Budget Amendment

Last meeting we approved a provisional budget. After several months of work by Council and much, much more by staff, a 5-year financial plan was presented that included Capital and Operational budgets for both the General Fund and the Utility Funds. The next step is for staff to forge these into Bylaws that can be read and adopted by Council – a process that needs to be completed by the end of April by regulation. But first Council has to approve the 5-year plan in principle.

In a move that is no longer surprising, an Amendment motion was proposed late in the discussion that sought to derail much of this work. Not in a way that allowed staff or Council to meaningfully deliberate the changes proposed, but in a way that appeared to be (and I’m not saying this was intent, I’m saying this is how it appeared to me, recognizing one cannot really know what is in another’s mind) more of an attempt to score talking points. And I’ll detail why I got that impression, but first, I want to talk about the Amendment.

The Amendment that arrived in front of Council at almost literally the 11th hour is a list of 12 different shifts in line items, projects, and plans in the City, with little rhyme or reason. All were framed as initiatives to reduce the burden on property taxpayers by reducing the proposed 6.4% tax increase. I cannot bury this key point, so I’ll underline it:

*Not a single item in this list, if approved, would have any effect on the proposed 6.4% tax increase. Not one.*

It is also worth emphasizing that many of the items sought to undermine years of work by different departments based on long-standing strategic plans and sometimes years of community engagement, advisory committee work, and partnerships in the community. This is not good governance.

So beyond the headlines, here’s some detail:

The biggest line item was “Eliminate $46,337,399 in funding allocated for the District Energy Project in Sapperton”, and this is emblematic of the entire Amendment.

The District Energy Utility (“DEU”) is a project the City has been working on for some time, similar to successful projects in Vancouver and Richmond. It is still conceptual, because it needs several things to come together for it to be successful, some of them outside of the control of the City (like pace of residential development and global energy prices). The City has been carefully evaluating market conditions, and has been building partnerships and raising external funding to support the financial modelling and design work. When the business case is right, when the known risks are managed, we need to be ready to move.

As we have received external funding support in anticipation of these factors coming together, we have a line item in our Capital budget to support the capital cost of building the DEU. That is the number that appears above. Cutting this from the budget means the DEU doesn’t go forward, now or ever. It seems to me good governance would include a deeper conversation about that (including with our funding partners) before we throw away years of work by striking a red line through it during budget deliberations.

Perhaps the more important aspect of this is that the DEU will not be funded by property taxes.  The “U” stands for “Utility”, and it will be operated as such. The people who will pay for the DEU are the customers of the DEU – the people and businesses of the new buildings that hook up to the DEU and receive the benefit of resilient, carbon-free, and affordable space- and water-heating provided from sewer heat recovery. The entire point of the DEU is that the capital cost (somewhere around $50 Million now, it may be more or less depending on how it is built and when) will be covered by rates paid by customers, supported by some external grants and value gained in the carbon credit market.

Cutting this out of the budget now and spiking the project on a whim will do nothing to change property tax rates, now or in the future.

There is also a line item here that suggests we “Eliminate $15,321,089 in funds earmarked for the installation of advanced ‘smart’ meters”, effectively ending the Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) project.

Again, this is a capital project paid through Electrical Utility rates, so it will not impact Property Tax rates, but that is not the most baffling part. The City has already invested in the IT work to support integration of digital meters, and we have already signed the contract to purchase 40,000 next-generation electrical meters. Taking away the Capital budget for their installation and integration now is a strange request, as we already own the meters. They would become very expensive doorstops.

But let’s talk about the Advanced Meter initiative, and why we are doing it, because not all of you have the benefit of lengthy onboarding that the Councillor moving this Amendment had access to, or serve on the Electrical Commission like the Councillor who seconded the Motion does.

The City’s electrical meters are old and overdue for replacement. The mechanical meter technology we rely on is harder and harder to get inspected and certified by the regulators, because of their age. They are becoming less reliable, and repairs are challenging. At the same time, Utility customers have been asking the Electrical Utility for more information about energy use, more consistent billing, and even more innovative rate structures to support EV integration, building electrification, and conservation. We can do none of these things relying on 1950’s technology meters. Even if you don’t think digital meters are a good thing, and don’t value those benefits, I don’t think throwing away the investment already made in new meters and keeping the failing older technology in place provides any benefit at all to utility ratepayers.

There are other items in this list that are out of left field like cutting $2M from the BridgeNet capital plan (another thing not paid for by property tax payers, but by service users and ISP partners, who maybe we should talk to before we toss away our development plan?) to a random cut of almost $5 Million in the Capital budget to make long-needed improvements to the sidewalks and commercial streets through the Great Streets program. Some other line items point to familiar grievances like the Queens Park Farm upgrades (not sure why a motion to not update the farm area after two years of consultation and design work that failed earlier in the day during workshop ended up back here only hours later to fail again?) or adding a few hundred thousand dollars to the whistle cessation line item (when staff have repeatedly made clear it’s not lack of money that is preventing faster implementation of whistle cessation).

It is important to note that none of the numbers in this laundry list have been verified, nor has there been any analysis of the impacts of these cuts on existing programs, on long-term strategic plans, or on the people and businesses of New Westminster. No public consultation, no business analysis. Just randm numbers on a sheet of paper.

This is why several Councillors, surprised and confused by the suggestions, fell to using language like slapdash, knee-jerk, and crazy when referring to the content of the Amendment, and why Council, in its wisdom, voted this down.

There is another conversation to have here about intent, and that is harder. Especially when one sees the first proposed change: “Establish a $1 budget for the City’s rebranding for the rebranding process aimed at eliminating the Royal City moniker”. We didn’t debate this in Council, but it is not difficult to infer intent here. But I am going to hold off on talking about that for now, because I don’t want that necessarily-political discussion to distract from the cold facts above about why the Amendment was misdirected, misinformed, and unsupportable.

Council – March 27, 2023

We had long Council day on Monday. Aside from the regular meeting, we also had some open and closed workshops (the open ones you can see here), but overall a ~15 hour day for Council and senior staff. The Agenda wasn’t that long, but you know how these things can go. We started with a Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8379, 2023 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8380, 2023 (802 and 806 Eighth Street and 809 Eighth Avenue).
This project in the Moody Park area of Uptown proposes to amalgamate three single family detached lots, relocate one of the homes on those lots for heritage protection, and build townhouses totaling 17 units. The 1929 heritage house would be permanently preserved.

