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Revenue Review

On the eve of the budget decision, a closer look at spending choices


Council is currently considering a nine percent tax increase with a May deadline, and sometime in the next couple of weeks they will make a final decision with regard to taxation rates for 2024. The Watershed takes a closer look at a few key elements of the latest draft budget, where the money has been allocated, and the status of the two large projects currently underway.



Legal Fees

Overholt Law LLP represented the Village in terminating Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Peter DeJong without cause before the expiry of his contract. A look at the public Accounts Payable (AP) summaries shows that across the last two months of 2022 and all of 2023, fees totalled $99,000. With the addition of a further $15,000 paid out in 2024 to finalize the job, the total fees reached $114,000.


Compare this to legal costs paid over the previous five years, which, according to budget figures, averaged out to around $29,000 per year. Even without the fees paid for the resolution of this dismissal, the budget shows legal fees paid to three other law firms in 2023 came in over $61,000, more than twice the previous Council average.


Audit

For more than a decade BDO Canada have been the Village’s auditors. For 2021 and 2022, annual fees for the cost of the audit came in at approximately $45,000. Currently the budget lists $64,000 as the cost for the 2022 audit, but the final figure is still pending, and is likely to be as much as $150,000. Unlike in recent years, Council has chosen not to have BDO address the public with the audit findings. In addition, a request for proposal has been issued by the Village, indicating that a new auditor is being sought for 2023 and onward. This proposal closes May 15, which means the 2023 audit process has not yet begun.



Staff Compensation

CAO Compensation

As can be seen in the chart below, the figure noted in 2021 reflects the compensation of the former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Peter De Jong. The changes reflected in 2022 include his regular compensation, the termination payout, and the settlement as agreed to by Council. With $407,000 noted as the 2022 actual figure, a look at the math shows that, with a $40,000 accrual built in for the settlement removed and the annual compensation subtracted, a settlement of $203,000 appears to have been paid out to DeJong. As noted above, legal fees to conclude the relationship were $114,000, for a total of approximately $317,000 spent by the current Council to terminate the former CAO without cause.


source: 2024 draft budget, Finance Committee Meeting, April 14, 2024

Financial Officer Compensation

Again, the figure noted in 2021 is indicative of the former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Pamela Rook's annual compensation. 2022 numbers were higher, as her accrued vacation was paid out before her departure. The figures in 2023 reflect compensation for both Acting CFO Miller and the new Financial Officer (FO) Joe Chirkoff. The 2024 budget projection of $163,000 annually reflects an amount $28,000 higher than the former CFO (of eight years standing) was paid.


Public Works Manager

In a recent interview, CAO Ross Blackwell informed The Watershed that he has reconfigured the role formerly known as Public Works Manager (PWM), renaming it Director of Operations (DO). At this level, compensation rates are reported differently than the earlier two executive positions.


The Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) Reports included with annual audits (HERE) indicate compensation (without benefits) paid to the former PWM in 2020 at a rate of $106,000, and in 2021 at $105,000. When former PWM Nai Jaffer resigned in April, 2023, CAO Ron Miller appointed former mayor Karl Buhr to the position shortly afterwards, at what was stated to be the same compensation as the former PWM. Buhr's contract ended this month after a year on the job. Council has advertised the newly-renamed position of Director of Operations, at a salary of $128,000. This is an increase of approximately $23,000 annually from the salary of the previous position. Blackwell told The Watershed that he expects Buhr will take on the new position.


Current Projects

Lions Bay Beach Park (LBBP)

Despite high hopes early in the project, including a motion promising completion of the Lions Bay Beach Park (LBBP) project, Council reported out of the closed portion of this month's regular council meeting that the LBBP project tender has been cancelled, and will be tendered again next September. In an announcement in a March edition of the Village Update, members of the LBBP committee stated they have officially wrapped up their work on the project and put it into the hands of staff.


