Mixing Business

As a follow-up to my Council report from last week, there were two items I promised to circle back to, like how I circled back to the preposition at the end of that sentence.

English teachers will find that last sentence fun. Hi Mom!

The two items spoke to supporting local businesses and streetscapes. We had a report on Bill 28, and the opportunity for us to explore whether Bill 28-style property tax relief might be a useful tool for our community, and we had a motion from Councillor Nakagawa to review our development and zoning policies to better support local community-serving small businesses. Both of these linked back to some recent chatter in the community around street-level commercial spaces, with people wanting to see more experiential retail and entertainment, and less service and office, to “liven up” the street (I got through all of that without mentioning dentists once). So I want to unpack each item a bit and discuss not just what a city/council can do, but more about the varying ideas about what a city/council should do.

Bill 28 – Property Tax Relief Legislation
I have written quite a bit over the last 9 years about how property tax works (examples here, here, and here). This new legislation changes this a bit for one category of properties, allowing us to provide some short term (5 year) property tax relief for some commercial property owners.

To review, the City sets tax rates, but the tax paid on property is based on BC Assessment Value, determined by “Highest and Best Use” – not necessarily the current value of the property, but the value the property would have if the owner sought to maximize that value. The change with Bill 28 is pretty specific, limited to properties where the “Land-value ratio” greater than 0.95, which means the value of improvements on the land (the existing building) is less than 5% of the total assessed value of the property. Where it is flexible is in how the local government can apply tax relief, and how much.

Some folks would suggest any tax relief for business is good, but we need to be clear this tool provides us a potential tax shift – giving one type of taxpayer some relief transfers that taxation to other taxpayers – not an overall decrease in the revenue on the part of the City. We are taking a more cautious approach here, because not only are there more devils in details, there are likely perverse incentives in there as well.

There is a general feeling that high lease rates and tax rates make it harder from small neighbourhood-serving business to set up shop, and that is surely a factor. The diversity of business types on Twelfth Street is almost certainly a product of low per-foot lease rates. So one part of the thinking here is that if the lease cost (including taxes) was lower, we would more likely get smaller, more diverse, and more interesting business types setting up. Instead of dentists (there, I said it).

One potential challenge with the Bill 28 approach is the recognition that property owners pay taxes, not business owners. Sometimes a business also owns the property they operate out of, but for most small neighbourhood businesses in New West a lease is paid to a landlord. It is the common practice for the landlord to pass the property tax bill directly to the tenant (through “triple net leases”), but there is nothing in Bill 28 or elsewhere that forces a landlord to pass any tax relief savings down to the small business person, so a tax incentive may not get to the small business types we are trying to support, and might actually make the situation worse for the business owner, but better for the Landlord. It may also be a disincentive to upgrading, repair, or improvement of marginal buildings, reducing the attractiveness and safety of commercial spaces.

The City of Vancouver is the only City that has taken on a Bill 28 approach, and we are going to hope to learn from their example as staff bring some data and analysis back to council to see if this approach can be made to help. It may be a useful tool, if we can wield it creatively enough.

Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
This motion from Councillor Nakagawa was a bit more all-encompassing, and completely within our jurisdiction. It was asking that the City “review and refresh current policies relating to ground level retail” and “develop policy to ensure that future ground level retail spaces in new development are built to prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations in alignment with the retail strategy.”

When people ask what Council can do to assure a (insert type of business you want to see) opens in a specific location instead of a (insert type of business you don’t want to see), I often retort with the question: are you sure you want to give me the power to do that?  Council has some power to restrict different business types through zoning, but do you really want 7 elected people picking and choosing the businesses in your downtown? Are we the wisest ones to choose this, or is this somewhere we need to ask “the market” to address? Clearly there is a huge spectrum between completely hands-off and being so prescriptive that we end up with streets full of unleased spaces because Council of the day fails to understand the market. Personally, I would love to see a small hardware store downtown. But we had one for a few years, and it was really great, but it was not supported enough to stay open and now you can buy discount shoes in that spot. The reasons for that specific store closing may be complex and global (as they were part of a nation-wide chain that changed its focus and has now closing many Big Box offerings across Canada as well). The City saying “only hardware stores here” would not change those global forces, and we would likely have an empty space in its place, and angry landlord, and a decaying business district. That said, we do exercise limited powers to restrict uses like cannabis or liquor stores (for example) to address perceived or suspected risks.

Nothing against dentists, but mine is Uptown and on the second floor, which is probably a better space for the kind of use that doesn’t really “activate” the street or lead to good walking-around experiences. One thing we can all agree is that a street is more fun to live near and shop on if we have a variety of interesting retail and service experiences along it. As part of our Council Strategic Priority Plan, we talked about supporting a people-centered economy, supporting retail areas that address the needs of the local community.

When Starbucks made a global decision to close thousands of stores including Columbia and 6th, people lamented this loss. Since that time, three new coffee shops have opened downtown, and the old Starbucks location is a popular Italian deli. There are literally dozens of businesses Downtown that were not there at the beginning of the Pandemic, and there is not a lot of lease vacancy. By many measures, the business environment Downtown is pretty healthy. Still, the community is engaged in a conversation about retail mix, though it’s not clear how the community wants to get there.