This project includes the compact townhouse density that reflects the OCP designation, and includes 13 regular townhouses, but in exchange for preserving the Heritage home, they are building 4 smaller accessible ground-oriented units in a bit of a stacked townhouse form.

We received about two dozen pieces of correspondence, mostly in favour, and we had 10 delegates speak to Council, which were a mix of supporters, opponents (mostly with concerns about the off-street parking relaxation given), and a few that liked the project except for having concerns (again, almost exclusively about the limited off-street parking).

Council voted to approve Third Reading of the Bylaws.

We then had Presentation for discussion on the Budget:

Budget 2023: Draft 2023 – 2027 Financial Plan
We have been working for some time (almost three months) on the budget, which is really two separate yet connected budgets. Our Capital Budget is $173.2 Million – that is the money we plan to spend this year on capital works, repairs and upgrades. The Operational Budget includes $301.5 Million in revenues and $235.4M in expenses – which means we are planning to spend about $66M less on operations that we collect in revenue, but that extra goes to reserves to pay for things in in that Capital Budget.

This budget as presented follows the input provided by Council in previous budget meetings, and incorporates feedback from the community. Out Utility Rates were approved in December, We went through proposed service enhancements in January and the Capital Budget in February. Every one of these budget meeting and workshops is publicly viewable on our web page, because we debate the budget in a transparent way in New West.

There was some discussion in Council about where this budget is, but I will hold that off for a follow-up blog post, because it deserves deeper discussion. In the end, Council voted to approve this budget going to Bylaws which will be read by Council in April, as they must be adopted at our April 23rd meeting. Until then, we will have will have the information available for public feedback.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 22nd Street SkyTrain Station – Amending Report
They are upgrading the safety capacity of SkyTrian stations. Some work needs to be done at night when trains are not running and the station is not full of people. Makes sense.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Columbia Street at 8th Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station)
They are upgrading the safety capacity of SkyTrian stations. Some work needs to be done at night when trains are not running and the station is not full of people. Makes sense.

Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning: 102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street – Bylaws for First and Second Reading
This project would bring 10 townhouses to a couple of lots in Glenbrook North. This requires an OCP amendment, not just a rezoning, which means it had a more intense public and First Nations consultation. The project will go to Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 1031 Quebec Street, New Westminster – Metro Vancouver Annacis Water Supply Tunnel, Fraser River Crossing
Metro Vancouver is currently boring a tunnel under the Fraser River from Surrey to New West. It will come to the (near) surface in the Lower 12th Street area. The work to build this end terminal will take a few long concrete pours, and a few of those might exceed our construction noise time periods. So Council moved to grant them an exemption.

Engineering User Fees and Rates Bylaw Amendment for Three Readings – Bylaw 8386, 2023
We moved earlier to remove the nominal charge for block parties this is the bylaw change needed to make it happen.

Rezoning and Special Development Permit (809 – 811 Carnarvon Street and 60 – 70 Eighth Street) – Preliminary Report
This is an interesting project in the “tower district” of downtown. It would achieve one of the City’s longer-term Economic Development needs: more hotel space. It is consistent with the OCP, but the residential component is taller than current allowance, so it is proposed to use our Density Bonus policy to achieve the required density (though it is taller than them it is lower density than several adjacent developments). This is a preliminary application, and there are many details to be worked out, including a significant Public Consultation process, but given that consultation be satisfactory, we are able to waive the Public Hearing as the project is consistent with the OCP, stated policy, and strategic goals of the City.

We then read some Bylaws including the following Bylaw for Adoption:

Council Procedure Bylaw Amendment Bylaw No. 8385, 2023
This bylaw that defines a mechanism to handle Notices of Motion being placed on the agenda was adopted by Council. It’s the Law of the Land.

Speaking of Notices of Motion, we had a couple of Motions from Council:

Ensuring the timely removal and replacement of dead and/or dying trees on city property
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED that staff report back regarding the resources required and staffing implications to conduct an audit of how many dead or dying trees are on city sidewalks, boulevards and adjacent to arterials that require replacement; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the report incorporate the estimated costs associated with the removal of all dead and/or dying trees on city-owned land and have them replanted prior to the April 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon approval of this resolution any tree on city-owned property which must be cut down to a stump will be removed and replanted within a 12 month period</>I
This motion made me itchy, because it is deeply operational. The question about managing dead trees was raised several times through on-boarding by the Councillor (virtually every time planting trees was mentioned. Every time staff provided a clear answer explaining the operational parameters around street tree replacement, first addressing the safety issue, then the operational cost management issue, then the issue around how some trees cannot be replaced because of what we now know as inadequate soil volume to allow then to survive longer summers. We have been told that engineering ops has acquired new equipment to facilitate the stump removal so we no longer need to rely on a contractor, and that there is a work plan that includes removing the existing stumps, but there is a backlog, as other horticulture work (maintaining living trees so they don’t join the dead, primarily) is prioritized. Asked and answered.

However, Council found a way to re-frame this motion to meet the goals of it (for example, there is no need for an “audit” when staff know and track trees living and dead) without undermining the larger goals of our Urban Forest Management Plan. I’m working form memory here, but the motion Council unanimously approved is something like (check the official minutes if you need accuracy):

BE IT RESOLVED that the report incorporate the estimated costs associated with the removal of all dead and/or dying trees on city-owned land and have them replanted prior to the April 2024; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that upon approval of this resolution any tree on city-owned property which must be cut down to a stump will be removed and replanted within a 12 month period where practical, with priority for replanting aligned with the equity principles in the Tree Planting Master Plan

Supporting Single Mothers’ Alliance Transit for Teens Campaign
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of New Westminster endorse the Single Mothers’ Alliance Transit for Teens Campaign; and the Mayor write a letter to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the Minister of Children and Family Development, and the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth to express Council’s support for extending free transit to include youth 13-18 in all transit systems in BC.

