Monday, January 23, 2017

Infographic: understanding how revenue the City of Langley receives is used

From time-to-time, I receive questions from people about how the City of Langley budget works. I also know that there is some confusion out there about local government financing in general.

There is easy to understand information online about how property tax rates are set, but I haven’t found the same easy to understand information online about how revenue received by local governments is translated in delivering services and building infrastructure.

To help show how Langley City’s budget works, I created the following simplified infographic.

How revenue the City receives is used. Select infographic to enlarge.

The City collects property taxes and fees. The majority of this revenue is used for providing services to people and businesses in the community. A small portion of this revenue is put into City reserves which are sort of like savings accounts.

The City also receives revenue from the Cascades Casino, federal government, provincial government, and TransLink which are put into reserves. For every new development project, the developer must also contribute to these reserves. Money is drawn from these reserves to invest in building and renewing infrastructure.

The infographic is not meant to show the edge cases of City financing, but it should hopefully provide a clearer understanding of how revenue received is turned into making things happen in our community.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 16th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Snow & ice removal, and redeveloping Hunter Park

While the 2017 Financial Plan was front and centre at this Monday’s City of Langley council meeting, other items we also discussed.

Rick Bomhof who is the Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment gave a quick overview of the City's snow and ice removal efforts during the month of December. Some 632 metric tonnes of salt and 1,200 people hours went into making sure that our roads and city-maintained sidewalks were clear.

$179,589 has been spent on snow and ice removal this winter so far. To put that into perspective, the annual budget for snow removal was $154,000 for 2016. I work in Downtown Vancouver, and travel along Fraser Highway every day to work. City of Langley streets and sidewalks were in way better shape than the other municipalities' streets and sidewalks I used during December.

One of the things that some communities forget about is clearing the snow on sidewalk curb letdowns. For people with limited mobility, or that need mobility aids, clearing curb letdowns is critically important. I was pleased to see that for city-maintained sidewalks, our crews cleared curb letdowns.

Now it wasn’t all clear and under control in the City, some private property owners didn’t maintain their sidewalks which is required as per our municipal traffic bylaw.

Bomhof noted that due to the snow and freezing weather, construction was paused on several projects. With the warmer weather, work will now resume. Because of the weather, the 203rd Street project will now open at the end of March.

Bomhof stated the following major projects are now “in design:” the replacement of the 200 Street Bridge Deck, Baldi Creek culvert upgrade near 53 Avenue, and the 56 Avenue Utilities Project.

Kim Hilton who is the Director of Recreation, Culture and Community Services also provided an update on recreation opportunities available in our community. As a highlight, the City will be celebrating Family Day at Timms Community Centre from 11:30am to 2:30pm. All activities will be free and open for all members of the community.

Council also gave final reading to bylaws that were discussed during the last meeting of 2016 around taxi/chauffeur permits, and a development project near 53A Avenue and 201A Avenue which was discussed at the October 3, 2016 council meeting.

Council also received the annual reports from our Community Day Committee, Magic of Christmas Parade Committee, and Youth Committee.

Due to laminated root rot, trees in Hunter Park were removed. Now that the removal has finished, work will begin to restore Hunter Park. I’ve been appointed to the new Hunter Park Task Group. The task group will also include City staff, one person from the local school PAC Committee, and 4 people from the local neighbourhood. There will be a public open house about the future of the park in the next little while. The task group will review the input from the public open house, the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan and will consider both passive and active uses within the park to make a recommendation on how to redevelop the park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Langley City Budget 2017 Part 2: Investing in our community’s infrastructure

Yesterday, I posted about the operating budget portion of the City of Langley’s 2017 Financial Plan. Today, I will be posting about the capital budget portion. The key objects of this year’s plan are to invest in public safety, address homelessness, improve our parks and public spaces, renew our infrastructure, and bring more positive activities to the community.

The capital budget is used to invest in longer-term infrastructure, and to pay for one-time projects. Every year, a portion of property tax revenue is placed into reserve accounts which are used to pay for capital projects in current or future years. If you live in a strata, this is like a contingency reserve fund. Like a strata, the City should know when certain infrastructure items need to be replaced. If the City hasn’t saved up enough money by the time an infrastructure item needs to be replaced, the City either needs to go into debt to pay for that replacement, or that piece of infrastructure fails and/or deteriorates.

