Budget deliberations are here again, so I'm springing forward with a recap of the initial round of pre-budget discussions held over the last three weeks and a preview of tomorrow and next Tuesday's special council meetings. Structure here: Budget 2023 Overview; Sooke Fire; Sooke RCMP; Climate Action; New Service Agreements; Growing Communities Fund; Tax Hikes Elsewhere.
Bottom line: The Five Year Plan's first look features a 9.34% tax increase in 2023, or $131 for the average BC Assessment-calibrated Sooke residential property ($827,746 as of July 1, 2022).
Staff and council will whittle what it can from this staring point in the weeks ahead in seeking a reasonable, realistic number that keeps existing services intact, factors in some new initiatives and yet doesn't hit folks too aggressively where it hurts at a time when so many are dealing with the rising cost of everything (i.e., 7% year-to-year jump in the Consumer Price Index). We'll discover on Tuesday whether Sooke's recent receipt of $5.9 million from BC's Growing Communities Fund can reduce the figure (more on this unexpected windfall below.)
Municipalities across BC and Canada are struggling with similar-but-uniquely-their-own dilemmas in this inflationary cycle. [Scroll to the end of this post for a brief overview; tax increases in BC so far this year are ranging upwards from 5% (Central Saanich, Sidney) to 17% (Lake Country) at the upper end.]
Finance Director/Deputy CAO Raechel Gray is building significant new staffing requests from Sooke RCMP and Sooke Fire Services into the five-year plan starting with requested new positions for each this year. Two other needed jobs -- a Wastewater Engineering Tech and an Emergency Program Assistant -- are also on the books this year.
About 60% of the tax hike is due to "non-discretionary expense increases in wages, contracts and insurance premiums," reads the agenda. These are all locked in through existing agreements with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 374, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4841 and exempt management employees. Also confirmed this year are community service agreements with the Sooke Food Bank, Sooke Community Association, Sooke Chamber of Commerce, Sooke Family Resource Society and others.
Unstated: No messing with these fixed numbers without consequences, please.
The remaining 4.15% of the proposed increase is "discretionary," and so let the strategic trimming begin. Very likely we'll start with the proposed (by staff) council travel budget since it's presented first on the list of negotiable items in the agenda. I don't believe we've overdone our participation in such incredibly valuable learning/networking/collective voting opportunities as the AVICC and UBCM conferences, but no question we need a better strategy to determine how to divvy up who and how many of us attend the annual round of local government shindigs.
Also up for deliberation are expenses for IT software; staff recruitment (critical given how challenging it is these days for local governments, like many employers, to find qualified applicants); extra funds for the next highway maintenance contract; seed money for Community Economic Development; rainwater infrastructure upgrades; invasive species and snow removal; and contract fees for the firehall mechanic, auxiliary parks workers and fire department relief help during the transition to 24/7 staffing at Fire Hall #1. (As you'll later read if you stick with this eye-glazer, we have three solid years of climate action grants to work with, so that critical work doesn't impact the tax rate.)
In my experience, Ms. Gray and her team have the alchemical skill to crunch figures and lower the provisional number we first see as they manage the rolling Five-Year Plan from one year to the next. Yet there's no doubt Sooke will not be an exception to the cavalcade of BC communities delivering larger increases than usual this year.
Looking ahead, we've also heard a preliminary staff ask that, starting next year, we approve a 2% tax hike in 2024 and 2025 to ramp up the Capital Assets Reserve Fund -- a necessarily wise and mature municipal action to cover long-term infrastructure costs (i.e., maintenance and replacement of civic essentials - roads, equipment, sewer lines, etc.; read the Asset Management BC provincial framework document for the stitch-in-time logic.)
Dive in to the District's comprehensive budget materials here:
- Let's Talk Sooke: Budget 2023 page where you'll find ...
- Citizen Budget Survey (conducted fall 2022)
- Budget Information Explainer (Feb. 2023)
- Five-Year Financial Plan 2022-2026
- Financial Services website page
Also revisit my earlier budget posts for context on how our tax rate has evolved over the last decade:
- Budget 2022
- CRD (2019)
- Budget 2019
FYI Tax hikes over the last decade total 27.39% ...
