Hours at the Quesnel and District Arts and Recreation Centre might be reduced, as the Cariboo Regional District and City of Quesnel look to save money during COVID-19. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)

Hours at the Quesnel and District Arts and Recreation Centre might be reduced, as the Cariboo Regional District and City of Quesnel look to save money during COVID-19. (Quesnel Cariboo Observer File Photo)

Quesnel taxes increase, services drop in sample 2021 recreation budget

Officials struggle with low reserves and COVID-19, suggesting a four-per-cent tax increase

Plans to aggressively build up cash reserves in the North Cariboo Recreation and Parks (NCRP) service were put on hold on Tuesday, Oct. 13, but property taxes are still going up.

A decision to contribute $2 million to capital reserves over the next five years was killed when a draft budget presented to the North Cariboo Joint Planning Committee (NCJPC), a board made up of northern Cariboo Regional District (CRD) electoral area directors and City of Quesnel councillors, had a property tax increase of 7.5 per cent in 2021.

Instead of a large increase that would then fall over five years, the committee told staff to draft a budget with a four-per-cent tax increase each year and make up for the resulting shortfall by reducing contributions to the reserve fund.

“I’m not comfortable with a 7.5 [per cent increase],” CRD Director Mary Sjostrom said. “As long as the end result is we end up with a sizable capital reserve, that’s what we need to do.”

The NCRP Service will have less than $700,000 in reserve funds at the end of 2020.

“This is a perfect example of why we can’t use that little bit of capital reserve that we have,” Sjostrom said. “If we have any problems at any of our facilities, we need the funding,”

City of Quesnel staff were hoping the committee would give them a direction to balance out competing goals in their long-term plans. With large projects still in development, including a $3-million gymnastics facility, reserves need to be increased before construction begins.

READ MORE: Federal grant application for gymnastics facility in Quesnel stalls

“Maintaining the status quo just isn’t an option,” Jeff Norburn, the City of Quesnel’s director of community services, told the committee.

After the meeting, City staff confirmed reserve fund contributions over the next five years would still be well over $1 million if the committee’s new tax plan was implemented.

Complicating matters is a global pandemic. A sample budget based on an assumption that COVID-19 would severely affect recreation for at least the first six months of 2021 showed a potential loss of $500,000 in revenue. The sample budget also assumed there would be $100,000 in cost savings.

Most of that shortfall came from an anticipated downturn in pool admissions and facility rentals.

The committee authorized a proposed cut of hours at the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre in response to the anticipated COVID-19 shortfalls. Norburn said he would work with staff and users to ensure the hours cut had minimal impacts.

“We’re not doing this because we want to; we’re doing this because we have to,” Quesnel Coun. Ron Paull said.

Norburn said the rec centre was able to operate at full hours for most of 2020 because the complete COVID-19-related shutdown earlier in the year saved money.

“We need to maintain and do what we can,” Sjostrom said. “There’s some communities that have totally shut down, and we haven’t done that. I don’t support [an hours reduction], but we need to be realistic as well.”

The committee also approved keeping a 1.5-per-cent increase for all rural recreation property operating budgets.

Before taking on the budget issues, the NCJPC approved grant applications for the Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program. The City of Quesnel and the Cariboo Regional District had space to apply for one project, and both slots were filled by arena renovations. The provincial program provides money for municipal projects that could be completed in the next two years.

The City of Quesnel will be applying to add event flooring and storage for the West Fraser Centre, and the CRD will be applying to replace the compressor at Arena 2.

READ MORE: Quesnel’s ambassadors honored at city council

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: cassidy.dankochik@quesnelobserver.com


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