There are two policy areas inherent in this motion we can look at. We can look at how we approve new street-facing spaces in new mixed use developments like 618 Carnarvon, where a brand new dentist office is opening in a space where folks might have wanted to see a coffee shop, or boutique, or other more experiential use. The other is to look at policies that rezone existing spaces to limit the variety of uses possible when businesses turn over, much like we do with liquor stores. To traditional businesses this sounds like a lot of “red tape”, and may result in an incredibly complex zoning bylaw that makes it harder for any business to find the right space. One can imagine this resulting in any new and innovative business types wanting to set up in town having to come to Council to ask permission, because their specific type that doesn’t fit the Bylaw. We went down that path with a video-game arcade that wanted to serve alcohol – and it was a massive pain in the ass for staff, a difficult challenge for the business owner who felt unsupported, and left everyone feeling soured. And that was for a business idea that that everyone on Council liked!

There is a guy I have had lunch with (Hi John!) who suggests the City should simply open more restaurants downtown. I don’t think it is that simple, because I don’t know what the role of the City is in doing that. Restaurants are permitted in almost every business storefont on Columbia Street, there are no rules or regulations preventing them from opening now. At the same time, we cannot force the landlord to kick out the current tenant and put in a restaurant. Reducing taxes of set-up costs will not have any positive effect on a restaurant business model that it doesn’t equally have on a nail salon or dog grooming business model. Further, we are limited by Section 25 of the Community Charter (the part that says it is illegal for a City to “provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business”) from directly incenting a specific business owner to do a specific thing. We could, I guess, buy up the land and start leasing it to the business types and business owners we like, but I’m not sure that is the best role of a City government.

All this to say, there is an interesting bit of policy work we can do here, but we are also limited in our powers by legislation and common sense. This also speaks to and augments existing work we are doing around the recently-adopted Retail Strategy.

Council – April 8, 2024

Back at it after Spring Break and Easter and all of those things, we had a full agenda on Monday, but got through it pretty quickly, partly because we got through this many things On Consent:

Active Rehabilitation Lease Agreement at 65 E. Sixth Avenue (təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre)
Part of the new TACC is a lease space for a commercial physiotherapy business. This is not uncommon in community recreation centres, drives a bit of revenue for the City, and provides a service for the community. The City is regulated in its interactions with private business, so we did a public call for proposals, and staff selected a successful lessee for the spot. This is the real estate agreement, with rates aligned with industry (and a little bit higher than we anticipated in the early part of the term, indicating we had a motivated lessee), and the tenant paying for fitting out of the site. This is a 5 year lease with an option to extend for a second 5 year term. Getting excited about getting this place open!

Appointment of Corporate Officer
The Corporate Officer is a legislated position in the City that has some very strictly defined legal authorities. Our previous CO was “scooped” by another local government last year, and we spent some time doing a proper regional search during which time we had a couple of experienced Interim COs to cover off. We are now appointing a new CO with significant experience that we “scooped” form another local government, as is the nature of the industry right now. So you will note a new person sitting to my right during Council Meetings, and helping guide me through Roberts Rules and the Procedures Bylaw, along with doing many statutory duties that fall on the CO. Welcome, Hanieh!

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 230 Keary Street
The last building at the Brewery District is a hole in the ground, and they are going to put a tower in, which for traffic disturbance reasons is better to happen on the weekend in this location, which requires a Construction Noise Bylaw exemption.

Crises Response Pilot Project Update
This is an update on the implementation of the Crisis Response Pilot Project. I don’t need to delve too deep into what this is, you can read about when we approved it here, and get more details on the City website here. Staff are also doing outreach to the Downtown Residents Association and the downtown businesses about this, and I have had a few very good meetings of late with downtown businesses about their experiences, and ways we can assure this response makes visible change to their situation. The big take-away is that the community supports this approach and this work. I am still chagrinned that some on Council would rather make political hay about the challenges facing downtown businesses instead of voting to support the work to address these challenges, but that’s the situation we are in.

Part of the commitment we made to the community is to report out on this pilot on a regular basis, and this is that report. As this program is just being launched (we had to approve budget, then do some hiring and training to set the program up, so it will not be fully implemented until the summer) so this is more a report about the progress on setting up than on the results. We are also receiving great support from Fraser Health and other partner agencies. More to come!

Metro 2050 Amendment Application: City of Maple Ridge
This is inside baseball, but a Type 2 Amendment of the Regional Growth Strategy requires consent from the member municipalities of Metro Vancouver. This is a change in the configuration (usually an expansion) of the Urban Containment Boundary, a planning tool designed to limit sprawl into greenfields and ecological lands, and to concentrate growth in higher density for a variety of good regional planning reasons. Maple Ridge is asking to reconfigure the boundary in an area called Yennadon Lands (which to people like me only vaguely aware of Maple Ridge geography, falls under the category of “out there by the Black Sheep Pub”). This would move the UCB line, add about 18 hectares to job-generating land use (light industrial) where it is currently rural residential, and permanently protect 7.4 Hectares of ecologically sensitive land which is currently designated rural residential.