2022 ~ 6.09%
2021 ~ 3.31%
2020 ~ 0.00%
2019 ~ 7.18%
2018 ~ 2.79%
2017 ~ 5.58%
2016 ~ 0.85%
2015 ~ 0.00%
2014 ~ 0.02%
2013 ~ 1.59%
2012 ~ 0.00%
Municipal taxes comprise approx. 45% of your annual tax bill. Also to be counted:
- Provincial School Tax
- Capital Regional District
- BC Transit
- Vancouver Island Regional Library
- Capital Hospital District
- Municipal Finance Authority
The Feb. 21 COW featured presentations and discussion regarding the biggest funding asks for this and the next four years ~ namely the hiring of five additional Sooke RCMP officers and eight new IAFF career firefighters so as to enable bona fide 24/7 on-site professional service from each.
Sooke currently dedicates 42.3% or xxx of the municipal budget to community safety. Police and fire do a comprehensive job as it is yet both departments must keep pace with accelerated community growth. Sooke Fire Chief/Director of Community Safety Ted Ruiter and Sooke RCMP's Acting Detachment Commander Kevin Shaw provided persuasive cases for their respective asks (see the video replay for their comments and power-points; RCMP presentation starts here; Sooke Fire here.)
Increased funding for public safety is supported by all of us on council as a foundational necessity. Extra dollars in these areas is also generally favored in the latest (fall 2022) Citizen Budget Survey, which captures the view of a small (200 residents) yet still meaningful slice of Sooke public sentiment. (Everyone is invited to fill out these annual surveys, which are well-advertised via roadside bulletin boards and other more traditional means; the participation rate is growing slowly but surely.)
Sooke Fire Service
Sooke councils since 2015 have committed to a "full-service-operations level fire department" as defined in the "playbook" (2022 update) issued by the Fire Commissioner’s Office of British Columbia.
Reaching that status requires (as per the lead recommendation in last year's Fire Department Master Plan prepared by Dave Mitchell & Associates) the staffing and establishment of 24/7 service by IAFF career firefighters operating from Fire Hall #1. The request calls for four platoons of four firefighters each by 2027, a scenario that requires eight new hires at a two-firefighter-per-year schedule. (With two recent additions, Sooke has a current squad of eight career officers.)
As it has successfully operated over the years, Sooke Fire will remain a "composite" department supported by valued volunteer firefighters. The introduction of a paid on-call system in 2019 as a best-practice request of the Volunteer Firefighters Association was intended to drive increased recruitment to above 50 members. However the ranks remain at a historically consistent number (approx. 30 volunteers) largely due to the realities potential new members face due to busy modern life and work-styles and the unique challenges of the position.
The new staffing structure will enable professional firefighters to deliver "adequate response times" (i.e., within 10 minutes) to fire and medical emergencies -- just as they do during their day shifts currently yet with added around-the-clock coverage. Volunteers trained so effectively by Cam Norris-Jones will join them ASAP from their homes across the region when their beepers sound at any unpredictable hour.
Chief Ruiter says it all extremely well in his presentation, so please take the time to review it and learn about minimum standards (Fire Services Act, Emergency Program Act, WorkSafe BC, Sooke's Fire Protection Services Bylaw) as well as the Sooke Emergency Program, inspections and educational outreach (i.e. to schools, businesses and, in future, to seniors via the Older & Wiser program).
How to pay for it all? As Ms. Gray told us, starting salary for an IAFF firefighter under the recently ratified contract is $101k per year. In reducing property tax impacts, existing reserves, wildfire revenue from the province ($148k in 2021), potential new service revenue, transfers from the paid-on call budget, non-market-change revenue (i.e. revenue from new tax portfolios) and District surplus funds will be used in the creation of a Future Fire Cost Reserve Fund. In a worse case scenario, she said a 1 to 2% tax increase per year might be required over the next four years. Key point to soften the blow: Chief Ruiter noted again that full-service operations dramatically reduces insurance rates for home and commercial property owners; according to one 2015 report, a property valued at $450k would face a $5489 bill annually without fire service; with service, the rate drops to $1491.
Similar financial wizardry involving reserve funds, shared revenues and property tax contributions will be required to meet Sooke RCMP's request for five additional officers through 2026. This has been coming for a long time, certainly ever since former Staff Sgt. Steve Wright stated the need at a Sooke Protective Services meeting in March, 2012: "Sooke compared to other municipalities is grossly under poiiced. We don't have enough police officers to go to 24-hour coverage and this is a concern to me."
