Monday, February 29, 2016

Moving forward after winning the by-election

This Saturday was one of the most nerve-racking days that I can recall. I ran for a seat on Langley City Council during the November 2014 general election, but missed out by 71 votes. I did not want a repeat of 2014.

I believed that people in Langley City shared my vision for a community that got the basics right such as improving and building sidewalks, enhancing lighting, improving safety in parks, and using good urban design. They just didn’t get a chance to hear about what I stood for.

With the help of an extremely dedicated group of volunteers, we were able to get that message out. I couldn’t have run this successful election campaign without them.

People in Langley City voted for simple solutions and fresh ideas at the Langley City Council table. Here are the preliminary results from the City of Langley’s website.

PACHAL, Nathan: 740
HILLAN, Kiernan: 557
NEWBERY, Sharon: 158
COBURN, Shelley: 141
KOSITSKY, Mel: 140
GRAN, Carol: 126
MAJ, Rae: 79
ROMAN, George: 76
OH, Serena: 57

Once the results are made official and I take an oath of office, I will become Langley City’s newest and youngest Councillor.

Posting on this blog will be a little sporadic over the next week. During the campaign, I put forward a set of solutions to make Langley City a better community. I will be compiling these solutions on this blog, and will post up a page shortly. I plan to update this page throughout my term on Council, so people can keep track of the progress made toward implementing these solutions.

Going forward, I plan on writing regular council meeting updates. Beside these council updates, there will be no change to the cadence or topics covered on this blog.

Thank you to everyone that supported me before and during the campaign. I will work hard to make Langley City the best community it can be for everyone that calls it home.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reducing poverty for people of all ages in Langley

Back when I lived in Vernon, I worked at a grocery store that was located in Downtown. Just like the City of Langley, there was a large population of seniors who lived in the area. I would regularly see these people as customer who would only buy a can of soup and a banana each day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was likely the only meal they were eating in a day.

I also saw people who could no longer look after themselves; they didn’t have a place to go for support, or family that could help them.

Poverty does not discriminate based on age or family status.

During the Langley City by-election, there has been a lot of talk about people living on the street who are homeless, but little has been said about people living in poverty, and who are at the verge of being homeless.

When I was at the all-candidates debate on Monday, an older lady came up to me and told me her story. Living on a fixed-income with ever rising costs, she told me her quality-of-life was deteriorating.

Last fall, Langley Healthier Community Partnership hosted a workshop called “From Poverty to Prosperity – Working Toward a Healthier Community.” The City and Township of Langley, plus Fraser Health are members of the partnership.

Four Langley residents who live on low incomes were interviewing in the summer of 2015. These interviews were graphically recorded. A Mental Health Perspective, Youth Perspective, Seniors Perspective, and Family Perspective were mapped out. The following is the Seniors Perspective.

Family Journey #3 - Senior Perspective. Select image to enlarge.

During the workshop, attendees mapped out the barriers and challenges to getting out of poverty.

Barriers/Challenges Mapping. Select image to enlarge.

The attendees then came up with an action plan to help people get out of poverty.

High-Level Action Plan. Select image to enlarge.

While some of the items in the action plan will require the support of the federal and provincial government to more forward, such as housing funding, many items can be done at the local level. This includes creating safe, accessible spaces, and creating a poverty reduction coalition.

I look forward to seeing a more detailed work plan developed as an outcome of this workshop to improve the quality-of-life for people in Langley. As a society, we need to look after people who are the most vulnerable.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Remember to Vote in the Langley City By-Election

As you are likely aware, I’ve been running for a seat on Langley City Council since the beginning of January. Saturday, February 27th is Election Day, and the polling station will be open from 8am until 8pm.

You can also vote today from 8am until 8pm.

All voting is taking place at:
Douglas Recreation Centre
20550 Douglas Crescent

If you need a ride to the polling station on Saturday, please give me a call at 778-288-8720.

After voting on Saturday, feel free to drop by my Campaign HQ which will be at the:
Best Western Plus Langley Inn
5978 Glover Rd

I’ll be there from 9am until we know the results of the by-election which will be between 8pm and 9pm.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

First Look at City of Langley's City Park Master Plan

The City of Langley recently hosted an open house for the new master plan for City Park that they are working on. This master plan will guide the development of the park over the next decade or so.