I serve on the Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee, and we had a good review of this proposal, and approved it going to consultation, and Metro Vancouver planning staff see this as an acceptable tradeoff. Therefore Metro is asking New West (and the other municipalities) to comment, and Council agrees unanimously that we don’t oppose.

Parcel Tax Roll Review Panel
This is one of those procedural things we do that almost fall under the category of ritual as the self-defined areas of the BIAs in the City are approved by Council so that the BIA levies can be assessed and we can collect money from the businesses to fund the BIAs. Here we appoint the panel (ourselves), next we sign the review.

Zoning Bylaw Text Amendment: 812 Twentieth Street – Bylaw for Three Readings
The property owner of a commercial building on 20th Street wants to shift to a liquor store. Our zoning bylaw only permits this use adjacent to a Liquor Primary location, and that is not the case here, so a zoning Amendment is required. They need a provincial Liquor Retail license, which they plan to relocate here from the Interior of BC because the Province hasn’t been handing out new licenses since the 1990s. Council agreed to give this Three Readings.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion.

2023 Filming Activity and Proposed Updates to Filming Policies and Procedures
New Westminster hosts a fair amount of filming for TV and movies. This drives a bit of revenue for the City (almost $300k in permits with about $50k surplus in 2023), and a bit of income for residents and businesses that host filming on their property. There are also hundreds of New West residents who work in the film industry. Tough the Hollywood Strikes of last year put a dent in this activity after a peak in 2022, it is back in force this year.

Staff are suggesting some minor changes in our procedures and Bylaws around filming to align better with regional and industry standards, mostly around special effects and safety.

Bill 28 – Property Tax Relief Legislation
This is an interesting development. The City sets tax rates, but the tax paid on property is based on BC Assessment Value, determined by “Highest and Best Use” – not necessarily the current value of the property, but the value the property would have if the owner sought to maximize its value. This could be thought of as an incentive for property owners to maximize their property value, or conversely to not let property value degrade. That said, there is a bit of a disconnect in commercial properties, as the owner of the property doesn’t necessarily pay the property tax, but passes it on to the lessee through a Triple Net Lease. The Province brought in Bill 28 which allowed Municipalities to direct property tax relief to commercial properties that see a large increase in value due to “development potential” for up to 5 years. I will write up a follow-up on this, but we are going to get staff to investigate if this approach is helpful for New West.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 78 Jamieson Court (Metro Vancouver Glenbrook CSO Gate Replacement)
Metro Vancouver will be doing some important sewer maintenance work near the top of Glenbrook Ravine this summer. This application is for a Construction Noise exemption (granted) but the bigger story buried in here is that the top access to the Ravine will be closed for much of the summer. This will be pretty disappointing for much of the neighbourhood, as it is a valuable public space for residents. The City asked Metro Vancouver to do more analysis last year to see if this work could be done safely while maintaining access to the trail, or if an alternate trail could be built, but we were not able to engineer an acceptable solution. So closure is the only responsible path. Council approved this, but also asked to assure that Metro Vancouver let people know this was coming through appropriate signage prior to the work proceeding.

We then did some Bylaw Reading, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No.8429, 2024 and Housing Agreement Bylaw No. 8434, 2024 (145-209 East Columbia Street)
These Bylaws to permit 6-storey building with at-grade commercial, second-story office use, and 99 secured market rental housing units was adopted by Council. New PBR for Sapperton!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (1032 and 1036 St. Andrews Street) No. 8402, 2023
The Bylaw that rezones this assembly for a 12-unit townhouse development was adopted by Council. More Missing Middle for the West End!

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Miscellaneous Amendments) No.8436, 2024
This Bylaw that made a few “housekeeping” changes to language of our zoning bylaw to correct administrative errors, remove redundancy, and such was approved by Council.

We then had a single Motion from Council:

Ensuring that ground level retail spaces in new developments prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations
Submitted by Councillor Nakagawa

Whereas the City of New Westminster has developed a retail strategy; and
Whereas community-serving businesses are essential for meeting our climate goals
Therefore be it resolved that the City review and refresh current policies relating to ground level retail to ensure that they are responsive to current market forces; and
That the City develop a policy to ensure that future ground level retail spaces in new development are built to prioritize community-supporting businesses and organizations in alignment with the retail strategy.

There is some chatter in the community around, and I cannot simplify this more: “why do we have so many dentist offices”? Lack of water fluoridation aside, there are complex economics around how service retail operates in the community, and it doesn’t seem the situation now is delivering the kind of streetscape uses that the community wants. I’ll write a longer post about this after, but for now, I’ll just say that there are two discussions to have: what can the city/council do about it, and what should the city/council do about it? This motion, which was endorsed by Council (though not unanimously, which is notable for notable reasons), will allow staff to guide us into those conservations and hopefully develop some useful policies.

And one late addition of New Business to the Agenda:

88 Tenth Street (Columbia Square)
Council read and approved the following resolution:

That Council direct staff to work with the applicant for 88 Tenth Street (Columbia Square) to
a) Revise their proposal for the 7.2acre site, as outlined in the Council Report of June 12, 2023, to include 20% secured market rental, a non-profit childcare, and 0% affordable rental units or related land dedication, in exchange for which the future density bonus charge would apply across the entire site, generally consistent with the City’s Interim Development Application Review Framework, and which Council could use to fund future affordable housing development in the City; and
b) Prepare a basic zoning bylaw to authorize that revised proposal for consideration of Council within 2024, and which secures requirements to complete a master planning process prior to construction.