Wright's successors Jeff McArthur, Brett Sinden and Shaw himself have all consistently said as much. (Shaw told us it's also the wish of our new Detachment Commander, Greg Willcocks, who arrives here from Haida Gwaii's Queen Charlotte detachment this spring.) This is the first time to my knowledge, however, that the RCMP has delivered a comprehensive public ask of Sooke council for a full-bodied solution to this long-standing matter.
Staff Sgt. Shaw demonstrated how its time for Sooke to get serious about lowering our "Cop to Pop" ratio from the current one officer per 1,194 residents ~ essential if Sooke RCMP is to be more effective at recruiting and retaining members currently faced with abnormally heavy workloads, incipient burn out, on-call responsibilities and lack of local career opportunities compared to their colleagues in better staffed communities.
(The BC average, as you'll read in my blog post, is 1 to 764; the current OCP calls for a 1 officer per 1,000 citizen ratio. In keeping its own ratio low, Langford is considering nine new West Shore RCMP officers in expanding to 70 members. Similar stories are playing out in communities across BC where higher taxes will bring in new officers. The City of Victoria is a rare outlier in bucking the trend.)
Capturing some of Shaw's key points:
- Lowering crime rates is the objective for forces of all sizes; our rate in Sooke (2021) is an annual 54.1 criminal-code offences per 1,000 population. That is higher than the regional average for communities our size (40.4 offences per 1,000).
- Sooke currently has the second lowest policing cost on the south island, trailed only by North Saanich. Our per-capita policing cost is $144 per year vs. comparables paid by residents in Colwood ($230), View Royal ($183), Sidney ($195) and Langford ($245). The provincial figure is double what we pay at an average $289 per community.
- As mentioned, we have the lowest officer-to-population ratio on the south island. Closest is View Royal (1 to 1002). Elsewhere: Colwood (1 to 985); Sidney/North Saanich (1 to 953); Langford (1 to 815); Central Saanich (1 to 805).
- Apart from property crime statistics (which have remained stable since 2011), other areas are trending up over time: criminal code offences, mental health calls, violent offences and "other criminal code."
- "Sooke RCMP officers carry a significantly above-average criminal case load" compared to other municipal departments ~ 65 criminal case investigations per Sooke officer vs. View Royal (52), Colwood (50), Langford (39), Sidney/North Saanich (32), Central Saanich (20).
- Overall case files per officer for non-criminal matters -- neighbour disputes, mental health calls, suicidal persons, check-wellbeing files -- are again well above average for Sooke -- 317 per officer vs. Westshore (253), Sidney/North Saanich (245), Central Saanich (176).
- Approximately 1200 new residents will arrive in Sooke with our latest wave of new development and we're predicted to continue growing at a 2.4% annual clip.
Said Shaw: "Why this matters, importantly, is our ability to provide the service that we’re contracted to provide. It’s challenging for anybody, particularly for a police officer, to stand up and say we’re not doing a good job. But what I will tell council is that we’re not doing as good a job as we should be doing and what this community expects us to do. We hear that all the time, we acknowledge it and it weighs heavily on us."
The funding ask:
- 2 new hires in 2024 ... Cop to Pop lowered - 1 to 1027. "This would allow us to begin the transition to 24-hour policing"
- 2 more in 2025 ... allowing 4 shifts of 5 police officers and a 1 to 939 ratio.
- 1 more in 2026 ... 1 to 916 allowing dedicated community policing, traffic enforcement and/or major crimes sections.
These new hires will help RCMP deliver "proactive enforcement and engagement" as follows:
- Reducing crime by targeting prolific offenders
- Proactive traffic enforcement in the pursuit of increased road safety
- Foot patrols downtown to prevent crime, engage with business owners and the public
- Engagement in the schools speaking with students, teachers and parents
Critical point: "We have a responsibility to always put the best foot forward and conduct quality investigations, but the volume of our files per officer is beginning to affect the quality of what we do because there is always a pressure to move on to the next file. It’s a real issue ... Complex, serious investigations are exclusively the responsibility of Sooke RCMP – stabbings, serious sexual offences, child offences. These cases are time-consuming, challenging and specialized, best served by a team of dedicated investigators versus being investigated by front-line investigators" as is currently the case.