New Westminster was a leader in the #AllOnBoard campaign, that was instrumental in securing the funding from the Provincial Government to make public transit free up to the Age of 12. The goal of that campaign was (and still is) not just to make transit free to the age of 18, but to introduce a sliding-scale monthly pass system based on income to assure poverty was not a barrier to transportation freedom in public transit served areas. The previous Council did a lot of work to rally local government support and put forward a UBCM resolution that got referred. But we were bolstered by the local and regional anti-poverty and Labour activist community to convince the Provincial Government to get part way there. Many of the same groups are calling for this next step.

The TransLink Mayors Council mandate does not really allow them to introduce this, and they have no source funding to support it, which is why it was important then (and remains so now), to keep this campaign focused on the Provincial Government, as the Single Mothers Alliance are doing. So the motion above is a slight amendment to the original motion to keep it on track, but was approved by all of Council.

I am hoping to have some time to write a couple of follow-up blogs on this meeting, because I feel there was some important sub-text in the conversations that happened on this day, both in workshop and in Council meetings, that reflect poorly on the goals I had for a collaborative Council. Indeed, it was a repeat of events I talked about here, but with a sharper edge to it. And at some point, we need to start talking about this more frankly. Until then, get out and enjoy some sun.

Council – March 13, 2023

How many ways can I start a new blog post saying “we had a New West Council meeting this week”? I think I have run out of new ways. But here is what we got done, and as always, you can check the agenda here and follow along!

We started with a Development Variance Permit for approval:

DVP00708 for 231 Lawrence Street
Some lots in Queensborough are deeper than typical, which means a 30’ or 33’ lot width that might be normal in other parts of the City result in lot where less than 10% of its perimeter as frontage – one of those slightly arbitrary rules that manages lot shapes in a bigger planning context. So if they want to subdivide this property to be like the properties adjacent, they need to ask for this development variance to exempt them from the 10% rule. We received no correspondence on this, and Council moved to approve.

We then had a Special Presentation:

Year of Truth, 2023
The City is carefully walking the reconciliation path, but we are also arguably, the most Colonial city west of the Great Lakes, with a long history of displacement and marginalization of indigenous people, from our founding to the Indian Act to the Residential School System to continued injustice today. So we are embarking on an introspective journey, digging into the City’s past and present to expose more of the Truth, recognizing that it must come before Reconciliation.

Staff presented a work plan last meeting around the year ahead on Truth and Reconciliation, this week we are reading a Proclamation to officially mark this as A Year of Truth. This will, no doubt, lead to some uncomfortable discussions in our community, but the importance of us sharing the truth cannot be understated. As we are going to be sharing a path, and a common understanding will make that journey more meaningful for everyone.

We then had a few Reports for Discussion:

Extending School Zone Speed Limit Hours
Last meeting we received this report for information based on a letter sent to Council form the District Parent Advisory Council asking for extended speed limit hours around schools. A councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion this week, though we already moved a resolution last meeting that asked staff to do some work in this area, and report back with a plan forward, including costs.
This is part of a bigger piece of work around Road Safety we need to do in the community, and it is something the community is asking of us. Cllr Henderson’s previous motion will lead to a report that guides us to the best way to implement this change, and I am looking forward to seeing that work.

Outdoor Pool Extended Season Aquatics Plan
Last meeting we received this report for information, and this week a councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion. Like last year, we are extending the outdoor pool season; a move that was well received last year both in participation numbers and in the public feedback we go through our Be Heard New West on-line engagement. A more detailed survey was done to determine how people wanted to see the outdoor pool program changed or kept the same, so some adjustments will be made. Moody Park will be open from April 22 to October 1, while Hume will be open from May 20 to October 1.

Also, if you know someone interested in becoming a lifeguard, we have a cool new program to help them pay for the training! Check it out!

Transition to Provision of Recycling Services by Recycle BC
Last meeting we received this report for information, and this week a councilor asked that it be pulled forward for discussion. The City collects recycling at the curbside, and delivers it to Recycle BC. We get paid by Recycle BC to do this, to the order of $900,000 per year. But this does not cover the entire cost of recycling services, and as we had long discussions about last year, we are dealing with our contamination rate, which results in penalties, and costs us in operating the system.

This information report is clear in that it will be followed up with a more detailed report addressing these issues. As our recycling collection practice is mingled with our other solid waste collection (garbage and organics), it is not easy to parse out costs related to one specific stream, but we do need to have a deeper conversation about the role of recycling as the region is also updating its solid waste management system and the Recycle BC program is being modified in ways we aren’t quite certain about yet.

Of course, recycling isn’t climate action, as much as Reduce and Reuse are, and it is important that we recognize that distinction. I look forward to that, and to a deeper discussion in the community in how we address Recycling as one part of a larger environmental policy.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Extending Committee Appointments
We are still working on some re-organization of our committees, so we are going to extend the current structure for another couple of months.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Air Quality Permit Application from Cedar Island Forest Products Ltd (CIFP) – Update
The small sawmill/wood manufacturer in Queensborough has been operating for more than 30 years, and more than 20 years ago residential lots were approved adjacent to it, and there have been interface issues since. Recently, they applied for an Air Quality Permit from Metro Vancouver and residents raised concerns to Council. Note that the City has no authority here, air quality in the region is regulated by Metro Vancouver under a special agreement with the Ministry of Environment. Last this came to Council, I asked that we get more information and the permitting process be extended, as I did not feel the company or Metro Vancouver did enough to make the permit conditions transparent to stakeholders, especially the neighbours.

They have now provided us the Permit application. There are existing cyclone air filters to collect sawdust at the mill that have never been subject to a Metro Vancouver Air Permit, and now will be. This gives Metro the ability to regulate these emissions for the first time, and to take action on complaints.

Notwithstanding the regulation, in my mind the offence here to the residents isn’t the dust at the exhaust of the cyclone, so that is not the measure we need. If that dust falls to the ground in the mill, that’s not our problem. My concern is the impact on neighbours, and the offence happens at the fence-line of the property. We are adding in our comments a request for them to measure and manage dust at the fence-line, and are making a recommendation (as forwarded by Cllr Henderson) to add increased filtration, ion recognition that this permit is allowing the “status quo” to continue, which does not address the original concerns of the neighbours.

Amendment to Extend License to Occupy BC Hydro Lands for Pollinator Meadow
There is some green space in Connaught Heights that is under BC Hydro power lines, and the land belongs to them. Over the last couple of years the City has been working with the community to develop more of a pollinator meadow on land that we previously intermittently-maintained mowed grass. This is good for the birds and the bees and the neighbourhood. It does require us to have an agreement with the land owner, and this is that agreement.