There is quite a bit to unpack here, and if you love the details, you should look at our June 12, 2023 Workshop Agenda available here. or even watch the video there, and see what the proposal for Columbia Square was wat that time. There has obviously been some work since then, and the landscape has shifted a bit with the new Provincial housing regulation that both provides certain density by right at Transit Oriented Areas (which clearly applies to this site, being within 400m of New West SkyTrain Station) along with other restrictions on how cities charge development for amenities and other costs.

Though we have only seen a preliminary application, and will have to consider rezoning once more work has occurred and zoning bylaws are developed, we are sending a signal about expectations around major amenity contributions. I don’t want to go too deep into this, as there will be details worked out as we move forward and I don’t want to pre-empt or fetter the rezoning conversation, but this clearly falls short of our Inclusionary Zoning policy when it comes to Affordable Housing, though time will tell how we can leverage affordable housing development out of the density bonus structure. A few on Council were not happy with that approach, and (though I should not speak on their behalf, so this is only my read) felt we should be getting more commitment for affordable housing out of this site.

All that to say, much more to come here, and I look forward to seeing how this moves forward.

With that, and perhaps the worst rendering of Happy Birthday ever committed to tape for one of our members, we were done for the night.

Budget 2024 – Enhancements

The 2024-2028 5 year Financial Plan was formally adopted by Council on March 11. This is the last step of the annual budget process for Council, though Staff have a lot of work to do yet in submitting documents to the province and getting those tax notices out.

I have written about different parts of the budget here: Operations, Capital, and Utilities. But the news story on the budget usually get boiled down to one number, the annual tax increase. This year’s number is higher than we are used to (though not anything near a “record” increase, as offered a few times by those who dabble in misinformation) at 7.7%. This puts us firmly in the middle of regional tax increases announced so far, which range from 4.5% in Burnaby to 10% in Langley, though the final number in Surrey has yet to be announced, but will likely exceed Langley’s.

The reasons for these higher increases everywhere are essentially the same – inflation and wage increases related to new collective agreements across the region with CUPE, Police and Fire unions, themselves being pressured upward to match regional inflation and housing costs. The biggest differences within the region are related to varying levels of service enhancements, from Surrey needing to invest in a new Police service to New Westminster needing to staff up a new $114M recreation centre. So this post I’m going to break down the increase in New West, hopefully answering a bit of what are you buying for your extra $300 this year (if you own a $1.6M house), or extra $125 if you live in the “typical” $640,000 apartment.

Again, the best way for you to dig into these numbers, if you are so inclined is to go to the January 22 Council workshop where we discussed this after giving staff some direction during the December 11 workshop, where staff proposed a 6.8% tax increase, and Council brought requests for enhancements that pushed this up by almost 1%.

“Enhancements” is one of those jargon words we use in municipal budgeting, and to talk about it is to talk about how staff approach annual budgeting. The first step is to look at everything we did last year, and hang a baseline on that. They then go through and find “efficiencies” (things we don’t need to do anymore, or cost us less to do now than they used to), and inflation/salary increases and calculate a new baseline based on those. They then look at the many, many things that Council or the Public has asked them to do beyond what they did last year. These are “enhancements” – things we didn’t do last year, but the community has asked us to offer or we need to do now because of functional or legislative changes. Staff determine what they can practically deliver, and propose what enhancements Council might consider for the coming year. Depending on the city, these are offered as service level measures, or a job positions for the people expected to deliver the job. In New West we generally do the latter, and there are strengths and weaknesses of each approach, but I’ve already gone too far down this rabbit hole.

A reasonable question I hear often is “with all these new buildings, how come my taxes still go up?” If we compare the revenue side of the 2024 Operational Budget to 2023 (the numbers are in thousands):

we see that we are planning to collect 8.7% more tax revenue than last year, or an extra $9 million. The 7.7% tax increase provides about 89%, or $8 million of this, while little more than 11% or $1 million in new tax revenue will come from charging taxes to property that didn’t exist last year – directly from growth. But remember a large portion of those other revenue sources are from things new growth pays for: building permit revenue, amenity charges and such. Look at the Sale of Services line, which is anticipated to go up by $4.4 million. Part of this is the opening of TACC, but also through increased service delivery across the City we draw more revenue from more people.