Ms. Gray stated that the per-capita cost of these hires would add about $30 per tax bill for policing in Sooke, still the cheapest in the region. Each new officer costs $203k per year (including benefits, gear, car, etc.) Two new officers are already accounted for in earlier Five-Year Plans. Traffic Fine Revenue will continue to flow into the reserve fund. Retro pay for the new RCMP unionized contract has been banked in a reserve fund ($450k). With the last census, we're to be billed by the province for police services at a 90 percent rate (vs. 70% previously) however this may not kick in until next year. It takes almost a year for a new officer to be recruited and the District charged, so the impact won't be felt until 2024.
The other item on the Feb.. 21 agenda -- involving no municipal taxes and a relative fraction of the cost and yet taking up nearly two-thirds of the five-hour meeting -- was a public safety matter of another kind: Climate action to be undertaken in the context of 2019's declared climate emergency. (To counter persistent disinformation at the outset: No, Sooke's Climate Action Plan does not seek to ban wood-burning stoves - nor even mentions them - and its ask that council explore banning natural-gas hook-ups in new construction to slash methane pollution is a best-practice suggestion that would require council discussion, public hearing and a new bylaw as per all the processes and rules that keep democracies like ours thriving.)
Here on the south island, Sooke is served by the CRD Climate Action Service at a 2022 cost of $44,697 (or $6.40 per residential assessment). This service expanded significantly last year with new staff members, programs and increased budget (i.e., the comparative 2021 cost to Sooke was $13,809 or $1.97 per tax bill.) Notable are the Charge Your Ride and Home Energy Navigator programs open to all Greater Victoria residents.
The service employs a half-dozen staff members led by manager Nikki Elliott and including Sooke's former short-term climate coordinator Maia Carolsfeld. It delivers a broad range of regional programs for citizens, schools, businesses and member municipal governments as documented on its resource page. Sooke links up to it officially through a pair of Inter-Municipal Climate Task Forces -- one involving elected representatives (Cllr. St-Pierre from Sooke), the other municipal staff (Communications Coordinator Christina Moog). (A first-ever set of minutes from the task force is published with the CRD Environmental Services Committee agenda of March 29.)
According to the CRD, the service "develops corporate and community-focused mitigation and adaptation strategies; supports local governments to be climate-neutral by 2030; strives for neutral GHG emissions corporately; and responds to Board priorities and the declared climate emergency."
As a municipality responsible for its own biodiverse 56.9 sq. km. today and in future, we must do our necessarily limited but significant part. The BC Community Energy Association has worked with the UBCM to identify best practices at the municipal level. These include adopting the Low Carbon Resilience strategy, participating in peer-learning networks (in our case with the CRD and the FCM's Partners for Climate Protection program) and hiring dedicated climate action staff. We tick all but the last of these boxes at the moment.
There's all-around agreement that we need a staff member focused on implementing the District's climate policies. The LCR approach which we adopted in 2021 requires all District staff to keep GHG reduction in mind in their every decision. One individual is also needed to coordinate staff action and keep everyone in tune and on track with climate priorities identified in our various master plans, including last year's Climate Action Plan.
Council's job, as we've been reminded lately, is to develop policy in collaboration with our one and only employee, the Chief Administrative Officer. Among our six strategic priorities in 2018-22 was "demonstrate leadership in climate action," and this is again cited in our evolving new Strat Plan.
For their part, staff are to handle the "how" of implementing these policies.
The lines inevitably blur on occasion. In this particular case, council was asked by last year's Climate Action Committee (of which I was council's liaison) to consider hiring a full-time Climate Action Coordinator to continue the substantial work undertaken by Ms. Carolsfeld in her nine-month stint with us in 2021/22.
How to proceed with climate staffing this year will be decided during budget talks -- either with this full-time Climate Action Coordinator or, as staff recommend, a senior employee in the planning department with a mandate to cover a diverse range of responsibilities, climate coordination included.
The municipal commitment to reduce community carbon emissions -- promised when we signed the BC Climate Action Charter (2008) and embedded in the current (2010) and pending Official Community Plans -- is to be funded through 2025 at least by the province's long-awaited, warmly received Local Government Climate Action Program.
Announced last summer in alignment with the CleanBC Roadmap to 2030, it promises $135k annually to Sooke for three years provided the District contributes $27k of its own funds each year. The intention of this province-wide program: "To enable community-specific action to reduce emissions and increase climate resilience; and enable robust reporting to track results and help improve the program over time." Overall we'll therefore have $162k per year to spend on this annually through 2025.
