Houston budget spending on track

Spending for 2021 going as planned

The District of Houston council discussed the 2021 budget at a recent meeting. (File photo/Houston Today)

The District of Houston council discussed the 2021 budget at a recent meeting. (File photo/Houston Today)

The 2021 budget year’s spending is going pretty much as planned, interim finance director Kathleen Day has reported to council of outflows as of September 30.

“At this time I do not see any operational concerns that would necessitate a budget amendment,” she told council in an eight-page memo outlining budgeted amounts for the District’s various services and projects and what has been spent so far.

Some budget items, such as road works and improved safety equipment at the Benson Ave. level rail crossing, have unspent monies because the projects have. been delayed until next year.

Day did note that a majority of the District’s investments with the Bulkley Valley Credit Union are maturing in November and that it has been asked to provide interest rates for a variety of investment vehices.

“Once these rates are provided the mix of investments and future project cash requirements will be reviewed to determine the best investment mix for the next year,” Day wrote.

Councillor Tom Euverman has asked that surpluses within specific areas be investigated during upcoming budget discussions for 2022 to see if the money could be used elsewhere.

Those budget deliberations are to start in January leading toward a deadline of May 15, 2022.

Day, in her interim capacity, has been working at the District offices but that will change to working remotely after Dec. 2.

She will, however, guide budget preparations remotely if a permanent finance director has not been hired yet.

Support for sign grant requested

With a loop walking trail now completed near the Buck Creek Canfor hatchery and nature centre, a next step is a plan to place interpretive signs along the way.

So hatchery and nature centre coordinator Cindy Verbeek from A Rocha Canada is asking the District for a letter of support to apply for grants to cover the estimated $4,100 cost to design, make and install as many as 21 signs, some at the nature centre with the majority along the trail.

Interpretive signs would “teach locals and tourists alike about the natural history of the Houston area and encourage ways of protecting wildlife and our natural resource,” Verbeek wrote to council.

They would also promote literacy by having intermediate and beginner level language on the signs.

Verbeek appeared before council as a delegation and it is council’s practice to consider requests for letters of support and respond at a future date.

Gas money tucked away

The District of Houston has nearly $700,000 tucked away for future use, proceeds of annual rebates of gas taxes provided it by the federal government.

The District did receive a scheduled $189,607 this past May as part of the annual rebate program but in early summer the federal government doubled the amount sent to local governments across the country so that the District received another $181,166.

And with the extra money came a program name change to Community Works Funding and an expansion of the kind of projects the money can finance.

“Eligible projects now include fire halls and fire station infrastructure,” noted interim finance director Kathleen Day of an expanded eligibility list provided by the federal government.

Included in the eligible project list are local roads, recreation and sport infrastructure, tourism infrastructure and better broadband connectivity.

As of Jan. 1, the gas tax fund stood at $1.079 million, increasing to $1.449 million with the two payments.

Council then spent $622,250 to help close off its financing for the just-finished first phase of the downtown revitalization project, $114,684 on road works and $15,000 for warning lights at Mountainview and Jamie Baxter crossings.

That will leave $698,153 for council to consider spending as it puts together the budget plan for 2022.

Council has asked District staffers for recommendations on how the money might be spent as deliberations begin for the next budget year.

Purple monitor sought

Council is supporting a bid by the Bulkley Valley Airshed Management Society to obtain a grant to purchase another air quality monitor for placement in the community.

The monitor, made by the American firm PurpleAir, would add to the society’s gathering of information relating to the quality of the air in the area and what the effect might be on people.

The monitor can, for instance, measure the amount of microscopic particles in the air, including ones referred to as PM2.5 which have a width ten times smaller than the width of a human hair.

These particles, mainly from the burning of wood and fossil fuels, are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs where they have the potential to cause respiratory and cardiac problems.

Council also seeks own monitors

While council is supporting the Bulkley Valley Airshed Management Society’s bid for another purple monitor it is also seeking money for some of its own.

The prospect for a $10,000 grant from a Northern Health program directed at community health and wellness needs was introduced by councillor Troy Reitsma.

Council for years has been worried about air quality, particularly fine particulate matter which can affect lungs and cause breathing problems.

“It is hard to focus our efforts when we don’t have enough data on where the sources of pollution are coming from. A high use of woodstove heat in the community is suspected, but we don’t know what areas of the community are most impacted because there is no registry of them,” said District of Houston corporate services officer Holly Brown.

“[The air management society] and other energy providers have rebate and grant programs available to encourage property owners to switch to cleaner heat sources, but its hard to advertise the programs locally when we don’t have a target audience,” she said.