This is not a good situation to be in. I certainly don’t want to live in a community with broken water and sewer lines, potholed-filled roads, broken sidewalks, and parks that are past their prime.

While the City has enough funds over the next few years, we don’t have enough money in the bank to replace what needs to be replaced in the medium- and long-term. A 0.5% infrastructure levy, which will generate $122,500 this year, has been added to the tax bill to help get us closer to being able to maintain and replace end-of-life infrastructure.

Besides a portion of property tax revenue that is placed into reserve accounts, the capital budget is also paid for with money from the casino, the federal government, the provincial government, TransLink, and developer cost charges.

To improve public safety, the plan proposes to invest signification dollars to make walking and cycling safer. $400,000 —the single-largest investment ever in one year— will go into traffic calming.

Around $850,000 will be invested to make walking safer and more enjoyable. Some of the key walking infrastructure items that are proposed to be funded include a new sidewalk on 46 A Avenue, and enhanced crosswalks at 208 Street/50A Avenue and 204 Street/54 Avenue.

The City will also be starting a large-scale upgrade of all streetlights to LED. In total, $300,000 will be invested for streetlights.

$200,000 will be invested into making cycling safer. In total, $9 million will be invested to make our streets better.

The 2017 financial plan will also see a record $4 million dollars be invested into improving our parks and public spaces. A few highlights include investing $1.3 million for a new youth-focused section of Penzer Park, $700,000 to upgrade the sports field at Rotary Centennial Park, and $40,000 to upgrade the lighting in Douglas Park. Our trail system will receive $430,000 worth of upgrades including new walking bridges in the floodplain. The streetscape at the front of City Hall at the corner of 204 Street and Douglas Crescent will also be receiving a $350,000 upgrade.

Around $4 million will be invested in keeping our sewer and drainage lines in a state of good repair. Around $3 million will be invested into our waterworks.

In total, City of Langley council is proposing to invest about $22 million into capital infrastructure in 2017.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Langley City Budget 2017 Part 1: Service Level Improvements

Yesterday was the first City of Langley council meeting of the new year. With the new year, also comes a new budget. The 2017 Financial Plan was given first and second reading at last night’s meeting which now enables people to provide feedback on the proposed plan.

There are two major components of the financial plan, the capital budget and the operating budget. The operating budget pays for on-going services that the City provides while the capital budget pays for building long-term assets like roads, sewer lines, and facilities such as Timms Community Centre.

This post will focus mainly on the operating budget. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the capital budget.

What I’ve heard from people is that they want to see the City invest in improving their quality of life, and invest in our community’s infrastructure. Council via the financial plan is proposing to invest in five key areas: public safety, addressing homelessness, improving our parks and public spaces, renewing our infrastructure, and bringing more positive activities to the community. The following highlights some of the ways that the operating budget portion of the plan invests in these key areas.

The largest expenditure for the City is the RCMP. One of the things that I’m leery about is increasing the number of police officers due to the high cost. As per the financial plan, policing costs will be increasing by around $700,000 even with no increase in police strength. Besides determining the number of police officers in our community, the City has very little control over the police budget.

To better address parking enforcement, dog off-leash issues, and homeliness matters, the financial plan includes $79,800 to add a new bylaw officer.

The financial plan also includes $10,000 to add to a previously approved $20,000 to hire a part-time Community Liaison Coordinator. This person will work with social service agencies, the RCMP and the business community to address critical social issues in our community. They will also oversee the implementation of the Homelessness Strategic Plan and the Community Crime Prevention Strategic Plan.

$90,000 has been added to the operating budget for the new Corridor Improvement Program. This funding will be used to improve the maintenance of walkways, boulevards, sidewalks and medians.

The new Timms Community Centre is a much larger facility than its predecessor. An additional $124,550 has been added to the operating budget for increased staffing at Timms.

Bringing more positive activity to Langley City including free, family-friendly events such as the McBurney Plaza Summer Series is something that our community strongly supports. The financial plan includes $63,650 for more of these events.

In total, the financial plan will result in a $883,595 net increase over last years’ budget which requires a 3.61% tax increase to balance it. This number includes regular wage and benefits increases, and other items which you can read about on page 5 of the financial plan.

Hearing from the community about the financial plan is important. There will be an informal open house on February 1st between 6:00pm and 7:30pm at City Hall where you can ask questions and provide feedback on the plan. There will also be an opportunity to comment on the plan at the February 6th council meeting.