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District of Houston to pay monthly for communications fee

Houston Search and Rescue volunteers now have a satellite-based communications system and the District of Houston has agreed to provide its monthly connection fee.

Houston Search and Rescue volunteers now have a satellite-based communications system and the District of Houston has agreed to provide its monthly connection fee.

The Starlink system, which cost Houston Search and Rescue $1,792.28, will vastly improve the capability of volunteers to communicate in very rural areas or when other communications networks breakdown.

The monthly connection fee of $190.40 works out to $2,284.80 and will come from the District’s protective services budget.

“Starlink would solve numerous communication challenges for us and complete our goals for a fully connected mobile command centre fro remote northern B.C. application,” Houston Search noted in its submission for money to council.

Connecting via satellite means more than 100 cellphones can be connected while also allowing internet-based mapping capabilities as well as video communications.

“Starlink has proven more reliable than sat phones systems,” the volunteer organization noted in its request to council.

“It is a system that is affordable and proving reliable. Older technology was significantly more expensive and much less reliable.”

Additional information presented to council indicated Houston Search and Rescue was called out 59 times in 2021, 69 times in 2020, 64 times in 2019 and 39 calls in 2018.

It spends $55,000 a year on average with $26,000 for operations, $10,000 for training, $10,000 to replace equipment and $10,000 for personal protective equipment.

The provincial government provides an annual grant of $35,000.

District shifts investment strategy

Inflation may be affecting the purchasing power and economic circumstances of many Canadians but it is proving to be a benefit for the District of Houston.

That’s because council has approved a shift in the District’s investment strategy away from guaranteed income certificates (GICs) at the Bulkley Valley Credit Union to a savings account at the same place.

With the Bank of Canada raising its interest rates to dampen inflation by slowing down spending, those depositing money in financial institutions earn returns reflecting those higher interest rates.

“As all of the GIC term deposits were initiated prior to the rise in interest rates, most of them are at rates significantly lower than the current market rates and even lower than the rate on the chequing and savings account,” District finance director Jennifer Larson wrote in a memo for council.

She noted that while GIC term deposits are earning as little as .5 per cent, chequing and savings accounts are earning 2.7 per cent.

Larson noted that putting the District’s money into a savings account is a short term move pending the District developing a more comprehensive investment strategy.

Council agreed with that plan and Larson is to present a strategy to council for its consideration in early October.

Grant received for seniors program

A $15,000 grant received by the District of Houston comes from a provincial program and ties in with the District’s intentions of offering age-friendly recreation and other programs in the community.

In this circumstance grant payments will be forwarded to Houston Link to Learning for its new Seniors Gathering Project, a venture that offers regular outings such as bowling, picnics (weather permitting), movies and refreshments for seniors.

“The idea is around reducing isolation for seniors and removing barriers of any cost so everyone is free to attend if they want to,” said Marian Ells, Houston Link to Learning’s manager.

“The partnership also includes the Legion shuttle to provide transportation for any seniors who need it. We are really excited to hear that the funding has been awarded for this project and grateful for the innovative partnership with District of Houston and the Legion.”

This grant is in addition to $15,000 being approved for the project earlier this by council from the District’s COVID-19 relief fund.

The money now means the program can be carried into September 2023.

Tax exemptions granted

Two of Houston’s non-profit social service agencies have been granted property tax exemptions for the 2023 tax year through a bylaw passed by council.

Houston Community Services wanted an exemption for its property at 3398 10th St. and Houston Link to Learning for property at 2350 Butler Ave.

Background information provided to council in an Aug. 11 memo stated tax exemptions are permitted “for property owned or held by a charitable, philanthropic, and non-profit corporation and used for the purposes of the corporation.”

The municipal tax exemption for Houston Community Services amounts to $3,774 at 2022 tax rates and $4,907 when all property taxes are included while the municipal tax exemption for Houston Link to Learning for the Plaza entertainment complex recently purchased is $6,953 at 2022 tax rates and $9,286 when all property taxes are included.

District signs up for floodplain mapping

Houston is taking part in a province-wide program to map out flooding hazards with a view to reducing flood risk.

Money for the program comes from both the federal and provincial governments and is being managed by the Fraser Basin Council on the lower mainland and consultants are to begin work this fall.

In a letter to the District of Houston, the council and the province said mapping can help determine land use planning, potential impacts on people and infrastructure and prepare or update emergency response plans.