Notice of Motion Process
We are making a few changes to our Procedure Bylaw to make things work more efficiently in our evening Council meetings. These changes were all agreed to by all of Council through a workshop we had back on February 27th. I am glad to see that we were able to come to a common understanding that some limits may be appropriate in setting up the Agenda so we can more efficiently use our Council and staff time, and that this does not represent an existential threat to democracy.

Site-Wide Liquor Licensing Program for Special Events
Many outdoor events have beer gardens, but increasingly events (like Fridays on Front) are having more of an “open license” style, where alcohol purchased on site can be consumed anywhere in the event footprint, not just in limited places. Event organizer are asking the City to allow more of this, and they are not a problem where they have been tried, so why not?

This report outlines the procedures the City will follow, based on the experience in Vancouver and other communities in BC where this has been tried. It is a bit onerous, but most of the onerous parts of the process are based on assuring the guidelines developed under the applicable BC Liquor Licensing regulations are met.

Urban Reforestation and Biodiversity Enhancement Initiative Update and Proposed Tree Planting at City Hall
We are planting trees. Lots of them. 800 new trees in New West Parks were planted in 2022, and 1,400 more will be planted in 2023. I’m not going to go through the long list of benefits of urban trees (I’ve done it before), but finding locations were we can have large stands of trees is getting harder in the City – even as we roll out more street trees. Tree canopy is better than monoculture grass fields, and staff have proposed adding about 60 trees to one of the least utilized green fields in the city: City Hall’s front lawn.

The lawn is used for Remembrance Day every year, and the plan will still accommodate that event, and the community garden will also remain. This will look a little different for the first few years, but providing access to another forest stand near Downtown and the Brow of the Hill will be transformational. This project is already budgeted (along with the rest of the aggressive tree-planting schedule above), and will draw its funds from the $1.7 Million grant we got from the federal government for specifically this purpose.

We then read some Bylaws, including adopting this one:

Housing Agreement (612 Seventh Avenue) Bylaw No. 8376 2023
This Bylaw that secures 327 market rental units and 10 below-market rental units in under-construction building project at 612 Seventh Ave was adopted by Council.

And we wrapped with two items of New Business:

East Columbia at Brunette Intersection and Roadway Improvement Plans and Implications
This report outlines the steps ahead to investigate interim and long-term changes measures to increase the safety and comfort of the stretch of East Columbia where there was a pedestrian fatality last month. As I previously mentioned, the City’s Engineering folks are already in the process of having a detailed survey of the location done, recognizing that even the installation of an interim barrier will have implications on lane geometry that will probably need approval from MOTI or TransLink, as would closing lanes or reducing speed limits. The reality is that without detailed engineering analysis, no-one is going to sign off on any changes, so we need to get this work done as quickly as possible. We will also be doing some more detailed work on long-tern solutions, but with those likely more than a year away, we would like to see interim measures in place.

The message from Council to staff is clear: don’t rush and do the wrong thing (which may make the situation less safe for all users), but be deliberate and as quick as possible in doing the right thing. That is our path.

Request to modify of the Call to Action on Creating more Equitable Municipalities motion forwarded to LMLGA and UBCM
A Resolution approved by Council to go to the Lower Mainland LGA was also approved by a few other Municipalities with slightly different language. To make this work better procedurally, the LGA is asking us all to edit our resolutions to common language so they can do it as one group resolution. That works!

With that, we wrapped another exciting evening of Council work. Back to your Spring Break!

on reserves

The discussions about municipal budgets are ongoing across the region, As it is budget time, and as the Province has decided to flip $1 Billion to local governments right in the middle of that budget period, which will lead to some interesting conversions in every muncipal hall. Some Councils will see it as a windfall to be spent on new things, some will use it for political cover for questionable decisions, some will prudently invest, others will go full populist. A real Marshmallow Test for local government.

Among the stories, this one popped out to me. PoCo is getting a reputation for artfully blending populism with prudent investment, but the bigger question about balancing reserves is something that every city neeeds to grapple with. The McElroy story caused me to dig deeper into reserve levels across the region, so I can test my preconceived notions about New Westminster’s relative financial health. As always, I want to preface this by saying it is not a competition, as every municipality has its own pressures, its own priorities and its own way to serve their populace. In comparing ourselves to our regional cohort, I want to get a sense of where we are doing better or worse to inform our priority setting while approving a budget.

I am once again leaning on the BC Government Local Government Financial Statistics, which are reported in a more-or-less consistent way every year. This is not my data, but the data provided by law to the Province by local governments every year. When it comes to Financial Assets, Reserves, and Tangible Capital Assets, all data is pulled form Schedules 301, 302, 404, and 503. Got a problem with the numbers? Take it up there.

Every City reports Financial Assets (the money in their savings and chequing accounts) and their financial liabilities (their mortgages and loans). The difference between them is reported as “net financial reserves”, which is the number McElroy was pointing to in that story above. These are the reported numbers for the 17 major Municipalities in Greater Vancouver (sorry, Belcarra) in the most recent reporting year, which is the end of 2021:

But perhaps a better way to look at it is to subtract the liabilities form the assets, so you can compare the Net Reserves:

Some things are not surprising: Vancouver has the most money, and the most debt. Burnaby has the highest net neserves, and Richmond and Coquitlam are both doing really well if money-in-the-bank is your preferred measure. Indeed, PoCo has the lowest net, with New West a little below the middle, but there is a trend following population, as you might expect, with smaller Munis over on the right, larger towards the left. So let’s calculate the net reserves per capita using 2021 Census data:

Burnaby still way up there (with $7,700 in net reserves per resident), and New Westminster shifting further over to the right (with $972 per resident). PoCo in this measure is not the lowest, but is pretty closely clustered with Surrey and the Township of Langley at under $500 per resident.

