I’m on vacation, I’ll be back next week. However, this letter to the editor of the Burnaby Now entered my social media feed, and much to MsNWimby’s lament, I had to take a few minutes to pen a retort. I thought of sending it to the Burnaby Now, but I thought it would look weird for a New West City Councillor to get something like this published in a Burnaby newspaper, so instead I’ll just post it here.

Letter: Why can’t bullied kids just get with the program?

Editor: Last weeks’s Burnaby NOW had a letter from Diane Gillis raising important questions about why pedestrians don’t work harder to protect themselves from getting hit by cars. I think it provides a great platform to offer similar safety tips for youth suffering from another well-identified danger in today’s society: schoolyard bullying.

It does not matter who is right and who is wrong in schoolyard bullying – it is the bullied child who is at greatest risk of injury or psychological trauma.

Sadly, there are too many children who do not understand or know of what they can do to avoid bullying. I chair the communications subcommittee of my local Concerned Parents of Athletic and Cool Children chapter, and we coordinate anti-bullying messaging for our children, and those who do not qualify. At the November CPACC meeting, we discussed ways to reduce bullying.

All children should consider these anti-bullying safety tips.

  • Wear more attractive / fashionable clothing so the cool kids will not notice your lack of flair. If wearing professional-sports-team-branded clothing, be especially aware of the sports franchises preferred by the local cool kids.
  • Don’t go to places where bullies hang out, like malls, schools, or outside.
    If you have to go to those places, look out for bullies.
  • If you see a bully, run away really fast.
  • Don’t make eye contact with bullies.
  • Don’t use your phone and/or headphones, or carry anything of value while walking where bullies might spot you.
  • If a bully approaches you, hand them your lunch money and beg for mercy.
  • Wear a helmet.

Something I think is telling. Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m. – just after school gets out and when most kids were playing sports or hitting the Mall – as I was driving past a schoolyard in Burnaby, I saw a skinny, nerdy kid getting taunted by a group of pretty cool-looking kids.

When I saw his Minnesota Wild t-shirt, his last-year’s Walmart Nikes, wire-rim glasses and his clarinet case, it was all I could do to stop from yelling “Hey Nerd!” and slapping the little loser myself.

There is a lot more to the concerns of many of us regarding keeping all kids safe from bullying. And as long as we can continue to blame the victim, none of us will ever have to recognize our own personal responsibility to keep our community safe for all, or even acknowledge what the real dangers are.

Council – December 10, 2018

The last Council Meeting of 2018 was an eventful one, as you can see in the Agenda here. We started with two pretty lackluster Opportunities to be Heard:

Development Variance Permit DVP00657 for 41 Duncan Street (490 Furness Street) (Child Care)
Variances are required for this childcare project because the measured set-backs between the childcare building and the edges of the lot they are constructed on are reduced (in part because of the development plan for the overall site, in part to give better playspace. No-one sent any correspondence and no-one came to speak to the variance. Council moved to approve the variance.

Development Variance Permit DVP00656 for 618 Carnarvon Street (Sign Bylaw Variance)
A sign bylaw variance is required because the measured area of the sign, not the printed copy, but the entire field of paint, exceeds the Bylaw No-one sent any correspondence and no-one came to speak to the variance. Council moved to approve the variance.

The following items were Moved on Consent without discussion:

2019 Child Care Grant Recommendations
This is an annual $40,000 grant program to support capital improvements to non-profit childcare operations in the City. Council moved to grant a total of $39,321 to eight Child Care projects in the City representing over 400 child care spaces, with the remaining $679 to be allocated through the Child Care Action Team to subsidize education or training to non-profit childcare providers in the City.

2019 Heritage Grant Recommendations
This is an annual $25,000 grant program to support heritage initiatives in the City. There were 3 applications totaling $15,992, and the committee recommended granting them all. Council agreed.

800 Boyd Street (Queensborough Mini Storage): Consideration of Development Permit for Issuance
The landowner at this Queensborough property wants to expand the existing self-storage place to include a third building, and needs a Development Permit to do it. It has been supported by the Residents Association, and their public open house to receive comment on the application was attended by zero members of the public. The Design Panel also approve of the project. Council move to approve the Development Permit.

