February 2020 Newsletter
Valentine’s Day, check. Budget Round 2, check. Crazy workplan for staff, check. Moving forward, check. Budget Rounds 1 and 2 have come and gone, and we are moving forward. Staff is trying to wrap their heads around over 60 carry-over projects and over 130 new ones in the hopper. You’re getting this newsletter a little earlier than usual as I am out of town from March 3rd-16th, and my alternate Tim Howard will be subbing in for me at the Planning and Community Development meeting. Let’s get into it.
Round 2 Budget
After what was already a monumental budget after Round 1 (See my December Newsletter), we added even more after Round 2. A lot of the additions are new staff. It looks like we will be adding roughly 15 FTE’s (full-time equivalents), which consists of about 11 new hires, and expanding time and hours for current part-time positions. Why, you might ask? There are several reasons:
1. Water – We are short on supply. We have several projects going to expand that, and we need staff to manage those projects. We also have aging infrastructure that needs replacing, including $16.5 million in water mains over the next 5 years. We need staff to replace that infrastructure. That's why, between parcel taxes and user fees, our water utility charges are increasing by 25%. For more info on that, see my December Newsletter.
2. An ambitious strategic plan – We are gearing up for a regional growth strategy. The Coast is changing, and we need to involve everyone in the community to see where this change should be headed. This means a lot of dialogue between all the stakeholders, and we need staff to lead that dialogue.
3. Climate Change – It’s here, and we are now paying real $$$ to adapt and mitigate. We need to see how we as a local government can do our part. How do we manage rising sea level? How do we manage increased wildfire risk? The water issue is part of this. How do we manage massive human migration in future years? That needs staff to think about it and come up with plans.
4. Asset management – In the past we have created a lot of infrastructure and have only paid to install it. Asset management is all about figuring out what this infrastructure costs to maintain and replace when it reaches the end of its lifespan. This involves a lot of staff work to do the math and estimating required.
5. Communications – We have heard from the community that we need to improve the way we’re communicating things, especially now that so much is happening. That also needs to be resourced.
These new hires make a big dent in our property taxes. Apart from adding almost 7 full-time positions in the transit department due to the transit expansion a few years back, the SCRD has not really hired more staff in the last 10 years. In the meantime our scope of work has increased considerably, the population of the Coast has grown and some decisions that should have been considered in the past now need to be dealt with (like water and solid waste). We as a board are up to the task, but even with the new hires our staff will take a few years to implement the changes we have asked for. The result for this year is a $50 to $300 increase in the SCRD portion of your property tax bill (depending on the value of your home), which is only about 40% of my property tax total. Donna McMahon, our friendly neighbouring director from Area E, put together a presentation on the 5 horsemen of the property tax apocalypse. A worthwhile read that gives a bit more background to these increases.
Will my property taxes increase even though the value of my home has dropped?
The answer is …. Probably. The way property taxes work in rural areas is that the SCRD sets their budget and determines how much money they need. They send that number off to Victoria and a “mill rate” is determined. This mill rate is multiplied by the value of your home, and that determines your property taxes. Last year, the average value of our homes decreased by about 2.5% in the Creek. All that means is that the mill rate will therefore be a little higher to get to the same amount of money the SCRD requested. Only if the value of your property increased or decreased disproportionately to the average will your property taxes increase, or decrease, respectively. So as long as you are at or close to the average in your assessment change, your property taxes will likely increase by the aforementioned $50-$300.
Director McMahon introduced me to this term during the local government show on Coast Cable and I think it’s a concept worth sharing. Here is the definition:
Intergenerational equity (IE) in economic, psychological, and sociological contexts, is the concept or idea of fairness or justice between generations.
To me, intergenerational equity means that we must balance our current needs and wants to consider the impact on future generations. A good example of intergenerational inequity is our national debt. What we are doing is living beyond our current means at the cost of future generations, that will have to repay the debt we have accrued. Since local governments can’t run a financial deficit, we have still managed to accrue one, in infrastructure. In the past we have created and paid for the installation of infrastructure, and have passed on the maintenance and replacement of the infrastructure we were using to future generations. We continue to do this, but now that we are aware of this deficit, we must consider paying our share of the eventual replacement of these assets. Asset replacement should be repaid with a combination of capital reserves (created by past users) current taxes (paid by current users) and debt financing (paid by future users). In the past we have not created capital reserves to pay for our part, and this means that in the past we have underpaid for the assets we put in the ground. Our responsibility is now to find the right balance between those three, with the full awareness that we are acting out of a position of deficit, so some catching up needs to happen. Ultimately this means that our taxes are going to increase to pay for the creation of future reserves while also having to pay for the lack of payment in the past. The board is very aware that this can’t happen all at once and that we need to find a balance between what we can afford to pay now, and what the future generations can be burdened with. We are currently having that exact conversation with Roberts Creek Cohousing, the only one of our SCRD Wastewater Treatment facilities in the Creek.
Curbside Recycling Pickup
In the past, Electoral Areas B (Halfmoon Bay) and D (Roberts Creek) had expressed interest in curbside recycling pickup and were therefore eligible for the considerable subsidy Recycle BC offers to those communities enrolled in their program ($35 a household is the currently quoted cost for curbside recycling with Recycle BC). Recycle BC has changed their requirements for accepting communities, and now Areas E (Elphinstone) and F (West Howe Sound) may also be eligible for the subsidized rates. What we at the board don’t know is whether the interest in curbside recycling is everywhere, so the board has voted to publish a questionnaire to see which communities truly want curbside pickup. This will delay the offering of the service to 2021, and that is why I voted against this questionnaire and its associated delay, as I have received pretty convincing support for curbside recycling here in the Creek. Alas, it will come, eventually. Stay tuned for the questionnaire.
Short Term Rentals
After some extensive debate and looking at the feedback from our community, the board has decided to not permit off-site operations for Short Term Rentals at all, and also to increase the maximum fines associated to $500 per occurrence, and in some instances possibly to $1000. This change in direction has created the necessity for another public hearing, currently scheduled for April 21st at 7pm at the Seaside Centre. Come out and show your support or air your grievances. Here is a link to my blog that outlines all the reasons why I voted against permitting off-site STR’s.
We finally received feedback from the BC government to the UBCM resolutions we submitted. Generally, I was pretty disappointed at the replies. Our resolution to be able to control tree cutting in built-up-areas (B47) got a “we will monitor” response, as did most others. Our Coast Forest Revitalization (B166) resolution asking for a full accounting of the value a standing forest in harvest decisions got a “we just did an overhaul, and no, we didn’t include that, but we will take these things into consideration next time.” We have seen some movement on including us in land use planning decisions between the Province and First Nations, so that is promising. For the list of all the resolutions and replies, click here.
There are lots more interesting things happening, but I’ll leave it here for now. See you next month. In case you have any questions or concerns, you can always email me.
This newsletter will also be published to my blog at https://andreastize.com