This is interesting, but does not really reflect the purpose of reserves. Part of it is to demonstrate financial health to make it easier to borrow money, but part of it is also to have sufficient cash on hand to address unexpected future costs. Mostly those costs are related to capital replacement, so it is more useful to compare your reserves to the value of your capital assets. This is the value of the roads, buildings, pipes, computers, vehicles and all of the “stuff” your City owns and operates. Schedule 503 provides these numbers as reported by the City every year. This chart shows the reserves as a percentage of the net book value of our tangible capital assets:

There needs to be a big caveat here. Though a fundamental measure of your reserves vs the value of your capital assets is a measure of financial resiliency (our finance staff have suggested 10% of the asset value is a good minimum benchmark), the denominator of the equation needs to be viewed with a certain skepticism. This is because local governments have not historically been very good at evaluating the true value of their capital assets, and that might take me down the rabbit hole of talking about asset management, which is probably another blog post on its own.

Just to create a sense of comparison, here are the net reserves per capita and relative to tangible capital assets, plotted as a scatter. Somewhere in here is a trend. I added the green dot to show the “average” for the region:

Finally, part of the conversation about reserves is the direction they are moving. Are we building them, or are we depleting them? Luckily the province provides data going back a few years in their Schedules 404. To compare across cities of varying size, I indexed the reserves value based on their 2012 value so we can see the decade-long trend. Problem is, a couple of Municipalities (Vancouver and West Van) had negative reserves in 2012, which makes it hard to compare this way, so I removed them from the data set. Suffice to say, their increase over the last decade has been proportionally much higher than all others (they would be well off the top of this chart). But for the rest of us, you can see most Munis are in building phases, and only one has fewer reseves than a decade ago:

The comparison over a decade is valuable, because reserves serve another function – they are where a City stores some money for big capital investments, like a recreation centre or a new City Hall. And when a City borrows to build a new capital asset, that downward pressure on net reserves is felt for several years. New West has been growing reserves in the last couple of years in recognition that təməsew̓txʷ and it’s $114 Million investment will have this impact on our net.

So, comparatively? New West has lower-than-average reserves by most measures, has been building them, but has a big capital investment that will put downward pressure on these reserves in the years ahead. That should inform some of our thinking about future investments in the City and our ability to make expensive promises.

This Happened (23.3)

Another necessarily-incomplete run-down of the things I have been doing that aren’t Council Meetings. It’s a little weird to try to report on everything, because my calendar is stuffed these days, and some things are more fun/interesting/relevant than others. So in no particular order, here are some things I’ve been up to. Besides randomly running into people at coffee shops and posing for selfies:

Met with Aman Singh at Mood Swing Coffee to talk Q’boro transportation, and another Q’boro denizen dropped by.

There are a series of talks and events at Douglas College under the umbrella of the “Changing the Conversation Project” which are exploring different aspects of community, housing, homelessness, and poverty. As February is Black History Month, they led a panel discussion on the Black experience in housing in the Lower Mainland, tying together the history of Hogans Alley to the Swahili Vision participation in an affordable housing project in New Westminster.

The moderator of the discussion “From Displacement to Housing Justice” was Lama Mugabo, Founding Director of Hogan’s Alley Society.

February also brought us Family Day, and there was a lot going on around New West, including an open door at the Learning Lab at the Anvil Centre. This is the hands-on offshoot of the New Media Gallery where people of all ages (yes, adults can learn to 3D print!) learn about new media video and sound, programming, electronics, robotics, and digital creativity. You should check it out.

Kids playing with Little Bits, a learning toy that does for electronics what Lego does for construction.

Some members of Council took a tour of the Fraser River Discovery Centre to see what their new initiatives are, and to learn about their vision in the years ahead.

Members of the FRDC Board and staff guide Council members though their exhibit spaces.

I went to my first wedding in something like 8 years. It was great fun (Congrats Jack and Jason!) but more personal than Mayoral, so I wouldn’t normally report out here. Except that the grooms knew enough to seat me next to a guy who I have mentioned on this blog, but never actually met before, Jens von Bergmann at Mountain Math. So it was half wedding, half geeking out on housing policy, and therefore a perfect evening!

We went to a wedding, and a housing policy discussion broke out!

You may not know that March 3rd is Bulgarian Liberation Day, marking the day in 1878 that the Treaty of San-Stefano was signed, and Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule. For the first time since COVID, this day was marked by the raising of the Bulgarian flag at Friendship gardens, an event attended by representatives of the local Bulgarian-Canadian community, the honourary Consel General, and Senator Yonah Martin, who is co-chair of the Canada-Bulgaria Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group.

The Bulgarian Flag was raised at Friendship Gardens to the sounds of Mila Rodino.

I also had a visit in the Mayor’s Office from a group of new Canadians that was organized by the Welcome Centre at NWSS. This group have been learning about Canada and New Westminster, and were able to tour City Hall to learn about how local government works. It was great to welcome them, and show them around Council Chambers and some of the curiosities of the Mayor’s office, like the Chain of Office and registry signed by the actual Queen and the King of Pop.

The Mayor’s office is a bit small for this number of visitors!

This last weekend was also busy with overlapping events. The Dancers of Damelahamid were hosting the annual Coastal Dance Festival at the Anvil Centre, and I was able to see several performances, including the group Dakhká Khwaán from Whitehorse who really (in their own words) brought the noise.

Spot the Light Sabre.

Saturday was also Hoobiyee, the Nisga’a New Year celebration. This is a big event both in the Nass Valley, and in the Lower Mainland where a large number of Nisga’a people live, and the celebration is shared with Indigenous people from around the province and beyond. This year, the festival filled the PNE forum with dancers, music, crafts, food and storytelling, and I was honoured to meet the organizers and take part in the event.

Hoobiyee 2023 at the PNE Forum

And finally, I was invited to join the head table at the New Westminster Police Department’s annual Mess Dinner – their first post-COVID. It was a great evening of speeches, memories, more than a few jokes, (“What happens when a member of the NWPD leaves to join the RCMP? The average IQ of both organizations go up!”) with a mix of camaraderie and formality that always kind of keeps you on edge.

The Head Table at the 2023 NWPD Mess Dinner

Now that curling season is almost over, and the days are getting longer, event season is rushing towards us. I hope I will have time to keep writing these summaries. Meanwhile, get out there and enjoy the events of New West. If you see me out there, be sure to say Hi. And remind me to get a photo.