These two lines combine for ~$13 million in increased revenue. This aligns (not perfectly, but there are complicated reasons for this) with the “Proposed to Fund from Tax and Other Revenue” column at the end of the table that provides the long list of enhancements proposed for 2024 that you can see starting on page 53 of this report. This table (with a bunch of caveats) is the detailed answer to “what you are buying with the 2024 tax (and sale of service) increase?” So I am going to break the $13 million from that table down to categories to give an order-of-magnitude answer. There are lots of ways to break these down, and much overlap between each, so here come the pies.First off, two-thirds of this increase is fixed cost increases, increased costs to deliver the same services we provided in the previous year and things that we are legally or contractually obligated to pay for. About 21% are “discretionary” increases recommended by staff, things we are not legally committed to, but are required to keep service commitments we made to the community. The last 12% are things Council has directed to staff that we want to see happen in the upcoming year. Each of those three can be broken down further:

On the fixed increases, the largest part of the pie is $7.2 million in annual salary increases and increases related to the new collective agreements signed with our CUPE, Fire, and Police unions. This big piece of the biggest pie represents more than half the cost increase this year. The “new staff” section here is mostly new Emergency Management Office and Fire Prevention staff required due to new provincial regulations. The biggest fixed cost increases outside of this are an extra half a million for eCOMM (the service that provides 911 service and emergency dispatch for the region) and a big increase in insurance rates (something many in the community will recognize in their own lives).

The “discretionary” increases are dominated by the opening of təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, which speaks a lot about how discretionary much of this actually is. These are the costs (above and beyond what it cost to run the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre) related to opening a much larger building with many more programs. I divided it up here into annual increased staff cost (about a dozen new people between regular and auxiliary) and stuff cost (increased supply, utility, equipment, and such cost). In theory, we could open the new pool without staffing and equipping it up fully, but that is probably not a good idea. There are also two new firefighters, a new HR staff position in Police, some increased Parks staff to run programs and care for trees, and some Admin folks in HR, IT, Finance, along with a new Director position to support our re-organization of Community Services into its own department.

The Council-driven increases are things Council directed to be added to the base budget, mostly in that December workshop. Most of this is in Public Safety, with increased Fire Department staff and new staff for front-line Police to address backfill (that is, we are not increasing the compliment of sworn officers, we are hiring more to provide better coverage for vacancies, sick and parental leave, etc.). Our new Code of Conduct requires budget for an Ethics commissioner, we are augmenting some staff positions to support youth and seniors programming, and the Massey Theatre utility costs are higher than anticipated.

So overall, 54% of the increase this year is related directly to salary inflation, which was high last year (~5%) because new collective agreements included backpay to the expiration of the previous agreement a year before. The other 46% of the increase this year can be broken down like this, which is probably the simplest answer to that first question “What did I but with my tax increase this year?” if you don’t want to read that multi-page spreadsheet I linked to above.

Council – March 11, 2024

We had a pretty light agenda on Monday, and even with a good collection of public delegations we had a fairly short night by recent standards. Not that it wasn’t packed with quality content!

We started with approving the following items On Consent:

City of New Westminster and Fraser Health Authority Second Responder Program (Post-opioid overdose follow-up program)
This is yet another example of New Westminster leading from the front. This innovative program in partnership with Fraser Health will allow our First Responders to do more than just help a person survive an overdose, but to follow up with them and find out if they are OK, and whether this is the right time for them to seek help so they don’t OD again.

New Westminster has a robust Victims Services program. People who are victims of crime or survivors of a traumatic event are connected with Victim Services to assure they have the supports they need to recover from trauma. As someone who once got the phone call after I was the witness and first aid responder to a traumatic traffic incident a couple of years ago, I remember not being able to sleep that night, and getting the phone call the next day from Victim Services just asking “Hey, that was bad. Are you feeling OK?” meant something. It let me reflect on whether I was OK (I have a great support network!), reminded me that it was OK if I wasn’t OK, and assured me there were people who could help if I needed it.

Being brought back from an overdose is a traumatic event. There is a time in the days after for self-reflection, but right now there are not a lot of clear paths from being resuscitated to connection to services that might prevent future overdoses. This may provide a new path, and may help save lives. Fraser Health and the Public Safety Division of NWFR have worked out a data sharing and partnership agreement to try this pilot out, and will be reporting out on results,

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 32 Eighth Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station) and 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is doing work on both “outdoor” Expo Line stations to increase capacity and safety, and much of this work cannot happen when the trains are running for safety reasons. So we are granting a Construction Noise Exemption. TransLink will be responsible for informing the neighbourhood ahead of time.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 2126 Seventh Avenue (22nd Street SkyTrain Station)
TransLink is also going to paint the 22nd Street Station, and this cannot happen when the trains are running for safety reasons. So we are granting a Construction Noise Exemption.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Valve Replacements (660 East Columbia Street)
Metro Vancouver needs to do some water valve replacements on East Columbia by the entrance to Lower Hume. This requires isolation of a part of the water network, and one happens to be coming up to connect the TransLink property on the Coquitlam side to the main, so two bird one stone means sensitive timing, which means they need a Construction Noise Exemption.

Memo re: Bylaw Number Correction
We made a clerical error in numbering a Bylaw. We are fixing this. Heads up in case you followed the wrong bylaw by mistake.

We then adopted the following Bylaws:

Development Cost Charges Amendment Bylaw No. 8444, 2024
This Bylaw that makes an inflationary adjustment to what we change for Development Cost Charges was adopted by Council.

Five-Year Financial Plan (2024-2028) Bylaw No. 8442, 2024
This is the final adoption of our annual budget. I have been writing posts outlining the various parts of the budget: the general fund, how we manage utilities, and the capital plan. One more to come! Watch this space!

