Langley City By-Election - February 27

Thursday, February 4, 2016

City of Langley to host open house on 203rd Street project

Last fall, the City of Langley received $2.9 million from the provincial and federal governments to upgrade the 203rd Street Bridge over the Nicomekl River. The project also includes replacing the traffic light at 203rd Street and 53rd Avenue with a roundabout. The total project cost is budgeted at $5.6 million. The project's scope is 203rd Street between Grade Crescent and Michaud Crescent.

The City's preliminary concept included unprotected shoulder bike lanes, plus 2.5 metre sidewalks on both sides of the roads which they call multi-use paths.

203rd Street has a wide right-of-way which currently creates a challenge for people that live along that corridor. Wide roads send a signal to people to drive fast. Speeding along 203rd Street is common, and it is impacting the quality of life for people that live on that corridor. There are near-misses when backing out of driveways, near-missing when using crosswalks, and the inability of people with mobility-assistance devices to use sidewalks along the 203rd Street corridor.

Wide, safe pedestrian-only sidewalks and protected bike lanes are the only way to promote activity transportation along a corridor like 203rd Street.

As I posted about in the fall, 203rd Street is a key multimodal corridor for Langley as it connects to the Township of Langley’s cycling and trail network, Downtown Langley, the Nicomekl Floodplain Trail System, the Power Line Trail System. The City of Langley has a once in a lifetime opportunity to make walking, cycling, and driving safer, plus enhance the quality of life for people that live along 203rd.

This is why the Park and Environment committee passed a motion last fall asking for protected bike lanes to be integrated into the 203rd Street corridor project.

I spent some time working on a concept that would fit within the 203rd Street right-of-way, and would create a 203rd Street that would address the needs of residents and all roads users.

An example cross-section of 203rd Street that would serve all road users while improving the quality of life for people that live along the corridor. Select image to enlarge.

While I don’t expect this to be the final design, it is meant to show what is possible.

The City of Langley will be hosting an open house at the end of this month about their plan for 203rd Street. The details are as follows:

Location: Nicomekl Elementary School Multi‐Purpose Room
20050 53 Avenue, Langley
Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Time: 4PM to 8PM

Hopefully the City has an updated design concept that will create a safe, multimodal 203rd Street corridor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Who wants to pay for improving transit in Metro Vancouver?

The majority of people in Metro Vancouver want to see improved transit service, but currently do not want to pay for improving transit service.

This really comes as no surprise as people have been told by the provincial government multiply times that TransLink is an inefficient, ineffective bureaucracy.

Since the failure of the transit plebiscite, little has been done to address the concerns people have about how TransLink operates.

TransLink’s former interim CEO Doug Allen said “TransLink needs spokespeople to advocate for the organization, its performance and the good service it provides.” And the provincial government needs to “support public transit and the agency, TransLink, delivering the services.”

Until more people feel that TransLink is a well-run organization, you will have a hard time convincing people to pay higher taxes to TransLink.

Last Wednesday, Insights West released a poll which included asking people how they would pay for transit improvements in Metro Vancouver. People “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” the following methods when asked in the poll:

Tolling bridges: 46%
Distance-based vehicle levy: 33%
Increasing transit fees: 32%
Tolling roads: 31%
Vehicle levy: 30%
Increasing fuel taxes: 25%
Increasing property taxes: 24%

These results aren’t surprising. For context, 38.1% of people in Metro Vancouver supported the Mayors’ Transportation Plan which was to be funded by a 0.5% PST increase.

Increasing tolling and sales tax to pay for transit improvements has stronger support than increasing property taxes, yet the provincial government has insisted that municipalities jack up property tax to pay for transit. Something which municipalities would never do because it is so unpopular. It’s almost like the province doesn’t want any more money to be invested into transit service.

There is another option to pay for transit improvements, though it is highly unlikely that the current provincial government would do this. The province could provide an operating grant for transit service in Metro Vancouver like it used to do, and current does, for every other part of this province.

Maybe the federal government’s willingness to dump billions of dollars into public transit will cause the province to get serious about transit. Though I’m not holding my breath that this decade’s long impasse around transit funding will come to an end anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

White Rock Water: A Cautionary Tale

While some people may not believe it, Metro Vancouver has a governance model that is looked at throughout the world as the gold-standard of how municipalities can work together.

