The emergency department entrance of the Campbell River hospital, April 5, 2019.

The emergency department entrance of the Campbell River hospital, April 5, 2019.

Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District backs tax break in preliminary budget

Board approves a motion to reduce $4.4 million for reserves, though it must pass final budget

The board for the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District (CSRHD) has approved a preliminary reduction in the amount of its tax requisition for next year.

At this point, the decision only gives direction to staff for the preliminary budget, which has to be approved by the end of December. A drop in the requisition would not officially go through until a final budget is passed, which must happen before the end of March 31.

CSRHD is comprised of board members from the Comox and Strathcona regional districts, responsible for the local portion of large capital projects in the health sector, such as the North Island Hospital campuses.

At their meeting on Nov. 12, the board passed a motion to drop the requisition amount for the two areas by roughly $4.4 million from the usual annual requisition amount of $17 million. This is revenue that would be put in reserves for future capital projects. Initial estimates from staff said this would save an average home something in the area of about $64 for the year.

RELATED STORY: Comox-Strathcona still on track to pay down new hospital debt

Members of the board who supported the idea said it would offer some relief for people during a time when many are dealing with the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Arzeena Hamir, who represents Area B on the Comox Valley Regional District, brought up the idea, saying the board had no major capital projects in the short term. The reserves are generated each year to put aside for long-term planning on future capital projects.

“We don’t have anything to put it towards,” she said.

Edwin Grieve, who represents Area C of the CVRD, asked staff about the interest rate on money in the reserve. Staff provided estimates of 2.5 to 3 per cent but added they would need to get updated numbers.

Andy Adams, the mayor of Campbell River and one of the SRD directors, said having the money held through the Municipal Finance Authority made the most sense at a time when interest rates are generally low.

“MFA is one of the best bets right now,” he said.

He also supported Hamir’s point about reducing the amount transferred to reserves for now. Some wanted deeper cuts. Brenda Leigh, who represents Area D on the CVRD, wanted a larger reduction to tax rates, even beyond the amount transferred to reserves. However, staff suggested the board consider how deeply they want to cut into the requisition as the move would require measures to offset a reduction in future years.

“It just puts you in a situation where you have to recover,” chief financial officer Myriah Foort told the board.

Another concern of some on the board was making a decision about the budget prior to having a chance to hold a strategic planning session, something that has been delayed due to concerns about meeting in person due to the coronavirus. The board, like other local government bodies, has been meeting through online platforms such as Zoom in response to the pandemic.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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