Like the Growing Communities fund, the program is unusually flexible and recognizes that every community is at a different stage in its response. Suggestions include creation of a climate plan, implementation of GHG-reducing community programs and/or the hiring of climate staff positions.
Here in Sooke, our short-term coordinator left behind the Sooke 2030 Climate Action Plan (CAP). It calls for the District and the community to do their respective parts in reducing corporate and community GHG emissions in half by a fast-approaching 2030 -- a target in line with the United Nations and the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council; it's more ambitious than the 40-45% reduction sought by the federal and BC governments. Given our sorry track record to date, these targets are aspirational yet the CAP is nonetheless a realistic, made-in-Sooke effort to get there delivered in creative fashion by asking everyone to rethink how we move, grow, build, lead and relate.
Council endorsed it last summer and our new group recognizes that it is a living (read: entirely amendable and primed for multiple versions) document that will evolve year-by-year as the District operationalizes the Low Carbon Resilience strategy. This approach is intended to measure (literally, via comprehensive carbon accounting) every District and council decision through the LCR co-benefits model -- namely a set of 27 social, environmental and economic factors that help ensure positive and balanced outcomes. (The ACT team at Simon Fraser University continues to refine and enhance a strategy they developed in 2018, and its work will funnel down to Sooke as its available.)
The CAP Master List of Recommended Actions (Appendix H) tabulates 112 climate-related actions already identified in the District's key documents: OCP, Transportation Master Plan, Parks & Trails Master Plan and the Community Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan. A set of 25 Immediate Actions for the next five years (Appendix I) are also identified.
As already noted, a dedicated full-time CAC was recommended in a motion passed by the Climate Action Committee for council consideration at its July 25, 2022 meeting. (See agenda, pg. 83-86). Council back then forwarded this along with recommendations from our other committees for consideration by the new council.
This option for a full-time CAC was also recommended by the Committee of the Whole for council approval in a 4-1 vote last month after an initial motion (defeated 3-2) failed to approve the original staff approach. I voted in favour of both since i think either route will significantly advance local climate action.
On Feb. 27, council approve the $27k contribution to release the Local Government Climate Action Program funds. We also asked for further information on the two options via an A/B comparison, and that is what is presented in tomorrow'a agenda as follows:
* Option A: Staff Recommendation (revised significantly for March 17 agenda)
The staff report has been significantly revised, fleshed out and improved, so much so that I will have no trouble voting for this option tomorrow after the original left me torn and confused, especially in terms of the climate-action work to be undertaken by the recommended planning staffer.
Now the substantial climate responsibilities of that near-future hire has been delineated fully. The role of the CRD Climate Action Service in our own local climate work has been clarified, and the actions from the Sooke Climate Action Plan to be tackled in 2023 are better explained.
Read the report starting on pg. 99, including an Appendix A (2023 Project List) breakdown of this year's 20 immediate actions led by a to-be-hired and climate-focused senior member of the planning department. Its main recommendations:
1. Near-future hiring of this senior planning manager (aka "Manager of Community Planning"; or "Manager of Climate Action, Planning & Development") whose salary is already in the Five-Year budget and won't draw down any of the $162k climate budget. The job description is yet to be written, but we're told he/she/they would focus primarily on:
i) Coordination of staff in operationalizing the District’s whole-of-organization LCR strategy
ii) Policy development as directed by council
iii) Continued focus on the implementation and carbon-accounting phases of the Partners for Climate Protection’s five-milestone program (Sooke is one of 500+ local government members of this initiative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and ICLEI Canada; Carolsfeld took us to milestone three last year with the creation of the CAP.)
2. This individual would coordinate staff from multiple departments in proceeding with 20 CAP actions this year. Most are already built into work plans. Others will require funding from the climate budget. And some can be tackled by willing non-profits should a special climate-action stream be created under the Community Grant program (i.e., Zero Waste pop-up pilot project, food security eduction for residents, e-mobility showcases).
Funded from the $162k climate budget:
$20k – Grant writing/marketing/communications (i.e., promotion of heat pump/EV incentives, FireSmart)
$30k - Grant funding (matching contributions held in the Climate Reserve Fund)
$20k – Co-working Hub Pilot
$13k - Municipal Fleet and Facility Assessments
$15-30k - Transit shelter additions (the aforementioned TMP priority)
$20k - Expanded Community Grant funding specific to climate-action initiatives
$20k – Walk'n'Roll Stops (i.e., safe pick-up/drop-off spots away from Sooke Rd. at our schools)
$5k – Invasive species program (i.e., Japanese knotweed in the Sooke River)
$5k – Natural assets program
$5k – "Welcome to Your Watershed" homeowner educational kits
Extra funds are possible via successful grant applications from sources listed at CleanBC's Community Climate Funding webpage and elsewhere.
