A grant-in-aid program that helps local non-profit organizations is likely to fall victim to spending cuts as Creston town council scrambles to reduce the impact of policing costs in its 2012 budget.
In a budget meeting on March 6, councillors debated about ways to hold spending at 2011 levels in all areas other than policing. The $24,000 grant-in-aid program will likely be eliminated, at least for this year.
Finance and corporate services director Steffan Klassen said that if other spending is kept at or below last year’s totals, Creston residents can likely anticipate a 13 per cent increase to their property taxes. The increase will cover additional policing costs now assigned by the province to the town after the recent census reported Creston has more than 5,000 residents.
A $1.1 million reserve fund, set aside about 15 years ago in anticipation of higher policing costs, will help keep taxes from going even higher for the next five years.
Council considered reductions in all areas, including works projects and fire department planning. A number of reductions are likely to be included in the final budget.
“With what is proposed here, we are not growing a bunch of surpluses but we do have some reserves, at least,” Klassen said.
Grant-in-aid cuts were controversial, because they help defray costs for small groups, such as minor hockey teams that make it to B.C. provincial playoffs.
Coun. Judy Gadicke advocated cutting the grants entirely, but Couns. Scott Veitch and Wesly Graham expressed a desire to keep some money in a discretionary fund. Couns. Jerry Schmalz and Joanna Wilson spoke in favour of keeping in the grant-in-aid program intact.
“This is a volunteer town,” Wilson said. “I would like to see the moral support from the Town of Creston that the grants indicate continue.”
Gadicke pointed out that the grants-in-aid as budgeted in the past amount to a one per cent tax increase.
Fire Chief Bruce Mabin told council that the fire department could readjust a strategic plan expenditure and that further savings could be found by reducing part of a wildfire mitigation program for the coming year.
Also discussed was the budgeted $10,900 contribution to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, but no immediate consensus was reached.
“We could wait a week and see what happens,” Graham said. “Maybe the government is going to shut it down.”
CVWMA executive director Richard Dolan told council last month a decision was expected soon about how the B.C. government might proceed with funding the area after a governance study was completed. Dolan informed Mayor Ron Toyota this week that the decision had been put on hold for at least a month.
Improvements to the intersection of 10th Avenue North and Cavell Street also generated discussion. The purchase a small piece of private property at the intersection includes a commitment to make capital improvements, but engineering and public works director Iain Bell told council that it could choose to reduce the scope and cost of the project in 2012.
The intersection requires storm sewer and curbing construction, but new paving could be delayed, he said.
Budget discussions were scheduled to continue this week, with the final draft being ready for approval later this month.