Then we had three Motions form Council:

Supporting childcare development across the City
Submitted by Councillor Henderson

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster recognizes a shortage in childcare spaces across the region and is committed to supporting the development of additional local childcare spaces; and
WHEREAS the City will be updating current residential zoning bylaws as part of the work to reflect the Small-Scale Multi-Unit Housing Provincial legislation;
BE IT RESOLVED that staff explore opportunities to amend the City’s current zoning bylaws to increase the allowable maximum of childcare spaces in residential areas.

There have been a couple of recent regional news stories about Zoning and Childcare. In PoCo a vitally needed childcare ran into a hiccup at rezoning that took a bit of work to fix. In Delta, they brought in a sweeping change to their residential zoning to allow home-based childcare (up to 8 children) in all residential zones, which is something New Westminster already permits.

Considering some significant changes are coming with new Provincial regulations, and childcare spaces are still a pressing need in our community as we have become a community of choice for young families, it is a good time to ask if there are way for us to remove obstacles to setting up more childcares across the City. This motion is preliminary, asking staff to do the work to determine what is viable given our staff capacity constraints and the pretty strict provincial regulations around childcare capacity, but I look forward to hearing back from staff. Council moved to approve this.

Closing possible loopholes in BC’s Elections Act as they pertain to municipal elections
Submitted by Councillors Fontaine and Minhas

Whereas to ensure a level playing field the Government of BC banned municipal candidates and elector organizations from accepting any direct financial donations from corporations, unions and non-for-profit entities; and
Whereas the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act continues to allow corporations, unions and not-for-profit entities to actively spend unlimited funds and reallocate internal resources to promote a particular municipal candidate and/or elector organization with their members or staff without any requirements for open and transparent public reporting
BE IT RESOLVED THAT a letter be drafted to the BC Minister of Municipal Affairs requesting that the following changes be made to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act in time for the 2026 municipal election;
a. Any corporation, labour union or not-for-profit entity actively utilizing internal resources to promote an individual candidate or municipal elector organization within six months prior to the municipal election is required to publicly record and report to Elections BC the total funds expended;
b. Public reporting by the respective corporation, labour union or not-for-profit entity would include items such as the estimated use of staff time, overhead costs and marketing/promotion activities including those accessible to the broader public through social media;
c. A maximum of $500 of resources can be expended by a corporation, labour union or BC-based not-for-profit for the purposes of promoting municipal candidates or elector organizations in British Columbia with their members or staff during an election year;
d. Corporations, labour unions and not-for-profit entities are banned from pooling their resources so as to
effectively increase the maximum limit they can utilize to promote and market a municipal candidate or an elector organization
e. Only BC-based corporations, labour unions and not-for profit entities are permitted to undertake the election related activities listed above with all non-BC-based entities strictly prohibited from actively promoting a municipal candidate or elector organization
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT a copy of this motion be distributed to the Union of BC Municipalities and the Lower Mainland Local Government Association for their information

This motion got a rougher ride. There were a few attempts to amend it, but it was challenged by it being both vague in its intent but queerly prescriptive in its affect. That said, no matter how it is diced up, it seems to be asking the Province to change legislation in a way that would almost certainly face a challenge under the Charter of Rights.

To be clear, the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act already requires organizations who want to promote candidates or issues in local elections to register as Third Party Sponsors and report spending they do in support of promotion during elections. To claim otherwise is a falsehood. But this motion goes much further, in that is seeks to limit how any organization speaks to its own members about elections, and by extension about advocacy issues important to their members. This is not just a chill on free expression (protected undersection 2b of the Charter) but a chill on the fundamental right to organize, which is not only protected under Section 2d, but is a foundation of our democracy. I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but on the face of it, this motion would seem to challenge those protections in a way that is fundamentally undemocratic.

We can infer what legislation like proposed would mean for groups in our community. Would HUB need to register and track staff time spent talking to their own members about how candidates responded to the survey on active transportation issues? Would an LGBTQ or Trans Rights advocacy group being restricted from communicating to their own members their preference for an ally candidate over a bigoted one? Would a candidate who was running for office and happened to own a restaurant be able to hand a staff member a campaign pin without registering that transaction? Besides the policing challenge, the implications set up some pretty absurd scenarios where speech is curtailed during elections.

With turnout less than 30% during the last general election, we need measures that encourage more participation in democracy, not less. And we certainly don’t need legislation that restricts democratic association and expression protected in a free society. Council did not support this motion.

Participating in the Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Program
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas Active Transportation and the safety of vulnerable road users are priorities for New Westminster; and
Whereas the Walkers Caucus, HUB New Westminster, and the New Westminster community have expressed concerns around user group conflict between pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and eMicromobility users as we work to build out our Active Transportation Network Plan; and
Whereas the City’s E-Mobility strategy includes actions to incorporate eMicromobility into City planning and outreach and to advance supportive eMicromobility policy; and
Whereas the Province of British Columbia has extended the Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Project for up to four more years and is inviting new communities to join the program with updated terms;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council direct staff to evaluate the opportunity for the City of New Westminster to join the Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Pilot Program, and report back to Council with a recommendation on participation.

