Gabriola Island residents are in line for a 3.3-per cent increase to their tax requisition from Islands Trust, with some of that going to new measures to protect island ecosystems.
The Islands Trust, a collective of local governments for islands on the Salish Sea, has an $8.8-million budget proposed for 2021-22, with a 9.2 per cent increase (approximately $742,000) in total operating costs, according to a press release. Approximately $395,000 is slated for four new staff hires: a full-time bylaw enforcement officer, temporary part-time bylaw communications officer and a pair of workers who will assist with a species-at-risk program.
Scott Colbourne, Gabriola Island trustee, said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, with staff unable to travel, there have been “really disturbing land-use decisions by property owners,” including clear-cutting of properties, trespassing on Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure right-of-ways and unregulated development activity and reduction of housing options with Airbnb suites.
“At the other end, you’ve got a lot of ecosystems and cultural heritage sites being disturbed by some really intense development activity that definitely falls outside what’s regulated with the Islands Trust … it’s been a real eye-opener when we don’t have the oversight here,” said Colbourne. “We’ve had to fall back on the province archaeological branch and others … to come in and regulate some of these activities.”
He said without bylaw enforcement, the islands are in danger of losing some “pretty special places” and harming relationships with First Nations.
The trust is seeking to spend accumulated surplus money, with $288,000 going toward climate-focused and strategic plan projects and $159,000 for local trust committee projects. A notable one, Colbourne said, is a housing options and impacts project, with an estimated price tag between $25-$30,000.
“The data shows us that Gabriola has a real deficit in terms of safe, secure housing, but also the impact that residential development have on eco-systems,” said Colbourne. “So it’s kind of like looking at how do you increase the options, but also decrease the impact that people are having?”
He said the project includes numerous components and falls “just shy” of being an official community plan review.
“That one is in the community consultation phase right now and it’s going to cost a bit of money, so that’s something that’s a definite local priority for Gabriola Island.”
Kees Langereis, Gabriola trustee, said groundwater and eelgrass mapping projects are other note-worthy initiatives.
“We’re trying to determine how much water do we have in the ground … which comes to the question of how much development can occur, the intensity of development, and we’re also looking at the capacity for rainwater collection,” said Langereis.
The budget also calls for a two-per cent wage increase for union staff and a 1.2-per cent increase in compensation for trustees.
Close to five per cent, or $407,000, of the budget, will be funded by grant money, according to the press release.
Islands Trust has been surveying residents and the trust is anticipated to approve its budget during its quarterly meeting, beginning March 9.
For more information, visit www.islandstrust.bc.ca/budget.