Q to Q Pilot Ferry Service – Update
This is an update on the QtoQ ferry service, which is seeing much less use than in the summer (as expected). There are a consistent 120 trips a day during the week, indicating a base level of service for commuters (what we kind of hoped would happen), with between 200 and 300 rides a day on the weekends, depending on the weather. Staff are going to do some more monitoring, hoping that they can adjust operations to best suit the needs of the passengers and hopefully save a little on operational cost.

Of bigger concern, there are a few operational concerns with the Port Royal dock, and the Port of Vancouver does not approve of the efforts the City wants to implement to make it work better, because of navigational risks for the log boom operators next door. So we have some more work to do.

Small Dog Off-Leash Area Trial in Moody Park
After some public engagement and a short trial, Parks are ready to install a permanent “small dog only” off-leash play area in Moody Park. Through the public consultation, it is pretty clear that some portion of the dog-loving public is not going to like the approach the City takes, no matter what that approach is, as there are many divergent views on every aspect of dog parks. Of course, a larger facility in another part of the park might be desired by most users, but there is limited space in Moody Park, and having two separate dog areas in that constrained and very busy park is just not fair to other park users.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

2019 Amateur Sports Fund Committee Grant Recommendations
This grant fund is a legacy of the 1973(!) Canada Games, along with some Casino funding added in 2000. There is an endowment with the interest paid out as grants to support amateur sports programs in the city. We had $323,000 in requests, and $35,000 budget. Council moved to approve the recommendation that the entire $35,000 budget be allocated to 10 sports organizations in the city, representing almost 2,700 athletes.

2019 Arts & Culture Grant Recommendations
This is an annual $30,000 grant program to support independent Arts & Culture programs in the City. The Grant Committee reviewed requests totaling just over $39,000. Council Moved to approve the recommended granting of a total of $30,000 to 13 different programs.

2019 Community Grant Recommendations
This grant program is meant to support projects which contribute to the community livability of the city, and grant recommendations made by a volunteer committee of New West residents. There is a $75,000 budget for this grant program. There were 24 applications totaling $105,000, and the committee recommended providing grant to 19 projects totaling $63,393, and the transfer of the $11,000 surplus to the Youth Counselling program under the Partnership Grant (see below).

2019 Environmental Grant Recommendations
This is an annual $20,000 grant program to support environmental initiatives in the City. There were $32,000 in requests, and Council supported the committee recommendation to grant a total of $20,000 to 6 programs.

2019 City Partnership Grant Recommendations
This grant program is meant to assist incorporated not -for-profit organizations with delivery of major services to the community. The services must assist the City to fulfill its vision statement and requests are reviewed by a Review Panel. The best way to think about partnership grants is that these are things some might expect a City (or senior government) to do, but it is easier and less expensive for us to grant money to others and let them do it.

Hence, this is the biggest grant category – established programs tend towards here, and it takes on the character of a “catch all”. In this lies the trouble. There is a $485,000 budget for this grant program, but there were 23 applications totaling $1,061,755. Clearly, hard choices need to be made here.

One concern this year is that several organizations that asked for 3-year grant commitments rely on that stability to not only create consistent programming, but also to allow them to leverage other grant sources – both goals we want to see from partnership grants. But if every grant is promised for three years, we have no room for new (and potentially really beneficial) programs to develop.

Alas, this is mess, not because of the work of the review committee, but because we as Council have not done the work to provide clear guidance and priority to inform their work. In the end, Council moved to refer these recommendations back to the committee for more work with a bit of guidance. More to come in January.

Committee Governing Documents
This is an update to the terms of reference of a bunch of our Council Advisory Committees, to explicitly open spaces for representatives from a First Nation, to open up opportunities for co-chairs to make committees work better if needed, and to allow Council to remove representatives that don’t actually show up.

We got into a bit of a debate here about some of the wording, which might have sounded bureaucratic to some, but I think speaks to our cautious approach to reconciliation. The wording of opening up a seat for a “representative of a First Nation” is potentially more limiting than we intended. I think our intent was to incent participation on our committees by people with indigenous experience, but the term “First Nation representative” may be read to mean representative from the governance of a First Nation as a stakeholder as opposed to a community member who can add to our conversation. Nothing wrong with the former, but I think we also want to encourage the latter. At a second level, the term “First Nation” is generally thought to not include Metis or Inuit, which may preclude the urban aboriginal residents we want to hear form. Short version: we can’t make these gestures without considered intent, otherwise they risk becoming token gestures that don’t actually move us towards a meaningful dialogue. So we will do a bit of a review of our language here and make sure the language fits our intent. Let’s make sure we are doing this right.

