A frigid Tuesday evening last week saw the Village of Burns Lake (VBL) hold its second annual town hall community forum, with about 18 residents other than council and staff in attendance.
Mayor, councillors, and staff presented summaries of different aspects of the proposed 2014 budget, along with cautionary comments on major upcoming infrastructure projects.
“The VBL is a service provider,” said Mayor Luke Strimbold.
But a service provider with a small tax base and pending infrastructure shortcomings.
In particular, the Burns Lake water tower will need to be replaced by 2017, at a cost of about $2 million. Before that, a complete redo of Centre St. is planned for 2015.
Centre St. needs more than a resurfacing; it needs to be essentially rebuilt. The cost of rebuilding the road bed, addressing drainage problems, and resurfacing with pavement, curbs, and a sidewalk will tax village coffers to the tune of $2.8 million.
The VBL doesn’t have that kind of cash in reserve, so the most likely course of action will be a loan. A $2.8 million debenture would cost the village $172,000 annually in loan repayments over 25 years. It would also mean a 16 per cent tax hike.
With Burns Lake property tax payers already at the high end of tax rates across the region (see Lakes District News Jan. 8, 2014 Burns Lake property assessments up), a possible tax hike was met with a telling silence.
The village happens to be sitting on a $960,000 one-time dividend from the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLComfor) at the moment.
One purpose of last week’s forum was to garner public will when it comes to spending those BLComfor funds. The village has never received a dividend from the community forest before. One possibility council is considering is dedicating some or all of the money for infrastructure projects.
There was some support for putting aside the close to $1 million to offset upcoming tax-payer burden to pay for infrastructure upgrades, but informal roundtable discussions amongst council, staff, and the 18 VBL residents who attended the forum, favoured at least some continued consideration for the traditionally mandated function of BLComfor funds.
Supporting outdoor recreation has been a crucial role played by BLComfor in the Lakes District, especially among those recreation user groups who aren’t able to attract municipal funds for their projects because of village municipal boundaries.
While no show of hands was taken during the forum, a consensus among the recreation interests present that evening developed around the idea that a good portion of the available BLComfor funds should be available for equitable distribution among outdoor user groups.
The number-one priority identified by Mayor Strimbold when summarizing his notes regarding the BLComfor funding was that the money shouldn’t be spent right away, and consideration should be given to the legacy effect the money could have in the district.
Council will consider what they heard last week during upcoming budget deliberations.