According to the latest draft budget, architectural costs of $37,000 have been paid thus far to the architect of record, Russ Meiklejohn of Millenia Architecture Corporation, for drawings and work on this project. No other costs have been disclosed.


Blackwell said that as a result of the recent suspension of Meiklejohn, Village staff have been working with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC), to find a way forward. While a building permit has been issued, it's not clear if the work done so far can be used, in light of the suspension. Blackwell further stated that the next look at this project will include community engagement, possibly in the form of an Open House sometime in the next few months.


Klatt Emergency Building

Upgrades to existing facilities in the Klatt Emergency Building have been planned under the auspices of a grant that, after a requested extension back in March, 2023, is due to expire at the end of this year. The initial building permit for this project lapsed in May, 2023 and has not been reissued. Further, the project faces the same problem as the LBBP in that architect Meiklejohn remains suspended, after being paid $31,000 thus far for services rendered.


Proposed Tax Rate Increase and Comparisons


As things stand now, leading up to a final decision that must be made before May 15, the tax rate is set to be increased by nine percent this year, plus the ten percent infrastructure levy instituted by the previous Council. As can be seen in the list below, many other small communities do not implement a comparable levy.


In 2023, the budget offered a six percent tax rate increase, which was suggested by members of Council to more closely approximate the rate of inflation. Prior to that, tax increases were three percent in both 2020 and 2021, and 6.5 percent in 2022.


The complexity of the decision faced by council this year has been reflected in the many meetings addressing budget issues, with little sense of agreement in sight. The current rate of inflation, as of March, stands at 2.9 percent. Regardless of the percentage increase chosen, Council is faced with significant financial ramifications.


This year's draft budget offers a view of the proposed rates in nearby municipalities. The population of Lions Bay when last measured stood at 1,390, so there are few communities of comparable size.

  • Anmore (population 2,356), 8.2% tax rate increase, no infrastructure fee or levy.

  • Belcarra (population 687), 10% tax rate increase, no infrastructure fee or levy.

  • Bowen Island (population 4,256), 9.5 % tax rate increase, no infrastructure fee.


Another budget meeting is expected to be called next week, though a date has not been announced as of this writing. The next Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting is scheduled for May 7 at 6 p.m. Public participation is a required element of these special council meetings, offering a final chance for residents to weigh in with their thoughts on these and other council decisions.




Have thoughts on the budget you’d like to share? Leave your comment below, or send us an email at editor@lionsbaywatershed.ca 


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Thank you for gathering all the details residents need to be aware of. It is all very concerning to see. Very few people are watching and taking an interest in what is going on in the current Village’s municipal government. The 2022 Audited Financial Statements have been presented to council two times already in closed meetings December 2023 and April 2024. The 2022 Financials are eventually to be made available we are told, but the public also needs to be granted the full Auditor’s Report relating to the audit, as they have been available year over year in the past. Village residents were all ensured of the following, repeated all through the early months of 2023: “the financial poli…

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Norma Rodgers
Norma Rodgers
Apr 28

Thanks kc for your research and organizing the awful truth. I have been following Council finances closely and attending every meeting by Zoom so none of this information is surprising to me. What is surprising is the lack of outrage by residents that our finances are being so mishandled by incompetence and hubris. We have a small tax base and yet hundreds of thousands of dollars are being wasted. We have yet to see the 2022 financial report/audit and have not started on our 2023 finances. What a gong show!

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Thank you, Karen, for giving us the truth on the Village's financial situation. For tax-payers , these numbers are upsetting. What is even more upsetting is that not enough people who will be affected by the present mismanagement of our funds are paying attention. When the previous Council and staff handed over, there was an amount of around $5.8 m. in the coffers, surely through sound fiscal management. Now, we are in the hands of those who promised fiscal responsibility but are failing miserably to deliver.

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Thank you for your good work in pulling together these numbers from a number of sources. This can only facilitate better communication, understanding and decision-making.

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Wow, can't believe the reckless spending going on this year compared to previous years. I'm disgusted! Heads should roll!

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