Rent Bank Program: Update and Request
The Rent Bank is working. It is providing no-interest emergency loans to prevent a small catastrophes from making a people homeless – as serious concern in our tight rental market, as we can stop the vicious cycle of homelessness right at the start. The City provides administration funding for the program (the cooperating Credit Unions provide the loans). It also acts as a point of contact for people facing homelessness, so even if they do not qualify for the emergency loan, they may find out about other programs that can provide them support at a crisis time in their lives. The program in its short history has prevented a couple of dozen people becoming homeless – helping them, but also saving the provincial government a lot of money.

Council moved to increase our funding to help with this administration, and to ask the Province to help fund the program now that it has been demonstrated to be viable and something that is likely saving the Province orders of magnitude more money.

Development Services Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw: Retail Sale of Cannabis – Bylaw for Three Readings
This is a Bylaw we adopted back on November 19, but it had the wrong Schedule B attached at the time due to a clerical error. Staff caught the error, so now we are going to amend it to include the appropriate schedule.

Proposed BC Energy Step Code Requirements for New Part 3 Multi-Residential and Commercial Buildings
The Province has been working on updates of the building code to make buildings in BC more energy efficient in order to meet our long-range energy and emissions reduction goals. There is a lot going on here, but the very short version is that the province has termed it the “Step Code”, with the idea that Cities can phase implementation towards higher “steps”, with the top step being zero energy buildings – those that are so efficient they can be heated by waste energy already in the house (like the back of your fridge and the human bodies in the house). The idea being that this buffers homebuilders, the construction industry, regulators and inspectors from an all-at-once change, and instead we can phase in improvement over time.

The City is already implementing a Step Code strategy for single family homes, and all buildings up to three stories and 600m2, we are now moving into the larger-building sector (condos and purpose built rental). By 2020, new buildings will have to hit Step 3, unless they have a Low Carbon Energy System, in which case they will be required to hit Step 2. The result is basically the same from greenhouse gas emission sense – either they switch to non-carbon energy sources, or they useless energy.

We are also going to look at requiring homebuilders to apply energy ratings on their new buildings, so owners will know what they are buying. Like knowing the fuel consumption of the car you buy or the KW/h usage of your clothes dryer, you really should know what the energy costs of your new house or apartment is.

Update on the City’s Snow and Ice Response Preparations
This is a timely update on the City’s snow and ice response plan, following up on requests last year and the year before to review how snow removal from sidewalks and pedestrian areas are managed in the City. The City is going to do more to get the information out about residents’ responsibility to clear their sidewalks, and to address the issue of lane-ways creating pedestrian barriers.

However, I don’t think we are going far enough. Since we adopted a Master Transportation Plan that prioritizes active transportation (walking and cycling), then public transit, over personal automobile use, it seems incongruous that we spend so much money and resources keeping roads free of ice and cleared of snow, but rely on the neighbourliness of our residents to do the same for our sidewalks and bus stops. This is also in opposition to our Age-Friendly Community Strategy, and our goals to become a more accessible City.

Therefore, I moved that we ask staff to let us know what the practicalities and costs are of the City taking over the responsibility for sidewalk plowing, at least in a set of pedestrian priority areas (in the same way that we prioritize roads). If we can’t afford it, I want to know what that cost is. If we need to move priorities to make it happen, I need to have the data to support that.

September 6, 2018 Arts Commission Recommendation re Cultural Services
The Arts Commission has a recommendation about how we structure Cultural Services in the City. This will likely be a part of our strategic planning process for the coming term, and will no doubt interact with the Arts Strategy which we discussed during the Open Workshop portion of today’s meeting. More to come here…

We then had one item of New Business:

Draft Inclusionary Housing Policy for Rezoning Application Negotiation
The City now has the authority to require that any development above a certain size to include an affordable housing component, in the form of below-market rental. We have the ability to make this a condition of OCP amendment or rezoning. There are a lot of details here, and this is sure to cause a lot of public conversation – and raise a bit of concern among the development community.

The City has already negotiated two below-market affordable housing projects as parts of larger developments – 159 units in Victoria Hill completed in 2017, and 66 units on Carnarvon Street about to break ground now. But the need is increasing, so this policy will allow us to move beyond the ad-hoc process we currently use. This is a preliminary report, and these will be public consultation on this. I am looking forward to learning more as we go along.

