Floods, fires costly for provincial government

Despite the relatively small area burned by forest fires this year compared to last year, costs were $71 million more than budgeted

  • Sep. 15, 2013 6:00 p.m.

Tom Fletcher

Black Press

The B.C. Liberal government’s promised balanced budget is still on track, despite a dip in personal income tax revenues and higher than expected costs for flood and forest fire response, Finance Minister Mike de Jong said this week.

Releasing first-quarter financial results for the current fiscal year, de Jong said the finance ministry expects to post a small surplus of $136 million on the province’s operating budget of $44 billion. For the second time since the election, the surplus forecast was reduced.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth continued to question whether the books will be balanced by next spring.

“The government spent millions of dollars in the run-up to the election campaign promoting its jobs plan, promoting its budget, basically saying if they were re-elected, everything would be rainbows and unicorns,” Farnworth said. “The surplus has been reduced twice, and we’re only just in the first quarter.”

De Jong said despite the relatively small area burned by forest fires this year compared to last year, costs were $71 million more than budgeted because more fires were in populated areas in the south, requiring aerial and rapid response.

Forest fire budgeting is always a “crapshoot,” with dry weather, lightning strikes and proximity to settlement impossible to predict with any accuracy, he said.

(A Sept. 3 Black Press report incorrectly estimated that forest firefighting costs would be down this summer, despite a long period of dry weather.)

Emergency flood response costs added another $27 million to the bills for B.C. in the first quarter, after heavy rains swept through southeastern B.C. and into southern Alberta, where downtown Calgary and High River were flooded.

De Jong said the government’s hiring freeze and wage freeze for non-union staff continues, along with the “cooperative gains” mandate for union contracts that requires raises to be funded by savings in other areas of the operation.

Total government revenue was up $69 million from the government’s post-election budget update in June, helped by higher than expected corporate tax revenues.

Property transfer tax revenues were up $25 million, reflecting an uptick in the B.C. housing market. Other tax revenues were up $10 million, after what de Jong said was a smooth transition from the harmonized sales tax to the separate provincial sales tax this spring.

Forest revenue was up $62 million from the June forecast, but mineral revenues were down $41 million, mainly due to lower coal prices and reduced shipments.

 

Just Posted

Vernon to show shoreline some love to celebrate BC Rivers Day

Volunteers wanted to help with riparian restoration on O’Keefe Ranch

Section of 27th Street in Vernon closed

The street has been closed from 30th Avenue to Highway 6 due to weather disrupting repaving

Cyclist struck on Vernon highway

Emergency crews responding, more information to come

New Vernon pastry chef has real sweet tooth

Caken Me Crazy’s owner left the dental industry to pursue the culinary arts

Vernon retirement home holding open house

Orchard Valley will open doors to the public on Saturday, Sept. 21

VIDEO: Police interview with Sagmoen made public

Defence lawyer says statements made by accused Curtis Sagmoen should be deemed inadmissible

VIDEO: B.C.’s famous cat Grandpa Mason has died

The story of the feral cat that started fostering kittens touched people around the world

Charges stayed against Alberta RCMP officer in alleged off-duty Whistler assault

Const. Vernon Hagen instead completed an alternative measures program

Codling moths remain a problem for Okanagan apple growers

Problem areas for pest include Summerland, Penticton and Naramata

WFN elects new chief

Westbank First Nation members elected Christopher Raymond Derickson Thursday night

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen works to control mosquito populations

Control efforts in the region have been starting earlier each year

Columbia-Shuswap governments promised voice in caribou recovery

Population of Frisby-Boulder herd northeast of Sicamous at 11 animals and declining

PAW Patrol Live! adds third Penticton show due to pup-ular demand

Fans can now see the heroic pooches at three different showtimes at the SOEC

Most Read