The Province has extended its kick scooter program, where they are asking cities to evaluate bylaws that permit the use of new mobility devices. This motion is asking for us to evaluate joining the program, as it will take a bit of staff time to write and integrate some appropriate Bylaws, it’s best if we ask staff to report back on the resources and opportunity.

And that ended the Council work for the week, though we also had a poem and other fun in Public Delegation, which you can see on video if that’s your wont.

Budget 2024 – Capital Plan

The fun part of the annual budget is the capital budget, because this is the part that pays for the things that we need to have a functional and fun city.

Like the rest of the budget, our Capital Plan spending is estimated out over 5 years. We have a plan for the amount we will spend in 2024, and a plan for the entire 2024-2028 period. There is a bit of flexibility built into this, and it is necessarily front-loaded. This is because staff cannot start the procurement process for capital goods and works until it is approved by Council, but commonly the time period between getting the approval, going to procurement, buying or building the thing, and paying the invoice takes more than one year. This means that every year a large number of things planned for year 1 actually get done in year 2, or maybe year 3, so the budget line item “carries over” to those years.

Here is the briefest breakdown of our 2024-2028 capital plan (the full plan, in all its 3 page 133-line spreadsheet form can be seen starting on page 212 of this report. The longer plan, in its 33-page 433-line spreadsheet glory can be seen in this council report from January):

Note we are currently putting the final touches on təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic and Community Centre, the single biggest capital investment the City has ever made, and it is not represented in these numbers. We still plan to spend up to $152 Million on buildings, roads, pipes, and equipment this year. We will almost certainly spend less, due to the “carry over” effect described above. In my pervious post I wrote about the utility investments (sewer separation, accelerated water upgrades, advanced meter infrastructure for electrical, etc.), so I will use this space to talk about some of the highlights from the General Fund.

Massey Theatre ($19 million)
When the Massey Theatre was no longer part of the School District’s plans for a new NWSS, there was no way they could justify taking money from education programs to cover its ongoing operation and upkeep costs, so decided it had to be demolished. Driven by community demand, the City Council at the time decided to take on the theatre and protect it for future generations. At the time, an engineer report suggested it would cost $18 Million to bring the theatre up to a condition where it will last generations. Those costs are now coming due. The City is currently investing in essential repairs and upgrades to keep the building safe and address some envelope issues, and to do some internal upgrades to improve accessibility and functionality. This is not the end of the work, but the beginning.

Pavement Management ($4.15 M in 2024, $19.4 million over 5 years)
Roads are expensive to maintain. When I was first elected to Council in 2014, we spent about $2.5 Million on “pavement management”. Even this was an improvement over the $1.5 Million we spent only 5 years before. This amount has ramped up significantly over the last few years, and we are now looking at $4 Million a year on average. Note, we have not added to the number of roads, nor is there a significant increase the number of cars (though cars have gotten heavier). This increase is partly due to inflation, and partly due to us ramping up our work to get caught up and improve the overall condition. Yes, we are doing a lot of different things in the City, but rest assured New Westminster is spending more than ever before on fixing the potholes.

Sidewalks ($690K in 2024, $4.95M over 5 years)
Between replacement of sidewalks and our enhanced new sidewalk program to fill gaps and make accessibility improvements, we are investing almost $5 million in sidewalks in this plan. This does not include the $1.4 million in pedestrian crossing improvements or special projects like the $2.2 million improvements to the McInnes Overpass.

Rail crossing Upgrades ($3.6 Million)
We have money in the budget for the upgrades that will lead to whistle cessation, with Sapperton being the priority area and safety improvements in Queensborough.

Street Light improvements ($2.4 million in 2024, $4.6 million over 5 years)
Street lights are an important part of building a safe active transportation system. As we upgrade and move to LED technology, the operational cost will go down, but a significant investment is needed to upgrade aging standards, especially in the Massey Victory Height neighbourhood.

Artificial Turf Fields ($3.2 million)
Yes, we are building a new artificial turf field, once we do the Parks and Recreation Comprehensive Plan and work with community to determine the best location. We are also replacing the end-of-life turf at the Queens Park all-weather field.

QP Farm upgrades ($500k)
This project will see amendment of existing structures to facilitate new year-round community programs including retrofit of the long narrow building with new plumbing and electrical, and both gazebo structures, new picnic tables, small huts, a new wetland area and drainage infrastructure, food trees, pollinator meadow, and more. The result will be a refreshed public space for education programs around food systems, youth programming, and fun space for kids. There might even be a mushroom wall included.

Trees ($1.2 million in 2024, $2.9 million over 5 years)
We are planting a lot of trees in New West as part of our Urban Forest Management Strategy, and have been successful at getting millions of dollars from senior governments to support this program. This means more street trees, with a new emphasis on Queensborough, and a few big projects like the front lawn of City Hall.

These highlights only make up 20% of our capital plan, there is a lot there in supporting affordable housing, IT upgrades, measures to implement our community and corporate climate plans, equipment upgrades for Fire and Rescue, and boring things like backhoes and sand spreaders and roof repairs. These are investments in the things that keep a city operating.

Budget 2024 – Utilities

This is the second in a series of posts about the 2024 Budget. I wrote recently about the general operating fund, and now am diving in to the utility funds.

