Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Vanessa Craig was re-elected chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo board on the same day directors began the 2024 budget process.

The director for Electoral Area B, Craig was elected for a second one-year term by acclamation along with Electoral Area H Director Stuart McLean as vice-chair, who will serve in the role for the first time.

Directors also heard the pitch from the RDN’s five divisions for the recommended 2024-28 financial plan at the Nov. 7 special board meeting. The plan recommends converting 18.2 staff positions to full time and adding 17.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The position changes span all divisions.

“I would like to be standing here in front of you recommending no increase in positions.… I would like to not be in a situation of catching up,” chief administrative officer Doug Holmes said. “But we’re not there; depending on the board’s direction for resources, we could be there for the 2027-30 financial plan and potentially recommending single digit new positions for the 2026 plan” other than for transit operations, which Electoral Area B does not pay into.

“If the regional district is still working to catch up in certain operational areas,” Holmes said, such as out-of-date technological processes and responding to new legislation like business licensing for regional districts and housing, “our ability to respond to these changes that are coming will put us at a significant disadvantage.”

Recommended tax requisition increases for departments include 15 per cent for solid waste management and disposal in part related to construction of the landfill’s final phase and acquisition of a waste shredder. The regional parks budget is recommended to increase by 16.1 per cent with planned projects including a parks wildfire management plan, assessment of accessible water access at Descanso Bay Regional Park and continuation of the Morden Colliery Trail capital project, which has a recommended budget increase of $2.9 million.

The Electoral Area B community parks budget has a recommended increase of 14.5 per cent and includes access and maintenance for Orlebar Point and Brickyard Beach; trail access and improvements at Blue Heron, Joyce Lockwood and 707; furnishings replacement for Bell’s Landing and Descanso Bay beach access; improvements to Cox and Rollo McLay parks, funded through federal community works and provincial growing communities funds, respectively; and Mudge Island small boat access funded from reserves.

Meanwhile, the Gabriola recreation budget is recommended to drop by 24.3 per cent in part due to fewer professional fees as the Gabriola recreation and parks master plan concludes in 2023.

New regional/community parks positions include a parks stewardship coordinator and parks technician.

Gabriola transit contribution, for GERTIE, and Gabriola taxi saver both have nominal increases while animal control for Areas A , B, C and Lantzville has an increase of 42.8 per cent, due in part to rising costs for the contracted provider. Hazardous properties, unsightly premises and noise control are also recommended to increase due to a new bylaw enforcement staffing structure proposal which includes a manager of bylaw enforcement and senior bylaw officer position.

Emergency planning has a recommended budget increase of 66 per cent with costs related to implementing the new provincial Emergency Disaster Management Act, which the budget overview says will include redesigning the RDN neighbourhood emergency preparedness program.

In corporate services, staff are recommending the conversion of 2 positions and the addition of 4 new positions. Capital projects include $500,000 for board chamber reconfiguration and administrative building upgrades.

The budget for community grants is recommended to increase to $170,000, a 34 per cent rise.

The recommended changes to services for Area B would result in an increase of $198,283 to the tax requisition for a total of $2,297,121. The general services property tax would be $75.46 per $100,000 in assessed value, an increase of $5.87. No change is recommended for regional parcel taxes.

Budget deliberations continued at a special electoral area services committee meeting on Nov. 14. The board of directors meets again Nov. 28 and staff are recommending an adoption of the budget by Dec. 12 with an amended budget that incorporates 2023 property assessments and final parcel counts on Feb. 27, 2024.

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