Thursday, June 30, 2016

Time for bold action: City’s new economic development strategy released

At Monday night’s council meeting, the City of Langley’s new Economic Development Strategy was received by council. This strategy builds on current plans such as the Regional Growth Strategy, Langley City's Official Community Plan, and our Downtown Master Plan. It is an update of previous economic development strategies.

The new economic development strategy has four goals. The City should:

  1. Support a distinctive and vibrant downtown
  2. Encourage a diverse base of employment land
  3. Target development in emerging economic sectors
  4. Leverage sector and institutional partnerships

Out of these goals, the following action items were developed:

Place making: Increase the City’s exposure and awareness in the business community through the deployment of a cost-effective marking program.

Place building: Use land and infrastructure to stimulate private sector investment that creates jobs and enhances quality of life for residents.

Business care: Collaborate on the retention and expansion of existing businesses in the community.

Creative economy: Support creative economic sector that leverage Langley’s land and institutional assets while contributing to downtown development.

The Economic Development Committee recommended the following ten priorities:

  • Downtown Building Scheme
  • Relationship Building
  • Update Downtown Master Plan
  • McBurney Plaza Programming
  • Destination Retail Store
  • Downtown Anchor Tenant
  • Streetscape Upgrades
  • Business Walks
  • Night Market
  • Business Attraction Website

These priorities should be done. Some of them are low hanging fruit, and aren’t that different from what every other community is trying to do in the region. I believe that Langley City needs to be bolder, and that means investing in the creative economy. The presenter of the new Economic Development Strategy was excited about two other action items.

The economic development strategy recommends creating a fibre optic network to attract good paying creative and knowledge-based jobs to the community. For example, the City of Stratford, Ontario (population 51,000) is globally recognized as a leading “smart city” due to free citywide WiFi and a 70-kilometre fibre-optic network that can run at speeds of up to one gigabit per second.

Another key recommendation is the construction of a preforming art centre in Downtown Langley. This would enhance arts and entertainment programming locally, make Downtown Langley an “urban magnet”, and would attract quality redevelopment to the city.

Both of these items will costs a substantial amount of money, but will pay back dividends by attracting more jobs, reducing negative activity, and enhancing the quality of life for residents in Langley City.

The priority list identifies a destination retail store and a downtown anchor business as a priority. I believe that the City will need to implement the bolder items in this plan to attract these types of stores and businesses.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What did the City of Langley do with your money in 2015?

At last night’s City of Langley Council meeting, the 2015 Annual Report for the city was presented to council and subsequently adopted. The annual report provides an outline of the corporate structure of the municipality, an overview of the city’s department, and descriptions of the major activities completed during the year. The annual report also includes the city’s consolidated financial statements for the year.

The City of Langley had $45.0 million in revenue for 2015. That is a $2.8 million increase over the previous year. While there was a modest increase in property tax, the largest increase in revenue was $900,000 from the casino, and the use of an additional $1.1 million in money received from developers (DCCs). The full breakdown of revenue can be found on page 30 of the annual report.

The city invested $38.9 million into ongoing operations. That includes things like making sure our police and fire-rescue crews are being paid, parks are maintained, garbage collected, and the like.

The City also invested $17 million in infrastructure, buildings, and equipment. This includes things like renewing roads, upgrading water & sewer lines, and building the new Timms Community Centre. I know that the numbers don’t add up, but that’s due to how local government accounting works in BC.

An interested fact, in 2014 Langley City property owners contributed $2.8 million in property tax to TransLink. In 2015, that number went down to $2.7 million. This is because the overall assessed value of property in Langley City went down.

The annual report also contains a breakdown of where your local taxes went during 2015 in Langley City.

Where did your 2015 taxes go in the City of Langley? Select chart to enlarge.

You’ll notice that there is a category called “General Government” where 9% of tax revenue goes towards. As this is a bit of a vague description, I’d thought I’d explain in more detail.

About 80% of “General Government” expenses go towards information technology, financial services, and legislative & administrative support services. About 8% is for community grants and the Council “Enterprise Fund”. Another 8% goes to City Council.

The follow chart shows a breakdown of council compensation during 2015. Current council policy sets the mayor’s remuneration at 85% of the regional average for mayors. Other council members receive 40% of the mayor’s remuneration.

2015 council remuneration and expenses. Select table to enlarge.

You’ll notice that there is also expenses. This is for travel, food, and non-alcoholic beverage expenses as part of attending conferences hosted by UBCM and LMLGA. Other expenses can only be authorized by council at public council meetings. In 2015, Langley City Council costs represented 0.7% of all revenue collected during the year.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June 27, 2016 Council Meeting Notes – SkyTrain & Bus Rapid Transit, 203rd Street project moving forward, increased policing costs.

Last night's council meeting started with a Committee of the Whole to allow people to comment on the City’s 2015 Annual Report. There were no speakers nor written submissions. Seeing that there was no public comments, we resolved into the regular meeting.

We adopted the 2015 Annual Report. I’ll be posted more information on this reports later this week. In the meantime, you can read the report which is available on the City’s website.

There were two delegations to council last night. The first delegation was from Marg McGuire-Grout who is the chair for the Langley Terry Fox Run. She gave a brief update of their 2016 plans, and thanked the City of Langley for its ongoing financial and logistical support. The run will take plan on September 18th, 2016. More details are available on the Terry Fox Foundation website. Former Councillor Dave Hall was a strong supporter of the Terry Fox Run; the organizing committee will be planning a tribute.