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Council Indemnification Bylaw No. 8075, 2018
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that outlines when Council members are and are not indemnified in relation to their Council work was adopted by Council.

Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8062, 2018
Also discussed last meeting, this amendment to the Five-Year Financial Plan to include some financing for the replacement of the Canada Games pool was adopted by Council.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8071, 2018
Discussed at some length, this Bylaw that formalizes the utility rate increases for 2019 was adopted by Council.

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No. 8072, 2018
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that allows us to build things with the money we collected from the development community through DCCs was adopted by Council.

Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8066, 2018
This annual update to our Parks and Recreation fees, as discussed last meeting, was adopted by Council.

Whew! It was a content-dense last meeting of the year. I am taking a bit of a vacation, so will probably not be blogging much for the next few weeks. If you want t know where I am, find me on Instagram or Facebook, as I will try to send updates from the vacation. I hope you have a good holidays, and your 2019 is full of the best kinds of excitement!

Council Top Three!

This is regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda on Monday* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in.

#1: Grant Allocations
We are making our awards of the Amateur Sports, Arts & Culture, Child Care, Community, Environmental, Heritage and Partnership grants for 2019. We had $710,000 in the budget for these grants, and $1.6 Million in requests. Tune in to see what the Grant Committees recommend, and see if Council agrees!

#2: Update on the City’s Snow and Ice Response Preparations
With winter upon us, we are receiving an update report on how the City responds to snow and ice removal. I have shared my concerns in the past that our response (plow and de-ice roads, but but rely on the neighbourliness of our residents and business owners to do the same for our sidewalks and bus stops) does not reflect the transportation priorities set out in our master transportation plan, or other policies in the City meant to support seniors or people with disabilities.

#3: Small Dog Off-Leash Area Trial in Moody Park
This is actually a pretty basic upgrade to park facilities, but few things are as conflict-inducing than off-leash parks. The need for a small dog area in Moody Park is not under dispute, but the design details and questions about where to locate it in the very constrained park have proved to be contentious in the past.  

*normal footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage. These are only my guesses, and I am only one of seven. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!

Council – Dec 3, 2018

Proving my prognostication skills are as terrible as I always suspected, here is my report on this week’s Council meeting. You can follow along on the Agenda here, and note that I thought those new business items were just Notices of Motion, not topics of discussion this week, which is kinda how I missed them earlier. I’m such a rookie at this.

We started the Meeting with an Opportunity for Public Comment:

Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8062, 2018
This Bylaw provides us the authority to borrow the money we need to build the proposed Canada Games Pool replacement. We do not yet have a detailed design, and our cost estimates at this point are “Class D” and put the project at about $100 Million, or $114 Million if we expand the facility to provide all of the competition-supporting changes that the swim club was asking for. The rush here is the timing of the Federal government infrastructure grant process, and the requirement that we have a financing plan in place and approved prior to us completing that application.

We had one person ask a few questions regarding the structure of the Five-Year Financial Plan and the planned structure of the loan if and when the City decides to go forward with the project. There will be a *lot* of discussion of this project in 2019 as the design and planning come along and we get all of the details of financing the largest capital project in the city’s history together. In the meantime, Council gave this amendment three readings.

The following items were Moved on Consent without discussion.

New Westminster City Council Indemnification Bylaw
The City’s Solicitor is updating some of the practices in the City, including clarifying the limitations of liability for Council. This is a little meta to how Council operates, but as the executive to a large organization, we have some protection from legal liability if we make decisions in good faith that have bad results. This protection is much less robust if we act dishonestly or in violation of the law.

Engineering User Fees and Utility Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8071, 2018
We talked about utility rates last meeting, and I have been writing a few blog posts about it. This is the Bylaw that makes the water, sewer, and solid waste rates for the next year official, and we gave the Bylaw three readings.

DCC Expenditure Bylaw No. 8072, 2018
Development Cost Charges are money the City collects from developers that the City is required by law to spend on designated infrastructure improvement projects directly related to the impacts of population growth. If we need to replace the water pipes under your street due to it being old and leaky, that is paid for out of your utility rates (through utility reserve funds, usually). However, if we have to build a bigger water pipe to accommodate the new multi-family building on your block, the marginal cost of that expansion is paid for with DCCs collected from the developer of that multi-family building. Like everything else in this City, we need a Bylaw to permit the pulling of the money out of the DCC accounts and spending it on the projects.

