of taxing to ensure costs break even every year. Buhr reminded the group that utility bills are looming, and that water and sewer costs need to be determined as soon as possible.

  • Council (Page 35): Chirkoff noted that increases in budget are aimed at attending various municipal conferences. A heated discussion arose on the topic of attendance at these events. Blackwell suggested that Council needs to strategize which events are worth attending, and later suggested that time be set aside to prioritize which events to attend. Abbott noted that attendance at these meetings is very expensive, and that the number currently alloted is not sufficient. Reuter referenced expenses this year, where the budgeted amount was $250, but $4,500 was paid out for two members to attend the UBCM. He pointed out that this expenditure was not approved by Council and asked if the money spent should then be returned. Chirkoff said that in lieu of engaging professional services, the funds were moved over to cover costs. Abbott suggested a line item for conventions be added, and asked that money not be transferred from other areas of the budget without discussion in future, and that any costs beyond the amount allocated be referred back to Council for further consultation.

  • Emergency services (Page 38): Chirkoff said there will be a supplemental cost to be addressed at the next meeting, as written by the Emergency Program Manager.

  • Planning (Page 40): 2023 actual costs were low, as there was no building inspector for much of the year. Blackwell suggested putting money aside for Official Community Plan (OCP) and zoning update costs. Chirkoff offered to add a line item for any other planning studies to build up a reserve, which led to lengthy discussion regarding the merits of professional services versus volunteer involvement, and the role and importance of the OCP as a guideline for Council. Blackwell noted that the village faces big issues including infrastructure, changing regulations, water security and more, and recommended the yearly, modest funding of contingency accounts.

  • Chirkoff noted the current tax increase is set at six percent, but he recommended the increase actually be in line with other communities at around nine percent, with the difference to be used to add to reserves for infrastructure and to create flexibility to address emergencies or planned projects over time. He suggested these funds be invested to increase value. Blackwell reminded Council that supplemental costs have yet to be addressed. Abbott said he'd like to see the jetty project moved into the supplementals, as it has been moved out of consideration as a grant project.

  • After a short break called by the Mayor, Chirkoff asked for a decision on ultility rates. There was further discussion sparked by Abbott's request for clarification on the LBBP funds, noted on page 45, as to what has been spent. Abbott also asked for clarification with regard to the proposed financing of a firetruck.

  • Blackwell repeated that the next COW meeting will address supplemental presentations. Meeting time was set for 5 p.m., February 6.

Public Comment:

Resident Deirdre Bain asked about the Speculation and Vacancy Tax letter she received from the province, and asked if Councillor Reuter's work on an exemption had any result. Blackwell noted a letter to the provincial government regarding the proposed exemption has been drafted, but not yet sent. Buhr noted that as things stand right now, the all residents must make their declaration this year, as stipulated by the provincial government.

And with that, the meeting adjourned.

The next COW meeting will take place February 6, at 5 p.m. As always, The Watershed welcomes your thoughts. Leave your comments below, or email us at

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Norma Rodgers
Norma Rodgers

Thanks again kc. There were several parts I couldn't hear that I now understand. I wonder how many times you had to listen to the garbled dialogue to document it.

I was pleased to read that Councillor Abbott requested an overview of all outstanding grants. It is important that we know when the grants will expire and what money has already been spent.

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