On fiscal responsibility

Council has for several meetings been going through the budget. In practical terms, this means staff have been writing reports, providing long spreadsheets, and Council members have spent hours reading through those reports and spreadsheets in preparation for meetings. We have then held these meetings (mostly in Workshop format during the day, Jan 23, Jan 25, Jan 30, Feb 6, Feb 13 and Feb 27; you can watch those meetings and read those reports here) and discussed different aspects of the budget in some detail. We were able to ask questions of staff about departmental priorities, about work plan capabilities, about the policies that drive the priorities behind the budget, about where we could fit our own priorities (because we all have them), and at times went line-by-line through different operational and capital line items. These have been productive and positive conversations, and the budget has been iterated along during them.

Through it all, we now have a pretty good understanding of where the budget will land and how we are going to pay for our aggressive capital program ($166 Million in 2023!). Last meeting, we gave instruction to staff for them to prepare budget documents for Bylaws to come to our next meetings.

So, with that background for context, I need to retort to this story. Alas.

The motion that was defeated at Council arrived at the eleventh hour of that months-long budget discussion, and comprised a long list of disconnected funding items. Together they represented something like $8 Million in new spending that was not discussed in previous budget deliberations, though that number is uncertain, because the funding was requested without any actual costing, testing for viability, or understanding of the impact on work plans or the ability to deliver. It was an expensive wish list tacked onto the end of a budget, ballooning it by something like 5%, with no consideration for how this fits into any existing priorities. This is not good governance.

It was further suggested this wish list could be funded by the City’s expected grant from the Growing Communities Fund. This was based on speculation about how much money the City will get, and presumes there will not be any limitations on how this money can be used. In the meeting, staff made it clear that this was not a prudent way to plan for a senior government grant. As we were currently looking at a very aggressive ~$170 Million capital budget for 2023, one that staff have repeatedly pointed out over the last months of open discussions will challenge our debt tolerance and reserve funds, I think treating new capital funding sources as “free money” to be spent willy nilly is the least fiscally responsible idea I have heard in my time in Local Government.

This raises the question of whether, as implied in the headline, Council opposes investments in “New Sidewalks, Paved Roads And Community Festivals In New Westminster”? Of course not. The draft capital budget includes $5 Million in 2023 (more than $20 Million over 5 years) for paving roads alone. This is aside from the $11+ Million to be invested in 2023 in road and street safety improvements and $4+ Million to be invested in 2023 in pedestrian improvements (sidewalks, light signal and crosswalk upgrades, etc). We also have one of the most generous community grant programs in the Lower Mainland to support local groups running festivals and activating our streets. Every bit of that funding has been discussed and prioritized, because saying yes to more is always easy; putting all new spending into the context of tax increases, debt and reserves before you spend it is harder.

I have heard people ask us to do more. I have heard people ask us to spend less. I have not heard people asking us to be fiscally irresponsible and spend money for the sake of spending it. That is why I didn’t support the motion presented on Monday. I am happy the majority of council was equally as prudent.

As perhaps an aside (now that I am into it), there are other quotes in that piece that criticize council colleagues for not being “collaborative”. This after a meeting where there were no less than four motions brought to the floor by the author, and three of those motions were passed by a majority of Council – two of them (in my recollection) unanimously. Collaboration in my mind means working together to evaluate each other’s ideas and finding compromise and places of agreement, it does not require the capitulation to all ideas regardless of how poorly they are presented. The job of those seven people around that table is to govern, and the hardest part of governing is in setting priorities, including deciding when to say no.

I find this extra disingenuous in that these debates are framed as being partisan, with the implication that council members are acting for partisan reasons only. This implication is disrespectful to the intentions and professionalism of the council members. It also is not reflected in the voting record over the last few months. There have been many unanimous votes, there have been votes with one, two or three votes separate from the majority, because members genuinely disagreed with each other on the merits of the proposal before them. I have seen members across partisan lines working to amend motions to make them agreeable to all. As the Mayor, there are votes I have been on the losing side during this Council, but I don’t think that is a partisan conspiracy, that is members acting in good conscience and evidence of a Council responsibly doing its job.

Alas, Council responsibly doing its job and acting in good conscience does not fit the narrative being crafted by whoever is developing the Progressive media strategy. I have to have faith that the public will see through that.

Council – Feb 27, 2023

February has flown by, and as the snow was flying on February 27th, we got through a day of budget workshops and an evening of exciting Council Meeting action. As always you can enjoy the entire agenda here, or you can read my biased summary below, which I need to once again emphasize does not constitute official City communications:

We started the meeting with a Development Variance Permit:

DVP00701 for 311 Ash Street
As discussed last meeting, the owner of this building wants to add 5 new rental suites to the existing rental building by building them into the existing semi-sunk parking area. This requires a Development Variance Permit to allow for the reduction in parking. (it also requires building permits and such, but those are not purview of Council). As I live very close to this property, I have recused myself from the discussion to avoid perception of conflict of interest, so to find out what happened you will have to watch the video.

We then moved the following items On Consent:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is going to be doing some work at the 22nd Street Skytrain station to improve emergency access related to the increased number of people using the station. Some of this work has to happen at night, because it cannot happen when people are using the station. They are asking for a construction noise variance to permit this work, and we are giving them one.

Development Variance Permit: 231 Lawrence Street – Permit to Vary Lot Frontage
Some lots in Queensborough are deeper than typical, which means a 30’ lot width that might be typical in other parts of the city result in lot that has less than 10% of its perimeter as frontage – one of those rules that manages lot shapes in a bigger planning context. So if they want to subdivide this property to be like the properties adjacent, they need to ask for this development variance to exempt them from the 10% rule. This will come to our next council meeting, if you have opinions, let us know before then!

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation: 802 & 806 Eighth Street and 809 Eighth Avenue – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
The owners of these properties in Uptown want to build more missing middle – 18 stacked townhouse units, and will preserve a historic single family home as well. This project will go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then. If you have opinions, let us know!

Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8376, 2023 for 612 Seventh Avenue – Bylaw for Three Readings
The first new major development in Uptown in some time is getting ready to break ground. We have already gone through the approval process, we need now to come to terms on the Housing Agreement that guarantees the building will remain rental for 60 years or the life of the building – whichever is longer. This requires a Bylaw, and we agreed to read it.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Considerations Related to a Review of the Existing Council Code of Conduct
We introduced a Code of Conduct in New West Council at the beginning of last term, and revised it a bit last year. There is a new statutory requirement by the province to introduce one if you don’t have one, or review it if we do have one. The request here is for staff to start that work. Council made a few suggested additions, including clearer guidance on Conflict of Interest and the introduction of an external Integrity Commissioner to provide independent oversight of the process. Staff will work on this and report back.

