March 2020 Newsletter
Welcome to April after the longest March this world has ever seen. April looks to be about a million days, as well. Boy, what a difference a month makes. I hope everyone reading this is in good health, sitting in their home and dealing with COVID implications appropriately. Let’s delve into this.
Boy, has this thing shaken this world. I am not going to preach here, I am pretty sure everybody already knows what we’re supposed to be doing. I will merely point to the right resources for you to get the correct information. Our Emergency Operation Centre is active and is speaking with all the local governments and stakeholders on a daily basis, collating information and disseminating it via our dedicated webpage. For the most accurate, current, and thorough information regarding COVID 19 on the Sunshine Coast, check here.
At this point it seems there are 3 ways out of this:
1. Extensive testing followed by rigorous quarantine measures. This is the way China and a few other countries are handling it. Is it effective? Yes, in a totalitarian regime where nobody balks at having face recognition cameras everywhere, invasion of privacy and cell phone tracing. I don’t see it working as well here.
2. Vaccine. It looks like we’re still at least a year or two out on those.
3. Herd immunity. This seems to be our current trajectory, and what we are attempting to do is to flatten the bell curve to prevent overwhelming our health care system. We are still at the beginning of the curve, so our hospital and many healthcare centres are still mostly in a holding pattern waiting for the number of cases to increase. We are in this for the long haul here, as well. Ontario is estimating 18-24 months, and I don’t see it taking less time here. This event will change our society and the way we conduct business, in some ways, forever, so be ready to adapt, hang in there and cherish this time with your loved ones. Connect online with friends, and especially with those that don’t have anyone around them.
I was away for the first half of March, and my alternate Tim Howard stepped in like a champ once again and did a wonderful job helping pass our monumental budget.
As I pondered whether what we are doing was the right course of action, the two questions I kept asking myself were:
1. Are all these projects we are initiating necessary? The answer to that one was a clear yes. There was one item that I felt wasn’t 100% necessary, and that was the installation of two TV’s on either side of the board room to be able to do A/V presentations without having to rearrange everything. It’s a fairly low budget item paid from reserves. Everything else is very essential.
2. Are all the people we hiring necessary? The positions we are creating are tied directly to the projects we are undertaking. Most of the projects we are starting are medium-long term (5-10+ years), including getting on top of asset management, regional growth planning, landfill replacement, and water infrastructure replacement and expansion. Hiring consultants is great for short term expertise, but a lot of these projects involve large-scale planning and community consultation and consultants are not able to adequately deal with these matters. In the medium and long term consultants are also not as cost-effective. We will need consultants for certain aspects, like designing a reservoir or a new landfill, but the larger scale planning and oversight needs to be done by people in house, people we don’t have right now.
Once we realized what COVID 19 would do to our economy, our society, our culture and our way of life, we re-opened the already approved budget and made some adjustments. What was a considerable 13% increase was turned into a 4.07% increase to our portion of our property taxes. How was that achieved? Mostly through cancelling regular contributions to our capital and operational reserves, and by delaying the hiring of a few positions that were slated for later this year, but that are now not scheduled to start until 2021. This is of course not a sustainable course of action, but it should give us some relief during the hardest time. A big thank you to our staff who turned these budget cuts around within a 5-day window before we had to submit our requisition to the BC government by April 1st.
Of course there will be those wondering why we are still going for a 4+% increase in a time like this. The fact of the matter is that we are still operating in an infrastructure deficit, our landfill continues to fill up and we need a plan, and climate change is continuing to impact us (although COVID has really put a temporary dent in emissions, and being forced into teleconferencing and successful home-based work will likely change our energy consumption patterns in the long run). We have underpaid our taxes for the last 40+years, and things will not get cheaper. As we get on top of our asset management, the true cost of running everything will come to light, and we as a community will have to have the debate what levels of service we can continue to afford.
Staying on top of what’s going on
We have moved our public committee and board meetings online, and our IT staff has done a wonderful job giving the community an opportunity to participate. If you would like to tune in to our YouTube live streams, check out our agendas link. Unfortunately, public hearings and other community consultation have been postponed indefinitely for now, including the public hearing for Short-Term Rental Accommodations. We have, however, increased the fines for STR’s considerably now, up to $1000, but we can only issue those fines and start escalating if bylaw complaints are rolling in, so fill out the bylaw complaint forms when you see a violation. We are not sure yet whether Alternate Approval Processes (AAP’s) will be able to proceed, like the one needed to approve the Church Rd wells, so stay tuned.
STR’s during COVID
I have had some concerns raised to me that people are still coming to the Coast, and still renting STR’s. As long as the cleaning after every guest is exceptionally thorough and you have separate entrances to the accommodation, I guess you can mitigate infection risks, but I do think it is still unwise to have people leave their home and community at this point and risk introducing the virus elsewhere. We will be discussing what we can realistically do at the SCRD to discourage people doing non-essential traveling.
Because I did not get out much (as we are supposed to), I will share the only picture I took in official capacity as a director this month, and that was during a physically distant but socially engaged tour of Elphinstone Aggregates for Donna McMahon, Mark Hiltz, David Croal and myself. Yes, it was snowing! Thank you to Julian Burtnick for giving us a tour of that operation. It was very informative and insightful. For more info about the gravel pit, check Donna McMahon’s article here.
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