The first image from the open house shows what already exists at City Park. The south side of the park contains a “football” field. Because the Township of Langley has the McLeod Athletic Park which the City of Langley partially funds, and the Willoughby Community Park which has multiply synthetic turf fields and ample parking, there is limit demand for the “football” field at City Park.

Photos of the existing facilities at City Park. Select image to enlarge.

The City of Langley presented two options at the first open house for people to provide feedback on. The first option looks at trying to increase demand for the fields in the south by creating what they are calling a “soccer complex”. This option also includes a new multi-use field in the north end of the park. With the increased sports fields, comes increased traffic, and demand more for parking. Option 1 actually takes away park space for parking cars.

City Park Option 1 Preliminary Concept. Select image to enlarge.

Option 2 really is about making City Park a community park. The south field will be upgrade, but instead of a new soccer field and parking lot, a new flexible space will be created. This space could be used for community events, a place for people to picnic, or simply throw a ball around with friends and family. The baseball diamonds in the north end of the park are well used. Option 2 includes upgrading the baseball area of the park with a new diamond.

City Park Option 2 Preliminary Concept. Select image to enlarge.

Option 1 looks a trying to make City Park a sub-regional facility. Option 2 will better serve the demands of people that live in the area.

As part of the master plan for the park, the lighting in the park will be upgraded. This will improve the lighting for park uses while at the same time reduce light spilling into residential properties around the park.

I would prefer to see City Park serve the needs of the local community. I prefer options 2. If you would like to provide your feedback on the City Park Master Plan, please email before March 4th.

Monday, February 22, 2016

City of Langley accessible sidewalk design fail

A few weeks ago, I posted about some of the accessibility issues caused by the on-going construction of the new Timms Community Centre. For example if you have limited-mobility and need to use the ramp at City Hall/Library, you will have a hard time.

Langley City Hall access ramp on Sunday. Select image to enlarge.

When the construction of the new sidewalks along Douglas Crescent, 204th Street, and Fraser Highway are complete, there will be some accessibility enhancements as the City is using concrete for the centre strip of the sidewalk instead of using all pavers, but there are some things that the City has done which will actually make it harder to use the sidewalks in the area.

In order to ensure that all people can use a sidewalk, the absolute minimum obstruction-free width should be 1.5 meters. This means that utility poles, light fixtures, street furniture, bus stops, and traffic lights should be clear of the 1.5 meter zone. The following picture is an example showing this from the Urban Street Design Guide.

Example sidewalk cross-section from Urban Street Design Guide. Yellow strip is obstruction-free zone. Select image to enlarge

TransLink has Universally Accessible Bus Stop Design Guidelines which also make similar recommendations about the obstruction-free width requirements for sidewalks.

Standard bus stop recommended configuration from TransLink's Universally Accessible Bus Stop Design Guideline. Select image to enlarge.

I was walking along Douglas Crescent yesterday, and noticed that the City of Langley has put the base of a new traffic light for Timms and the Langley Mall right in the middle of the sidewalk on Douglas Crescent.

The City of Langley’s stated goal is to create a pedestrian-oriented Downtown. The City’s own Master Transportation Plan states that “it is important to ensure that sidewalks and entrances to pedestrian crossings remain free from obstructions, so that people of all abilities can safety navigate the sidewalk clear width and access crossing areas.”

Traffic light base in the middle of the sidewalk.

In a city like Langley which has a large concentration of people will limited-mobile in the Downtown core, accessible sidewalk design should not be an afterthought.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Metro Vancouver has serious questions about Massey Tunnel replacement project

The provincial government is being aggressive with its timetable to get the Massey Tunnel replacement project under construction. Because the replacement bridge and Highway 99 expansion project is a large, the provincial government needs to seek feedback from people and organizations in the region.

This project will have a profound effect on our region, and Metro Vancouver staff have questions and concerns about the project. The provincial government only gave a little over a month for feedback on the Project Definition Report which forms the justification for whole tunnel replacement/highway expansion program.

Metro Vancouver staff have noted that the public consultation period is short, and have requested that the province extended the comment period to April to allow time to properly review the project planning documents.

Besides the impact the project will have on the region, it will also have a direct impact on the regional district’s assets.