Exception to the CDSA exemption to address illicit drug use in spaces for children and youth
The Federal Government decriminalized possession of small amounts of some drugs, They made some exceptions: You can’t carry those drugs into a school, a childcare centre, into an airplane, etc. They did not include municipal parks or playgrounds in that exception, though local government staff asked for it. On the advice of staff, we are going to submit a resolution to the UBCM asking the members to make the political ask to fix this oversight.

Project Update – təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre (TACC)
The update on təməsew̓txʷ is that we hope to have a soft launch around Family Day 2024. This is a month or two after best laid plans, but considering the massive construction industry churn, the supply chain chaos of the last two years, and the concrete strike, this is a remarkable achievement. There are still critical path activities going on, so we are not home and dry yet, but we are home and vigorously toweling ourselves off, and all indications are that we are ready to plan the next big step – hiring and training staff for a brand new and staff-intensive operation. On that topic – we are looking for Aquatics Staff for both this summer outdoor pool season, and for the new complex – if you want to come work in the biggest & bestest new pool in the region go here and apply now!

Request for Support for Family Place Relocation in Downtown New Westminster
Family Place is an important service in our community that supports vulnerable families in many ways, and creates a welcoming and supportive space for kids and parents. Their need to move locations has put them in a bit of a bind, and the City has been partnering with other organizations ot help find them an appropriate space. The uncertainty has also resulted in a short term need for some grant support to get them over the hump. I am reluctant to do this outside of our regular grant process, but there is money in the grant budget to support them here, and these are truly exceptional circumstances.

We had many Bylaws to read, including the following for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (228 seventh Street) No. 8373, 2023
This Bylaw that changes the property’s zoning to make it consistent with the current use, and enable construction of a detached accessory support building where there is currently a converted garage was Adopted by Council (I was not present for the vote because of conflict – this is right by my home)

We then had some Motions from Council, more than usual because it is the deadline for getting resolutions to the Lower Mainland LGA for further advance to UBCM, and New West always has a few ideas for those larger forums:

Improving Our Economy by Better Connecting Douglas College Students, Faculty and Staff with our Business Districts
BE IT RESOLVED that Council refer to the Economic Development Advisory Committee for discussion and action as appropriate, a collaborative “Study and Stay” campaign aimed at encouraging students, faculty and staff at Douglas College to more regularly frequent our city’s various business districts

In light of conversations we are having about the volume of notices of motion, this is an example of one that is, in my opinion, completely unnecessary to get to the goal stated. One member putting this motion forward is a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee, and did not raise this topic during the most recent meeting of the committee. The third party being discussed – Douglas College – also has a representative on that same committee. This could have been a question across a table, and if the EcDev committee thought it was an area they wanted to prioritize, they could do that Advisory Committees do – advise council. I won’t even debate whether this is a good or bad idea, that is perhaps a great conversation for the EcDev committee, but democracy is not in any way harmed if every random thought a councilor might have is tested by advisory committee or discussion with staff before it ends up on our evening agenda, where it does not have the benefit of subject matter exercise that staff and advisory committees provide. Council moved to approve this, and EcDev can look at it.

Extension of Speed Zone Enforcement Hours
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct that speed zone enforcement hours be extended and direct staff to bring a report back to Council for approval on how to implement this change including a discussion on: The length of the extension i.e. 24 hours, or 7am –10pm; Potential impacts to Neighbourhoods, Transit, and Traffic Management; Any budget Implications; and • Other concerns arising.

There was an information report provided by Council on this issue, talking about some of the potential issues and suggesting coordination with surrounding communities to achieve as much consistency as possible. With Burnaby already extending their hours, this point is well taken.

Overall, I think this is a good idea, and I hear the community asking us for this. I have always been a supporter of 30km/h on residential and pedestrian-oriented streets, and as the City continues to make the case to Province that the MVA should be changed to reflect this, we have already made this change on Greenways and a few other appropriate locations. I would support 24 hours around schools (to be consistent with the changes we have already made), but we will see what Staff recommends.

Call to Action on Creating more Equitable Municipalities
BE IT RESOLVED THAT The City of New Westminster submit the following motion to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for consideration for submission to UBCM:

Whereas systemic inequities are present in all municipalities and prevent all citizens from fully participating in civic life;
Whereas numerous municipalities across British Columbia and Canada have made progress towards becoming more equitable by committing to embed equity in all government action through the use of analytical processes for the assessment of systemic inequities (e.g., Gender-Based Analysis Plus);

Therefore be it resolved that the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) calls upon the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to provide resources and policy direction to enable municipalities to implement said processes across municipal capital investments, operations and strategic initiatives and once created urge municipalities to use the resources to make measurable progress towards dismantling systemic inequality in our communities.

This resolution was being championed by the YWCA, and is completely consistent with the work the City is trying to do in many different ways, though there are limited tools (regulatory or elsewise) to help local governments do this work. The Province of BC has Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, and a mandate to improve equity outcomes in the province, this would help them in that work. Council supported the motion. On the Lower Mainland LGA!

Providing openness and transparency regarding the personal carbon footprint of elected officials
BE IT RESOLVED that Council request our Environment and Climate Advisory Committee (ECAC) be tasked with developing a new Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form for consideration; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that once it is finalized, the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form be considered as a voluntary public annual disclosure for all members of Council and that it be completed at the same time as the financial disclosure; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form capture the estimated carbon emissions pertaining a number of key items such as:
Personal trips (planes, trains, automobiles, motorcycles); Business/Work trips (where no other low-carbon alternative option existed i.e. attendance via Zoom); Personal vehicle ownership and usage (electric, hybrid, fossil-fuel based); Home ownership types (single family home, townhome, condominium)
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form allow for members of Council to make a pledge for the coming year to personally undertake up to three new environmental activities that will help to lower their own carbon emissions; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the declaration portion of the Carbon Emission Declaration and Pledge Form be retroactive to the November 7, 2022 swearing-in of this current Council; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Council forward a copy of this motion to the leaders of the recognized political parties in the BC Legislature and our Federal Parliament asking they immediately undertake the development of a similar declaration form to capture the personal carbon footprints of our Members of the Legislative Assembly and Member of Parliament

We had a couple of delegates come and speak to this motion – prominent climate activists in the community – and watching their presentation more succinctly and elegantly outlines the fundamental flaw in this motion than anything I say, but I’ll put my two cents in anyway.