For example, there are a couple of drainage projects in Queensborough, one related to Ewen Street redesign, the other a major pump station at the end of Wood Street. They are going to cost a combined $6.4Million. About $4.5M of that (or 70%) will be paid for out of our reserves (ie. paid by all users), while $1.9M (or 30%) will be paid by DCC funds collected through density increases in Queensborough.

Council gave the Bylaw, which authorizes the spending of a little more than $3 Million of DCC funds on various projects.

Code of Conduct for City Council
We have not operated with a modern Code of Conduct for Council. This is something many Cities have adopted, partly because of increased expectations for respectful workplaces, and partly from observing examples from other cities where the municipal operations were hampered by poor conduct on the part of a few disruptive Council members. So, no sign of problems here, just our City Clerk being proactive as part of our general effort to make City Hall and Council function as well as possible. Council move to approve the Code.

Recruitment 2018: ICAC Appointment
The School Board representative to the Intelligent City Advisory Committee is changing due to some staffing shifts at the School District. Moved!

2018 Heritage Register Update – Addition of Five Properties and Removal of One Property
The Heritage Registry is a database of significant heritage assets in the City (mostly single family homes) that have statements of significance, and the owners are able to avail themselves of some special provisions of the BC Building Code to support the protection and preservation of the buildings. Some (not all) are protected from demolition or modification. New houses granted property rights through Heritage Restoration Agreements are commonly added to the Register every now and then, and this time, a building demolished after a fire a couple of years ago has been stricken from the Register.

Recreational Cannabis: Nuisance Monitoring Program
As I’ve said a few times, the biggest hassle we are going to have to deal with as a City with the legalization of cannabis is the inevitable complaints about exposure to second-hand smoke. I am of the opinion that the actual nuisance will not be increasing substantially (because I don’t think legalization is going to come with a substantial increase in users), but I am confident the number of complaints will as people are less sensitive to how their personal use impacts others. Staff have some tools in place, but will provided this report to let us know they will be collecting data and will report back to us about how the nuisance issue plays out in the City.

SkyTrain Stations (TransLink): Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
SkyTrain works often involve working at times when the SkyTrain is not running, for some pretty obvious reasons, which usually requires a construction noise bylaw exemption. We are granting one until December 24th, then again starting in January so TransLink can wire up their new announcement system.

Pattullo Bridge Seismic Upgrading: Request for Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption
As plans for a replacement for the Pattullo bridge proceed, the old structure is still going to carry traffic through to 2023. TransLink has concerns about its ability to withstand high seismic and wind loads events, and want to install an early warning system to close the bridge in the event of a bad event. The work to install some of this will have to happen at night to not impact drivers. So they came to us for a construction noise exemption.

CP Rail Pipe Crossing Agreement – Proposed Watermain Crossing on Braid Street
We need to replace a piece of water main, and it goes under railroad tracks. So we need to get separate approvals from all three rail operators. This is the CP one. This is also related to the reason why the sidewalk improvements along Braid have not been completed to date. The water line thing has to happen first.

Amendment to the Parks and Recreation Fees and Charges Bylaw (resubmitted)
This is a second shot at updating our Parks and Recreation fees, as we do annually, after a few recommendations came from Council last meeting. Council moved to approve them this time.

We then adopted a few Bylaws

Revenue Anticipation Borrowing Amendment Bylaw No. 8038, 2018
As discussed last meeting, This Bylaw that allows us to borrow a bit of money if we need to spend a little bit more cash than we strictly have on hand to get past short term (less than a year) cash crunch was adopted by Council. I have no idea if staff ever use this flexibility, but they are definitely happy to have it.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Amendment Bylaw No. 8058, 2018
As discussed last meeting, this Bylaw that formalizes the annual CPI-related increases in Engineering Fees to assure cost recovery was adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment (1102, 1110, 1116 and 1122 Salter Street) Bylaw No. 8034, 2018
As discussed back in June, given Third Reading on July 25th, and just approved by the Ministry of Transportation, this Bylaw that supports the development of a combined townhouse, rowhome and detached house development in Queensborough was adopted by Council.