Metro Vancouver assets around Massey Tunnel replacement bridge site. Select image to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver staff have identified the following areas to be addressed by the province:

  • Change to Regional Transportation Patterns
    • How much traffic will be diverted to the Alex Fraser Bridge?
    • How will the Tsawwassen First Nations regional shopping centres impact traffic along the Highway 99 corridor?
    • What changes will occur with congestion on the Alex Fraser, Oak Street, Knight Street, and Queensborough bridges?
    • How will transportation-related greenhouse gas emission change?
  • System-wide Transportation Demand Management
    • How does this project fit in with the regional growth strategy and Mayors’ Vision for Regional Transportation?
    • Will the province update its tolling policy?
  • Population and Employment Projections
    • What impact will the 10-lane bridge have on the rate of urban development, and pressure to develop agricultural lands.
  • Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    • What impact will the project have on air quality in the region?
    • How will the project reduce the exposure of air pollutants for people walking or cycling across the bridge?
  • Climate Change Adaptation
    • Are climate change impacts considered in the bridge design and restoration projects?
  • Health Analysis
    • Will the province consider a Health Impact Assessment to fully account for the health outcome changes that will occur due to this project?
  • Agricultural Lands
    • How much agricultural land will be needed for this construction of the project?
    • What impact will this project have on farming?
  • Deas Island Regional Park
    • What changes will happen to the Deas Island Park trails, and how will those changes be integrate into a regional trail network?
    • What habitat will be created/destroyed/restored as part of the project?
    • How will the park's visitor experience change during and after the construction of the bridge?
  • Experience the Fraser Concept Plan
  • Construction and Long-term Maintenance Access
    • Will the provincial government be using Deas Island Regional Park for access during and after construction of the new bridge?
    • How will Metro Vancouver be able to access the Lulu Island-Delta Main?
  • Potential Impacts on Regional Utilities
    • How will the project impact the River Road West Main and Lulu Island-Delta Main water lines?

The Massey Tunnel replacement project, and associated highway expansion, will have major impacts on the region. Instead of trying to ram the project through, the province should take the time to understand both the positive and negative changes that will happen in Metro Vancouver as a result of the project.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

New poll finds Surrey residents want light rail

The City of Surrey recently commissioned Ipsos to conduct a poll to find out what people in that community think about light rail.

Proposed South of Fraser light rail network. Select map to enlarge. Source: City of Surrey

The poll found that 80% of Surrey residents support building light rail in the South of Fraser. When asked what the biggest benefits of building light rail in Surrey are, the poll respondents said that it would increase the convenience and efficiency of getting around, reduce traffic congestion, and improve accessibility.

Level of support for light rail from Surrey residents. Select table to enlarge. Source: LRT Telephone Survey Final Report

Building and improving public transit service has always been popular in Metro Vancouver; this poll isn’t too surprising. The problem with public transit in our region is that no one seems to want to pay for it. When Ipsos asked the poll participant what their top concerns were around building light rail, 41% cited cost/funding.

Top-of-mind concerns about building a light rail network in the South of Fraser. Select table to enlarge. Source: LRT Telephone Survey Final Report

The federal government has said that it supports Surrey’s light rail plans, and will be increasing the share of money it contributes to each public transit project that it funds. The federal government is willing to pay a greater share of the cost of building light rail in the South of Fraser, and the vast majority of Surrey residents want light rail. Will the province come to the table, and break the funding deadlock around transit in Metro Vancouver?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

City of Langley proposes resolution for creating two residential tax rates

Earlier this month, I posted about the City of Langley’s 2016-2020 Financial Plan. I noted in that post that because of how the property taxation system works in BC, people owning apartments are likely to see a property tax decrease while people owning single-family houses are likely to see a property tax increase.

In BC, local governments apply different tax rates to the nine property classifications defined by the provincial government. The property tax you pay is the value of your property as defined by the BC Assessment Authority, divided by 1,000, then multiplied by the tax rate for your property classification.

This year, the City of Langley is proposing the following tax rates:

Residential, 3.8794
Utilities, 40
Supportive Housing, 3.8794
Light Industry, 9.9003
Business/Other, 8.8947
Recreation/Non-profit, 8.7947
Farm, 3.8794

The challenge with this is that there is only a single rate for all residential property types. The value of a typical apartment in Langley has gone down by 20% while the value of a single-family house has increase by 17% over the last 5 years. While an apartment owner should pay lower property tax than a single-family house owner, having some people’s property tax going up while other people’s property tax going down creates challenges around equity.

Some people have suggested the current single residential tax rate is good as it captures the value of massive property value increases. If people’s property values rise, but income doesn't, this idea doesn’t really work. Capturing windfall property value increases is better handled with changing the current property transfer tax legislation.