In our region, municipalities are responsible for the delivery of local service, but work together to tackle challenges that require scale or are regional in nature. If you want to see what level of government is responsible for the delivery of services that you receive, I suggest you check out the Government Service Delivery in Metro Vancouver infographic on this blog.

Because of the geography of our region, and the high-cost of providing clean drinking water, one of the first areas where municipal governments started working together was around water.

As an example, it cost around $800 million to build the Seymour-Capilano Filtration project. No municipal government could afford to do that on their own.

The Metro Vancouver municipalities that don’t receive Metro Vancouver water are Bowen Island Municipality and Lions Bay (for obvious reasons), Tsawwassen First Nation (which is in the process of connecting into the Metro Vancouver water system), and White Rock.

For historical reasons, White Rock never connected to the Metro Vancouver water system. The City relied on well water from Sunnyside Uplands aquifer which was provided by private companies. The most recent company was EPCOR which is owned by the City of Edmonton.

Unfortunately, White Rock’s water supply became contamination in 2010. In the aftermath of the contamination incident, Fraser Health ordered that EPCOR had to chlorinate the system by June 30, 2016.

Beside the contamination incident, the Sunnyside Uplands aquifer also has arsenic and manganese levels that are approaching the limits set out in Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

Many people in White Rock started questioning the sanity of having a private water system. Recently released documents reveal that White Rock was looking at connecting to the Metro Vancouver Water System as far back as 2013. The estimated cost at the time was $25 million.

Proposed plan to connect White Rock to Metro Vancouver's water system. Select image to enlarge.

The City of White Rock recently bought-out the EPCOR water system for an undisclosed amount of money. Metro Vancouver documents suggest they paid at least $14.3 million for the local water utility.

White Rock’s water supply is now back in public hands. I’m sure the municipality will be connecting into the Metro Vancouver system in the near future because it is the only cost-effective way to provide clean drinking water to its residents.

The saga of White Rock’s water system is a cautionary tale of the cost of a go-it-alone approach to providing municipal services when regional services are available.

Monday, February 1, 2016

City of Langley’s Financial Plan: Property Tax and Expenditure Increases

City of Langley Council is in the process of approving the 2016 Financial Plan. Last week, I posted about select infrastructure improvement projects that Council was considering.

Overall, City of Langley Council is proposing a budget which will require an additional 3.75% increase in revenue.

Policing is the single largest expense in the City’s budget. City Council is proposing to hire a new RCMP member this year. Due to this new hire, combined with general pay increases for current RCMP members, the policing budget in the City may be increasing by $427,340. Put another way, 27% of this year’s budget increase is due to policing costs.

Due to labour contracts for municipal staff (including the fire department), City Council is proposing to allocate an additional $207,175 to employee wages and benefits.

The new Timms Community Centre requires more staff and increased maintenance than the current facility. City Council is proposing a budget increase of $183,165 for the new Timms.

Some of the other proposed expenditure increases are for improving the maintenance of our parks system. For example, City Council is proposing to increase the trail and sports field maintenance budget by $67,220.

More details on the proposed spending increases can be found in the draft 2016 – 2020 Financial Plan.

So what does this mean for the average taxpayer in the City of Langley?

If you live in a single-family home, you’ll likely see a $48 increase in your property tax bill that goes to the City. If you live in a strata, you’ll likely see a $40 decrease in your property tax. If you own a business property, you’ll likely see a $800 increase in your property tax bill.

Due to how property taxation works in BC, all residential property is treated the same. The really doesn’t make sense. For example in Langley City, the average value of a single-family house has gone up around 11.75% while the average strata has gone up by around 2.25%.

Because the City can only apply one tax rate to all residential property, you can get in the situation of some people seeing a property tax decrease while others see an increase.

This happens in other municipalities throughout BC. The provincial government would have to increase the granularity of property classes to avoid this. I don’t see the province doing this anytime soon.

If you want to provide feedback on the 2016 Financial Plan, the City is having a public hearing starting at 7pm in Council Chambers tonight.