The next delegatation was from Daryl Dela Cruz who chairs SkyTrian for Surrey. At the last council meeting, we heard from the Light Rail Links Coalition. The current Regional Transportation Investments vision calls for light rail along Fraser Highway, King George Boulevard, and 104th Avenue.

Dela Cruz points out that SkyTrain is faster than light rail because it is grade-separated, can provide more frequent service, is automated, and has less stops. The trade off is that SkyTrain costs significantly more money to build than light rail.

Because of the significantly higher cost to build SkyTrain, Dela Cruz is advocating for bus rapid transit along King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue, and SkyTrain along Fraser Highway. This would keep the price tag within the current funding envelope of Regional Transportation Investments vision. Personally, I don’t think that Surrey would support a bus rapid transit only solution along King George/104th.

Regardless, Langley City Council approved a motion at the last meeting to have City Staff compare SkyTrain and Light Rail technology for the Fraser Highway Corridor and present their findings back to council. TransLink in partnership with the province is also developing a detailed evaluation of SkyTrain and Light Rail for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. This should be completed by the end of this year.

After the delegation, Councillor Storteboom provided an update about the regional district. He highlighted that Metro Vancouver is calling for the province to make mattress manufactures responsible for recycling their products.

Councillor Martin provided an update on programs at the library. She noted that the library has started its summer reading programs.

Next, council gave first, second, and third reading to a bylaw which would allow the 203rd Street Project to proceed with an increased budget. The original budget was not in line with the received tender packages. TransLink will be providing an additional $171,500 while money from the casino will provide the remaining $506,000 needed. Council will review the successful tender package at a future meeting.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading for a housekeeping bylaw which would allow “the Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment to execute agreements and other related documents pertaining to issues including land use, development, development works, extended services and latecomer agreements.” Two signatures are required from authorized City staff for any agreement to be executed.

Council heard a presentation and received a new Economic Development Strategy for the City. I’ll be posting more about this at a later date.

The federal government requires that municipalities approve in principle the next year’s police budget even though council hasn't approved the overall 2017 budget for the City. This is because the feds contribute 10% of the revenue required for municipal policing, and need an idea of how much to budget for in the coming year.

The City is not planning to increase the amount of RCMP members for the community. Due to inflationary pressures, the City will need to budget an additional $241,485 in 2017 to maintain policing levels. Council approved this increase in principle. Personally, I’d like to hold the line on policing costs as much as possible as the cost of policing has rapidly increased in the past decade, leaving less funding for other City priorities.

Next, council received a report which outlines council member remuneration and expenses for 2015. The report also includes a list of City employees that made over $75,000 per year, and a list of suppliers which the City spent more than $25,000 with during 2015. I’ll post more about this in the week ahead.

Finally, the City received a letter from the Downtown Langley Business Association about the proliferation of thrift stores and donation bins in the downtown core. Council directs staff to respond to the letter, and work on a solution.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Feds give region $17.9 million to reduce homelessness over next four years

With the introduction of the new federal budget this year, additional funding has been allocated to communities to reduces homelessness under the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS). This strategy seeks to provide long-term solutions to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness in the country.

Funding is allocated to various “Community Entities” throughout the country. In our region, Metro Vancouver is the Community Entity. Between this year and 2019, Metro Vancouver will be given around $17.9 million for projects that align with the HPS.

One of the big pushes in the HPS is focusing on Housing First initiatives. 65% of all federal funding must be allocated to Housing First projects. The HPS has six mandatory principles that must be including in all Housing First initiatives.

  1. Rapid housing with supports: This involves directly helping clients locate and secure permanent housing as rapidly as possible and assisting them with moving in or re-housing if needed. Housing readiness is not a requirement.
  2. Offering clients choice in housing: Clients must be given choice in terms of housing options as well as the services they wish to access.
  3. Separating housing provision from other services: Acceptance of any services, including treatment, or sobriety, is not a requirement for accessing or maintaining housing, but clients must be willing to accept regular visits, often weekly. There is also a commitment to rehousing clients as needed.
  4. Providing tenancy rights and responsibilities: Clients are required to contribute a portion of their income towards rent. The preference is for clients to contribute 30 percent of their income, while the rest would be provided via rent subsidies. A landlord-tenant relationship must be established. Clients housed have rights consistent with applicable landlord and tenant acts and regulations. Developing strong relationships with landlords in both the private and public sector is key to the HF approach.
  5. Integrating housing into the community: In order to respond to client choice, minimize stigma and encourage client social integration, more attention should be given to scattered-site housing in the public or private rental markets. Other housing options such as social housing and supportive housing in congregate setting could be offered where such housing stock exists and may be chosen by some clients.
  6. Strength-based and promoting self-sufficiency: The goal is to ensure clients are ready and able to access regular supports within a reasonable timeframe, allowing for a successful exit from the HF program. The focus is on strengthening and building on the skills and abilities of the client, based on self-determined goals, which could include employment, education, social integration, improvements to health or other goals that will help to stabilize the client's situation and lead to self-sufficiency.

Metro Vancouver has a two-step Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal process to determine what initiatives will receive funding. Applicants can include provincial and local governments, individuals, and organizations. 50 submissions will be moving onto the second step of the process for our region. Funding announcements are scheduled to be made on October 1st.

This model of funding delivery makes a lot of sense to me. The federal government is able to set the broad outcomes of programs while letting local governments, with local knowledge, evaluate and allocate funding to initiatives that make the most sense in their communities. Hopefully funding is further increased in future years for this program.