This stunt does nothing to move the needle on emission in the city, so I am not interested in city staff working on this when we have more important climate action work to do. This also sends the dangerous message that climate action is about personal sacrifice and individual actions. That was a compelling idea a decade or two ago, but in 2023 we know that avoiding the worst impacts of climate disruption will require societal change, and as elected officials, our job is to facilitate that change. Counting the plastic drinking straws one uses is a waste of time when we have a federal government is spending $20 Billion on a bitumen pipeline that will move the equivalent of 120 Billion plastic straws of fossil hydrocarbons a day.

The time of counting straws of over. The time for bold action that shifts out reliance on hydrocarbons is here.

This also bears a striking similarity to (and ultimately facilitates) the common climate denialism tactic of dismissing anyone interested in talking about climate action through a special case ad hominem. Instead of listening to their ideas when they talk about the need for massive economic shifts, these disingenuous critics hone in on the personal lifestyle of the advocate. If they are vegans living in a cave, then they are characterized as freaks out of touch with the real needs of real people living in modern society. If they are NOT vegans living in cave, they are called hypocrites. Whether it is Bob Mackin lurking in David Suzuki’s bushes during earth hour or Keenan Bexte digging through Greta Thornberg’s garbage, it’s a tired meme, meant to distract people from doing real work. And as the WOPR taught us, in a silly game like this, the only winning move is not to play.

Improving and strengthening open communication between all elected officials in New Westminster
BE IT RESOLVED that Council send an invitation to our local Member of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly and the School Board to participate in a New West Caucus to take place in 2023; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our staff work in partnership with the staff representing our MP, MLAs and School Board Trustees to develop a draft terms of reference for the New West Caucus; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a joint secretariat be established through the Office of the Mayor to assist with the coordination of establishing agendas and selecting dates for the New West Caucus

I’m not opposed to the idea, though I do question the characterization of Vancouver’s experience as a “great success”, as I can find no evidence that Sam Sullivan’s experiment at this resulted in anything more than one meeting in 2006, never to be repeated. That said, I have a great working relationship with all three senior government representatives in New West and the School Board chair. Our communications channels are always open, and I do work with them on matters of common interest. That said, managing all three schedules along with those of the 14 members of Council and School Board might be a challenge to make work. But if some sub-group of us can sit down as a larger group and share our goals of the months and years ahead, I’m happy to be the host.

Temporarily eliminating block party street occupancy permit fees to encourage increased neighbourhood connectivity
BE IT RESOLVED that to encourage more community engagement as we emerge from out of the COVID pandemic, Council amend the Engineering Fees and Rates Bylaw, 7553, 2013 to provide to eligible residents a no-charge street occupancy permit to host a ‘block party’ in their neighbourhood; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that applicants are able to host up to one no-fee block party per calendar year in 2023 and 2024 and that standard fees will apply for any additional permits; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that staff provide an update to Council regarding how the no-fee permits have impacted the number of community and street events after the first 12 months of implementation

This follows a motion from January, where Staff reported back to us that they did not see a great benefit here, as they don’t think the $39 permit fee was a deterrent to street festival organization, considering the other costs and organizational challenges. Note, we are not removing the requirement for a Permit (there are good legal liability reasons for this) only the nominal cost, which does not cover the full cost of the City supporting these events (about 30 in an average year). Council voted to support this, though I did vote in opposition, as I was compelled by the staff feedback.

Bringing Equity to Traffic Enforcement
Be it resolved that The City of New Westminster submit the following resolution to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for consideration for submission to UBCM:

Whereas the primary deterrent from exceeding speed limits or violating other road safety regulations on municipal roads in British Columbia are fines administered under the Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation; and
Whereas fixed rate fines are inequitable, disproportionately impacting people with lower incomes while applying lower deterrent value to people with higher incomes, creating a structural inequity in the application of justice;

Therefore be it resolved that the Union of British Columbia Municipalities calls upon the Provincial Government to implement a means-tested traffic fine system, similar to
Finland, Switzerland, Sweden or the UK, where fines may be calculated on the basis of the offender’s income.

This was an idea I shamelessly cribbed from Saanich Councillor Teale Phelps Bondaroff. After he failed to get support from his Council for this resolution, I asked him if I could modify it a bit and run it past my Council, as I think it is an idea we should test with the UBCM membership. And it appeals me because it speaks to several issues I care about, and issues that are addressed in our City’s policies.

Enforcement of dangerous behaviors on the road, be that running red lights, speeding, failing to yield to pedestrians, is important to our broader goals of road safety. Bringing equity to our legal system so the fine not only fits the crime, but provides a more equal incentive to safe driving practices for all members of the community, regardless of their socio-economic status. Having flat rate fines is inequitable, and the approach of indexing fines is very popular in several jurisdictions where it has been applied. Council voted to support this.

Vacant Property Tax on Commercial Properties
Be it resolved that Council support the following resolution go to the Lower Mainland LGA conference for consideration at the UBCM meeting:

Whereas the Province has adopted vacancy taxes on vacant residential properties as one tool to assure land speculation does not result in property standing fallow to the detriment of community livability and other goals; and
Whereas commercial property values are inflating province-wide, and increasingly face investment speculation resulting in similar underutilization of commercial property in many municipalities across British Columbia;

Therefore be it resolved that the Province of BC provide local governments with an option to introduce a vacant property tax applicable to commercial properties

This idea has been discussed in relation to some of the underutilized and vacant commercial properties in the City, and a recognition of their impact on the Downtown especially. Local governments in BC do not have the legal authority to charge a vacant property tax on empty lots or on commercial properties, we would need a change in provincial legislation to permit this. It would be good to have that in our toolbox, so we can discuss the best way to make it work.

It is worth noting that reps from the New West Chamber of Commerce delegated to Council and expressed support for this motion, and I have heard positive support for this from many business owners, especially in the downtown. It will be interesting to see how this discussion evolves through the Lower Mainland LGA and UBCM, now that Council unanimously supported this going forward to them.