Ramifications of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are once again top of mind for Salmon Arm council as it continues work on the city’s budget for 2021.
Council has already spent two days deliberating the budget. In the process, it has been able to bring the 3.07 increase initially proposed by staff down to .5 per cent. However, with specific referrals yet to be done, Mayor Alan Harrison said that half a percent may still go up. However, it appeared the increase was on target to meet council’s shared goal of keeping it within range of the 1.5 increase of the Consumer Price Index.
Helping council reach this goal is the $3.6 million federal/provincial COVID-19 Safe Restart grant, received by the city in November.
“One of the reasons this budget is being done so thorough is council is very interested in using that restart money where appropriate, to ensure we don’t use general revenue where we can use that COVID money,” said Harrison.
With one of the intended uses of the grant being for active transportation, council has committed $50,000 of it towards improving the city’s well-used foreshore trail.
“Our goal is to improve that,” said Harrison. “We especially want to remove the wet sections that annually make it difficult for seniors or others to walk the length of that trail.”
A large portion of the grant is going towards costs related to COVID-19. As recommended by staff, about $730,000 is being set aside for revenue losses experienced in 2020, while another $450,000 has been earmarked to offset operating costs.
“We anticipate that recreation centre and Shaw Centre may be down as much as $450,000 this year… We don’t know, but we’re estimating,” said Harrison. “We’ve also spent about $616,000 on projects like (the foreshore trail). So far, of the $3.5 million, we have about $1.4 million left, and the majority of that will be carried forward to 2022, because we believe there will be covid implications in that budget year as well, and we want to make sure we keep some funds back to be prepared.”
Harrison said Salmon Arm’s roads will be receiving needed attention in 2021. About $1.15 million has been budgeted for road improvements, including a $300,000 increase to the city’s asphalt overlay program.”
“So the residents will see lots of road paving happening over the course of 2021 and it’s absolutely necessary,” Harrison commented.
The 2021 budget does include a two per cent increase for water and sewer user fees, while the solid waste and recycling fee remains unchanged.
With an increasing volume of bylaw violations and complaints, the budget also includes the hiring of a second full-time bylaw officer – eliminating the part-time summer student position.
Harrison said design work for the retrofit of the recreation centre/pool is another project in the budget.
“The plan is to start that work in the last quarter of 2021, probably into 2022,” said Harrison. “This is really exciting because it’s a really necessary piece in order for us to access provincial and federal grants for what will be a very expensive project.”
Other projects of note for Harrison are two proposed water booster station upgrades, one at the Canoe Beach water treatment facility, which is due for replacement, and one in Hillcrest, which will be moved from its current location near Five Corners Pentecostal Church, to Little Mountain Park near the reservoir. The cost of both projects was estimated to be around $4.3 million. Harrison explained the city is looking to pay for through a combination of reserve and grant money and long-term borrowing.
Council has yet to finish going through specific referrals – public funding requests – which for 2021 total more than $2 million.
“It’s usually double that,” said Harrison, suggesting this is due to residents being cognizant of the pandemic’s ongoing financial impact.