Now for those New Business items I thought were Notices of Motion:

Poverty Reduction
Council resolved that: the City of New Westminster support the Coalition’s ABC Plan for an accountable, bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC; and that this council advocate to the provincial government to develop and implement a provincial poverty reduction strategy that includes the measures within the ABC Plan before February 2019, with the commitment that this council will work with the provincial government in implementing this plan.

This is a motion to ask the Provincial government to include the framework and items in the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s “ABC Plan” for an Accountable, Bold and Comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC. Beyond just a good idea at a good time, it is important to realize that although the costs of poverty often fall on municipalities to manage, the causes of poverty are firmly in senior governments’ jurisdiction. We do what we can in New Westminster to mitigate the effects, but the root causes will need serious senior government action.

Truth and Reconciliation
Council resolved to endorse the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and that the City use the Declaration as a framework for truth and reconciliation.

The City has been working on a reconciliation plan since 2017, and are quickly entering a phase where Council will and the public will be engaging in conversations, and the City will be opening opportunities for truths to be shared. We have taking a cautious approach, but based on the messaging of the recent election campaigns, we will be integrating reconciliation into our strategic planning for the term. In the meantime, it is timely that the City endorse the principles that will provide the framework for those actions.

All on Board Campaign
Finally, Council also resolved to endorse the #AllOnBoard Campaign; the City write a letter to the TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, the TransLink Board, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction asking TransLink to work with the provincial government regarding funding and developing a plan that will provide free public transit for minors (ages 0-18), and reduced price transit based on a sliding scale using the Market Basket Measure for all low-income people regardless of their demographic profile;
and that the City write a separate letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation and the TransLink Board asking them to 1) require TransLink adopt a poverty reduction/equity mandate in order to address the outstanding issue of lack of affordability measures to ensure those who need public transit the most can access the essential service of transit, and 2) to request TransLink immediately and without delay amend existing by-laws and cease ticketing all and any minors for fare evasion as the first step towards the full implementation of free transit for children and youth 0-18, and allow low-income adults to access community service and/or culturally appropriate restorative justice community service as an alternative to the financial penalty of a fare evasion ticket;

I have been an outspoken supporter of providing free transit for youth, and the All on Board campaign has pushed this issue forward in recent months.

My only caveat with this motion is my concern that poverty mitigation efforts undertaking by TransLink do not come at the cost of reducing transit service or increasing fares for other users. Reducing accessibility to or reliability of public transit will ultimately hurt those with lower incomes worse than those who have access to other options. I will not support sliding scale or subsidized transit passes for the lowest income categories if it comes at the cost of increasing fares for the next economic tiers. It is not progressive or fair for the marginally poor to be asked to subsidize the poorest sector of society. The provincial government must fund any low-income transit subsidy from general revenue. It is the only just way to address this issue.

Clearly, we have a new Council, one ready to jump in with two feet and get some things done. It should be an exciting term!

Utilities 2018 (Part 2)

In my previous utilities post, I talked about revenues and expenses in our utilities, and readers of our financial spreadsheets would see that we make more money in revenues than we spend operating the utility – we make a “profit” every year. So what happens to that money? And if we make a profit already, why are rates going up?

I feel I have to caveat a bunch of this stuff, probably should have in the last post as well – I’m not a finance professional, or even a decent bookkeeper. I need to simplify what are sometimes pretty complex finance rules and practices to understand them myself, never mind try to explain them. So everything here needs to be read in that context – I may get some of this a little wrong in a way that causes a Chartered Accountant to chuckle, but hey, at least it is them laughing at me for a change instead of the other way around. This is also why I am tempted to put scare quotes around a bunch of terms like “profits”, because I realize I am using the terms colloquially, not strictly. So maybe assume any word below that is not used in a way that strictly fits the definition as having scare quotes.

The short answer to that question is that all of the profit from utilities is re-invested into the utilities through their respective capital budget. Looking at the 2019 Water budget that looks like this:

One would be tempted to interpret this as:
Our Revenues are projected to be:  $13.4 Million
Our Expenses are projected to be:  $  8.4 Million
So the “profit” is                                  $  5.0 Million.