Because the values of single-family housing, townhouses, and apartments change at different rates, local government should be able to apply different tax rates to these different residential property types. This currently isn’t permitted under provincial legislation.

City of Langley Council is considering putting forward the following motion at the UBCM conference for the provincial government to consider:

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia through the BC Assessment Act – Prescribed Classes of Property Regulation B.C. Reg. 438/81 specifies that there is one assessment class for all types of residential properties and the Community Charter outlines that a municipal bylaw to establish the property value taxes each year under section 197 (3) specifies there is a single rate for each property class;

AND WHEREAS the assessed value of the multifamily strata units are remaining constant and the single family residential properties are increasing at an accelerated rate causing a greater share of the property value taxes generated in the residential class to be borne by the single family residential properties;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia amend the BC Assessment Act and the Community Charter to allow the residential class to be split into two distinct residential classes so that a different rate may be applied to each type of residential property to more equitably share the tax burden between the single family residential properties and the multifamily residential strata properties.

If this resolution passes at the next UBCM conference, it will be interesting to see the province's response.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Updated Metro Van report shows offices locate near transit

Last May, I posted about a Metro Vancouver report that looked at the distribution of office space around the region. One of the areas that the report looked at was the location of new development in relation to frequent transit service.

When the original report was presented last year, there was a desire by people on the Metro Vancouver board to get more detailed information about office space in our region. This included looking at the different types and sizes of office development, and how they related to urban centres and the frequent transit network. People also wanted to know if certain types of office space tenants were drawn to certain styles of development, and areas in the region.

One of the trends noted in the updated report is that “between 1990 and 2014, approximately 61% of new office space was located within 800 metres (10 minute walk) of rapid transit, and an additional 22% was located within 400 metres (5 minute walk) of bus service on the Frequent Transit Network (FTN).” 83% of all office space built in the last few decades is near high-quality transit service.

The following map shows the distribution of all office space in Metro Vancouver. The map also shows the size of these office spaces. The Carvolth area in the Township of Langley has a high concentration of office space located by a busy Park and Ride along Highway 1. This is also one of the few areas where there is a large amount of office space with no frequent transit service.

All office space in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

The next map shows where new office space has been built between 2010 and 2014. With the exception of Carvolth and South Surrey, there is a clear alignment between rapid transit and new office space.

Office space built in Metro Vancouver between 2010 and 2014. Select map to enlarge.

Locating office space in urban centres and along frequent transit corridors is a key policy priority for Metro Vancouver. It appears that our region has been relatively successful in this regard though more work needs to be done in the South of Fraser.

The problem isn’t actually the location of most office space in the South of Fraser, but the lack of funding to provide transit services to these locations. For example, frequent transit along the 200th Street corridor is a priority in the unfunded Mayors' Transportation Plan, and would service the offices in the Carvolth area. With properly funded transit, our region would meet its goal of locating pretty much all office space near high-quality transit service.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

TransLink’s new CEO Kevin Desmond

Yesterday, TransLink officially announced that it hired a new CEO. Kevin Desmond is currently the General Manager of King County Metro Transit. TransLink posted information about the announcement and Desmond on the Buzzer Blog.

I was chatting on Global BC1 about TransLink’s new CEO, and what that could mean for transportation in Metro Vancouver.

One of the things that I mentioned in the interview was the mini state of the union addresses Kevin Desmond did as the manager of King County Metro Transit. You can view those updates on Metro Transit’s website.

It will be interesting to see how Desmond plans to turn-around TransLink’s poor public image, and resolve the funding impasse between the provincial and local governments in our region.

Hopefully he will do better than the last American CEO we had, Tom Prendergast, who lasted a little over a year at TransLink.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Save the Date: All Candidates Meeting

The Langley Community Seniors Action Table will be hosting an all candidates meeting for the upcoming Langley City By-Election. The details are below:

Date: Monday, February 22nd, 2016
Time: 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Location: The Langley Senior Recreation & Resource Centre
20605-51B Avenue

The agenda will consist of each candidate giving a three minute campaign speech, two minutes of questions from the audience, then networking with the audience while enjoying coffee.

Langley City By-Election Candidate Q&A

During the last municipal elections in 2014, and during this by-election, the Langley Advance sent out a list of 10 questions to people running for council to answer. The Langley Advance allows candidates to answer these questions with Yes/No/I don’t know. The Advance also allows candidates to provide expanded answers, some of which will be publish in the newspaper.

