GABRIOLA ISLAND -- A bump in annual funding from Regional District of Nanaimo Area B taxpayers to the operator of Gabriola's community bus, GERTIE, will cover a wage increase for employees as well as an impending rent increase.

The Gabriola Community Bus Foundation's funding agreement with the RDN has been renewed for another five-year term until 2026 and raises the annual funding amount from $136,788 to $142,948. The increase was approved by the board following a motion by Area B (Gabriola, Mudge, DeCourcy) Director Vanessa Craig.

The new agreement builds in an annual two per cent cost of living adjustment, something that Craig said GCBF has historically requested every year. The $6,160 increase this year covers a 2 per cent wage increase for the GERTIE drivers and coordinator as well as higher rent GCBF expects to pay should base operations move to the old Fire Hall #1 building.

At its current base of operations, the Commons, the foundation pays $1,375 in rent annually. The firehall will cost $4,800 per year.

Plans to renovate the goat barn at the Commons leave GERTIE's future there uncertain and moving to the old firehall location has been an ongoing discussion for several years, according to Katharine Patterson, GCBF board member.

“We are still in the preliminary stages of negotiation and no agreement has been formally signed yet,” she said, adding the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed any decisions.

The firehall location would “provide better shelter, exits, and egress for the buses,” said board member Susan Yates. “We may also be able to take advantage of large vehicle maintenance options at the firehall; cleaning, washing, minor repairs.”

The additional funds for GERTIE as well as an approved $2,500 increase in annual funding to the Gabriola Arts Council could mean a higher tax increase than presented in the preliminary 2021-22 RDN budget. The overall effect is still unknown, however, as budget deliberations are still underway.

“I anticipate the tax requisition for Area B will be higher than presented for the draft budget because of the increases to the GERTIE and GAC budgets, but I will be reducing contributions to feasibility studies to help offset those increases for 2021,” Craig said. For Area B, the draft budget proposed a $0.75 increase per $100,000 of assessed value.

Craig says the increase for GERTIE is important in order to provide consistent, reliable operations.

“To be able to support the success of our community transportation service, it's important to have secure funding so that the GERTIE board can develop a schedule and routing system that addresses the needs of residents,” she said.