However, this is a simplification of our actual 2019 budget, because it only considers our operating budget, not the way we support our reserves and capital costs. This is why the numbers you see here will be a little different than the ones in my previous post – I am going to try to meld together our operational and capital budgets in a way that makes sense. A better way to look at these spreadsheets for people not that into spreadsheets is a flow diagram:

On the left are all of our “inputs”, and the right are out “outputs”, and all of the vertical bars are to scale (numbers are thousands of dollars). You can see most of the income of the utility is in Rates (about $13M of $14M). Of that money, about $6.5M goes to Metro Vancouver to pay for water, about $2M goes to salaries and other operational costs, and about $5.4M ultimately contributes to Capital costs. Most of that Capital spending is on paying for infrastructure repairs and replacements (actual pipes in the ground, valves, pumps, and such), though some goes to equipment (trucks, wrenches, computers) used to keep the infrastructure operating.

Keen eyes will note that the Reserves bar has a gap at the bottom left – we are budgeting to take about $280K more out of reserves in 2019 than we put in. Not shown on this diagram is the ~$4.3 Million we have stored in our reserves at the end of 2018, and how that will be reduced to ~$4.0 Million by the end of 2019. I will talk more about that later.

I created a similar flow diagram for the 2019 Sewers budget:Immediately, you will notice we are spending much more money (proportionally) on infrastructure here than in the water utility. This is largely due to the ongoing sewer separation work that New Westminster has to deal with. You can see it is almost all spent on actual infrastructure ($13 Million!). You will note also that the gap between what we are putting into reserves and taking out is large – about $2.7 Million in 2019. We are also expected to receive another $865K in grants to help pay close that gap. Again, more on this later.

The Solid Waste budget looks a little different:Two things stand out here: the capital budget is much smaller (it is all equipment), and both salaries and Charges is much bigger. This has to do with the nature of the work, collecting garbage requires people, and I suspect the largest “charges” expense is fuel to keep the garbage trucks rolling.

So that is where we are in 2019, but what will change as we increase rates every year?

This graph shows how the main Water Utility cost drivers are going to change over the 5-year plan. The rates we pay to Metro for water going up steadily, capital spending increasing at a lower rate, and the trend for our reserves is moving from a small annual loss (remember the gap in the flow chart above) to an increase, then trending back to even. You can see by the green bars that our reserves are currently just over $4 Million, with the goal of them settling in at just under $10 million.

The same graph for the Sewer Utility shows Metro rates steadily increasing, capital spending going down, and our reserve contributions again going from negative to a more sustainable level.

Finally, our Solid Waste accounts show Metro rates only increasing moderately, and our capital spending going down for a few years while the trend for reserves will hopefully go from a deficit position to a small positive reserve.

In summary, the current plan will get our utility reserves back into a place where they can support the long-term financial sustainability of the utilities, and constrain our local capital spending a bit to buffer this. The part we have less control over is the Metro Rates, and this topic is something that is making waves across the region. I’ll write more about this in a future blog post.

Council Top Three!

This is regular pre-council list of what I think are going to be the most important three items on our Council agenda on Monday* in no particular order, so you can decide if you want to tune in. Honestly, I don’t see any specific item this week raising a rancorous debate – maybe there will be some good delegations? Anyway, here are my guesses.

#1: Five-Year Financial Plan (2018-2022) Amendment Bylaw No. 8062, 2018
This is the first sure sign that the Canada Games Pool project is moving ahead – and that it is going to cost the City a lot of money. The timing here is that the application window for the federal / provincial grant we would like to help pay for this project is closing in January, and we need to have proof that we can finance this project before that happens. So we need to include the updated finance plan in our 5-year Financial Plan, then go to the public for authorization for long-term borrowing. This amendment is the first step in this process.

#2: Code of Conduct for City Council
This should finally put an end to all of the swearing and back-stabbing at Council! Just kidding. This is more staff recognizing that we have not operated with a modern Code of Conduct for some time. This is something many Cities have adopted, partly because of increased expectations around respectful workplaces, and partly from observing examples from other cities (cough, Nanaimo, cough) where the municipal operations were hampered by poor conduct on the part of a few disruptive Council members.

#3: Recreational Cannabis: Nuisance Monitoring Program
With the legalization of cannabis, the City has recognized that our biggest hassle is likely to be nuisance complaints related to smoking in public places. There are both provincial and municipal laws that apply here, and enforcement of smoking has never been easy. Staff have a plan to track complaints and enforcement efforts in a systematic way to help us figure out methods to address it.

*normal footnote: The funny thing about Council: it is almost impossible to predict what three items will rise to the top and get the most debate/ public feedback / media coverage. These are only my guesses, and I am only one of seven. For a full prediction of the entire Council agenda, go to the agenda!