One of the challenges with the Yes/No format is that many of the answers require a more nuanced response. I’ve included the complete answers to the questions the Langley Advanced asked below.

1. Should the City work to increase population density in the downtown core?
I support the City of Langley’s Downtown Master Plan. But since the plan is getting to be around 10 years old, it is due for an update. Therefore I would support a community-wide public consultation process to make sure an updated plan aligns with the needs of the community.

2. Do you support the construction of high rise developments?
There is currently no need or means to support a high rise development in Langley at this point in time.

3. Should the City do more to promote the construction of low income housing?
Langley City is already one of the most affordable communities in Metro Vancouver. There is affordable housing stock in Langley City, but the municipal government needs to work in conjunction with the Province of BC to ensure that this stock is meeting the needs of people in our community. I would support strategies to improve current subsidized housing and housing for low income seniors, plus clamp down on negligent landlords.

4. Should more RCMP officers be hired, even if it means a tax increase?
Hiring one or two RCMP officers in Langley City will do little to address the crime and homelessness issues. But if the force needs to expand due to an increase in population of our community, I would support that. Policing is the faster growing, and largest expense for City of Langley taxpayers.

5. Should the City do more to improve security around the downtown?
Yes, the City of Langley must make this a priority. Not only by repairing damage from vandalism, eliminating graffiti quickly, and ensuring all garbage is removed from our streets and parks in a timely fashion, but by also working to make Langley’s Downtown a desirable destination.

I’ve always supported Downtown Langley merchants who have worked hard to make the core an inviting destination through innovative programs, special events, and festivals with limited resources. With the help of the City of Langley, these programs can be expanded to make our core an inviting destination.

That is why I support an arts centre. This would help address security concerns as the positive activity that surrounds such a facility has been proven to reduce crime and create a stronger community.

6. Should casino revenues be used to fund general programs and reduce property taxes?
No, this would be like withdrawing your RRSP to cover daily living expenses when you don’t need to. The City currently uses the casino revenue to fund long term capital infrastructure. Without this funding: property tax would need to increase, the City would need to go into debt, or the City would have to stop investing in improving the infrastructure in our community.

7. Should the City create more bike lanes and public cycling infrastructure?

8. Should Langley City lobby to get a light rail or SkyTrain line extended to the downtown?

9. Would you support increasing property taxes to fund transit improvements?
The Provincial Government is already collecting the existing Carbon Tax which should be used for exactly this purpose.

10. Do you believe Langley City and Township should be amalgamated into one municipality?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Accessibility an afterthought during Timms construction

Over the last month, the sidewalks around Langley City Hall have been in various states of construction. As part of the new Timms Community Centre project, the sidewalks near the facility along Fraser Highway, Douglas Crescent, 204th Street, and 56 Avenue are being replaced.

Once the sidewalk construction is complete, accessibility will be enhanced due to better designed sidewalks. Right now, it is a challenge for people with limit mobility to get around this area.

I’ve been out canvasing in Langley City neighbourhoods for the upcoming by-election, and have heard from people with limited mobility that accessing City Hall and the Library is currently a challenge. I've also heard this from a friend with limited mobility as well.

One of the stories I heard was that the accessible ramp was available in the morning when someone went to visit the library, but was blocked off later in the day due to construction work. This person had to wait around until the ramp was reopened. Another person told me that they almost tipped over on the gravel.

Loose gravel, pylons, and non-level surfaces can make it a challenge for people to navigate an area who have limited mobility. The accessible ramp to City Hall/Library is located where the people hanging around the shopping cart are. Select image to enlarge.

Gravel and non-level surfaces make it tricky to access this business. Select image to enlarge.

Maintaining access to any facility during construction can be a challenges, and maintaining accessible access can be even more challenging. When it comes to the library and City Hall, maintaining accessible access is a must. The library is one of the few indoor public spaces available in Downtown Langley. Likewise, it is important that anyone be able to access City Hall.

Having an accessibility plan during the construction/renovation of an existing facility is critical.

For example during the reconstruction of the Main Street SkyTrain station, accessible street to platform access was maintained. During a recent renovation of the Central City Shopping Centre, there was a clearly marked accessible access route.

Maintaining accessible access to public facilities is critical if we want to build a community where everyone is included.

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.