The reserve funds will be there to support TBD initiatives that may arise in the months ahead -- a tree-planting campaign, for instance, food security initiatives or funding for the proposed Climate Education and Community Development Society, which is cited as one of the CAP's 25 short-term priorities. We'll hear more about this prospective society from former Climate Action Committee members Shandell Houlden and Elizabeth Lange at a Committee of the Whole this spring.
* Option B: Hiring of a Climate Action Coordinator (CAC)
Here's last summer's Climate Action Committee recommendation.
WHEREAS the District of Sooke’s interim Climate Action Coordinator has, over the nine-month term of her contract, contributed greatly to the District’s planning, preparation and response to its declared Climate Emergency as detailed in the CAC's final report (pp. 301 onward) received by Council on June 21;
AND WHEREAS these contributions include:
- the drafting of a multi-year Sooke Climate Action Plan rooted in emergency response planning and 7% Solution GHG reduction strategies;
- foundational work on the District’s Sooke 2030 citizen mobilization and awareness campaign;
- ongoing development of the FCM Partners for Climate Protection five-milestone program as applicable to the District;
- staff coordination in operationalizing the District’s Low Carbon Resilience whole-of-organization strategy;
- and the contribution of detailed staff reports to committees and Council on such subjects as a Sooke waste management strategy, telework centre opportunities, metrics and tools for green businesses in Sooke, and LCR co-benefits as applicable to the District’s CED Action Plan.
AND WHEREAS all of this vital work is in its preliminary stages and will require dedicated staff resources that can only partially be fulfilled through the District's intention to hire a Community Development Coordinator
AND WHEREAS the District of Sooke will receive approx. $130k annually through 2025 from the Province’s newly announced Local Government Climate Action Program, whose flexible guidelines allow for staff funding;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT [the Climate Action Committee recommend] the District of Sooke commit in the budget planning process, to the hiring of a full-time Climate Action Coordinator.
All good and logical and needed at the time. The difference now, for me at least, is that the CRD Climate Action Service is now established and, critically, we're promised that the planning department's new hire will address many of these needs, as per the exact language in tomorrow's report:
~ Coordinate and manage the actioning of initiatives from Sooke’s 2030 Climate Action Plan as identified by Council as priorities during the annual budget cycle;
~ Recommend to Council policies, programs and regulations to protect and enhance the natural environment and reduce GHG emissions;
~ Conduct, research, and develop policy identified as Council priorities through strategic planning and in alignment with the Climate Action Plan and the Official Community Plan (OCP); and
~ Lead, guide, and support initiatives that move Sooke toward a resilient, low- carbon future.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and the “job title” would be updated accordingly (i.e. Manager of Climate Action, Planning and Development; Manager of Community Planning). This list and the sample title are meant to outline the potential of this action and identify how, organizationally, we can ensure we have the in-house industry expertise to help reduce community-wide GHG emissions in a variety of areas, including but not limited to land use, transportation and buildings."
Even without seeing the still unwritten job description of this future Manager of Community/Climate Action Planning (or whatever the final title), the revised staff approach merits full support from council in 2023. A reassessment based on how things unfold the rest of this year can be done during next year's budget planning.
With access to a full $162k per year in funding for this and the next two years at a time when money of this kind would be an incredibly hard sell in the Sooke budget (we battled to get just over $100k for climate action in 2022), this to me is the right and appropriate way to launch Sooke 2030 - extending trust and support to motivated staff working in conjunction with the CRD, non-profits and other allies. Others in the community who want a more urgent response will and do disagree, of course, but there you have it.
Wild-Card: Growing Communities Fund
Excellent, unexpected news of late is that the District will receive a one-time $5.9 million as its share of the Province of BC's $1 billion Growing Communities Fund. Municipalities are free to use this windfall as they wish in addressing their unique infrastructure and amenity needs. "These grants will support projects that each community needs the most, like new affordable housing and child-care facilities, road improvements or recreation centres," said Minister of Municipal Affairs Anne Kang.
Staff is recommending that the funds be spent as follows:
* $1.4m: Five Year Road Program addition
* $100k: Patch and Pave road improvements
* $1m: Matching funds to complete the DeMamiel Creek crossing
* $2.4m: Church Road roundabout (its original budget has, rather shockingly, seemingly doubled in three crazy years)
* $970k: Sports Box at Raven Ridge Park improvements, including landscaping, stadium seating and a basketball court
All good and needed. I'm assuming that previously budgeted funds for this work can be freed up to lessen the overall tax hit and bolster reserve funds. [Council, incidentally, is being presented with no alternatives to this grant-spending menu; other options logically would be drawn from relatively low-cost short-term priorities identified in our 2020 Parks and Transportation Master Plans: nature and urban trail development; John Phillips Memorial Park master planning; waterfront access ramps and staircases; a wayfinding sign program to spotlight local gems (the Rotary Pier, for instance); new water spray park; a downtown public toilet; and/or a percentage of the 20 bus stop improvements identified in the TMP at a cost of $10k each. I'm curious to know if any of these were considered. We might also want to park $$$ in the Capital Assets Reserve Fund.]
The Growing Communities funding guidelines state the following as eligible expenses:
- Public drinking water supply, treatment facilities and water distribution;
- Local portion of affordable/attainable housing developments;
- Childcare facilities;
- Municipal or regional capital projects that service, directly or indirectly, neighbouring First Nation communities;
- Wastewater conveyance and treatment facilities;
- Storm water management;
- Solid waste management infrastructure;
- Public safety/emergency management equipment and facilities not funded by senior level government;
- Local road improvements and upgrades;
- Sidewalks, curbing and lighting;
- Active transportation amenities not funded by senior level government;
- Improvements that facilitate transit service;
- Natural hazard mitigation;
- Park additions/maintenance/upgrades including washrooms/meeting space and other amenities; and
- Recreation-related amenities.
• Costs of feasibility studies (including infrastructure capacity assessment); other early-stage development work; costs of designing, tendering and acquiring land (where it is wholly required for eligible infrastructure projects); constructing eligible infrastructure projects; and, in limited situations, non-capital administrative costs where these are necessary, for example adding staff capacity related to development or to establish complementary financing for local government owned infrastructure or amenities."
Tax Hikes Elsewhere in BC
The City of Vancouver last week okayed a 10.7% increase, a decision that "sucks," said Mayor Sims, but which is "necessary to improve core city services like policing, fire services, road work, sanitation and infrastructure maintenance."
Victoria councillors have so far carved an initially proposed 8.99% increase back by two points to meet their commitment to tie hikes to the cost of living yet face pushback from the Victoria Police Department, which isn't interested in freezing its own budget.
Nanaimo is looking at a "public safety budget" requiring a 7.3% increase, while policing costs is at the core Surrey's 16.5% proposed hike. (which it reduced to 12% thanks to its Growing Communities funding.)
Among towns more comparable to our own in terms of population at least, provisional budgets (i.e., the first figure each council is presented prior to the hard decisions and number crunching): Central Saanich (4.95%), Sidney (4.93%), Colwood (5.48%), Duncan (9.9%).
Looking at these increases in isolation minus the context of tax increases over a decade or longer renders them rather useless; municipalities that froze taxes for a year or more (as we did circa 2011-14 vs. those that have spent wisely in keeping pace with community needs are faced with lower or higher increases based on those earlier decisions.
Lake Country, BC (pop. 15,000) is on the map this year for its 17% property tax increase, one based largely on increased policing costs.
Scan to end of this CBC Metro Matters article for a chart of this year's proposed Lower Mainland tax increases, topped by Langley and Port Moody in the 11% range.
Line item listing ... some of these rates are adopted, some are still under consideration (click links for news articles)
- Colwood ~ 6.43% (final)
- Saanich ~ 7.1% (provisional)
- City of Victoria - 6% (provisonal)
- Powell River ~ 5.4% (final)
- Port Alberni ~ 6.9% (final)
- Penticton ~ 9.5% (primarily due to police and fire hires)
- Bowen Island ~ 13.3% (provisional)
- Nelson ~ 5.8% (provisional)
- Regional District of Nanaimo ~ 8.9% (final)
- Cowichan Valley Regional District ~ 11.49% (final)
- Village of Kelso ~ 6%
- Prince Rupert ~ 15.7% (provisional)
- New Westminster - 6.4% (provisional)