The City of New Westminster has four utility funds. The financing of utilities are regulated by the Province and Public Service Accounting Board standards. As such, the money you pay in utility fees for your water, sewer, trash, and electricity are not “taxes” that feed general revenues, but can only be used to finance and run the utility. They must be accounted separately than general operational funds of the City and general taxation.

The Electrical Utility makes us different than other municipalities in the Lower Mainland (though there are municipal electrical utilities in Nelson, Kelowna, and a few other small communities in BC). That utility also has the unique feature that it pays a dividend to the City (it makes a profit), and because it is generally counted along with other utilities in comparisons between New West and other cities, it is also the source of some tired misinformation about our comparative taxes. But I’m tired of beating that drum.

All of our utilities have one thing in common – much of their budget is a result of costs passed down to us by larger entities. Water, sewer, and solid waste utilities pay Metro Vancouver to supply us clean water, treat our dirty water, and manage disposal of our wastes. The balance of the costs are operations of the utility (we need people to run and maintain the systems, test water, process payments, etc.) and capital costs (we need to build and replace pipes and pumps and vehicles). As such, the budgets are easiest to understand through a Lawrence Livermore style flow chart. So I’ll draw some of those, and talk about them.

The way these work is the vertical bars are (approximately) to scale, on the left are our sources of income and on the right are where that money ends up getting spent. Green are revenue sources, blue are operational expenses, pink are transfers internal to the city, and orange is interactions with our Reserves and the things we build through our Capital Budget. Each utility has a reserve, we put “surplus” every year into the reserve, and take money out of reserves to pay for and build things like pipes and pumps and trucks to keep the place running. Note all numbers here are rounded, and in the 000’s, and please recognize this is a bit of a simplification done to try to make the big systems more understandable. (I’d love to hear feedback about how this presentation works for you!)

Sewer Utility

Our main source of revenue is utility rates, though we also take in DCCs and other contributions to support our capital plan. Of the ~$31 million we take in, about 45% goes directly to Metro Vancouver to pay for the treatment of wastewater. This cost has gone up 14% in the last year, and is the primary driver behind our utility rates going up 8% this year. As you can see, the operational cost for us to run the utility (salaries, contractors, supplies) only equal about 10% of our revenues, so there is not a lot of cost savings to be found there.

We are planning for a $12.5 million surplus in 2024, which will all go into our Sewer Reserve, as will the $5.2 million we got from developers and senior government grants to support our capital program, which adds $17.7 million to the reserve. However, we are planning to spend $19.6 million on new infrastructure (pipes and pumps) and vehicles, which means we are planning to draw our reserves down by $1.8m, or about 5%.

Water UtilityAgain, our main source of revenue is utility rates, and the DCC/contribution part is much smaller in water this year. That has mostly to do with the timing of capital projects and our success at getting senior government grants for sewer work more than water work. Of the $18.5 million we take in, about 44% goes directly to Metro Vancouver to pay for the water. We spend less than 10% of our budget on operations, though with internal charges (the money other city departments charge the water utility for services), this cost is a bit higher than in sewers.

Our surplus in 2024 will be about $7.2 million, but we are planning to spend just over $12 million in new infrastructure and capital equipment in the utility in 2024. This means we will be drawing down the reserve by about $4.5 million, which represents about 20% of the reserve value. This is more than ideal, but with major sewer work being advanced by Metro Vancouver in Sapperton and West End, it is a good idea for us to do water upgrades at the same time, so you only have to tear the roads up once. Having a healthy reserve permits us to advance this work without borrowing money. I am asked often what the City is doing to find efficiencies and save money, this is a good example of one thing we are doing in the water utility – spending a bit now to save more money later. Our 5-year plan sees us getting back to 2023 reserve levels in the water utility by 2026 or 2027, so eroding reserves in the short term isn’t a structural budget issue, but a strategy.

Solid Waste Garbage and recycling are bit different than the other utilities, as the level of service provided to different parts of the community (house vs. strata, home vs. business, etc.) varies quite a bit, and although disposal charges handed down (mostly from Metro Vancouver) for taking in our waste still eat up almost 40% of all of our revenues, there is a much larger operational cost to solid waste. We need staff to drive those trucks and fuel for the trucks, because you can’t put your trash in a pipeline.

We have been running low reserves in the Solid Waste utility for quite some time, and are looking to build them up through this 5-year financial plan. As the “capital” is mostly trucks and bins, there is a shorter lifecycle than the pipes Water and Sewer put in the ground, so our annual Capital spend is perhaps proportionally higher than in the other utilities. However, over all the budget for Solid Waste is much smaller than the other utilities.

ElectricalOur Electrical Utility has a few unique aspects, but it functions like the other utilities we have. The electricity we purchase at wholesale from BC Hydro costs us just over half of our overall revenues, and the cost of day-to-day running of the utility costs about another 17% (or a little over $11 million). This leaves us with about a third of income that goes into our Capital Reserves or directly to the City as transfers. The transfer number here is large because it includes the dividend the City takes every year from electrical utility operational surplus and puts it in the general operational fund. This amounts to about $6 million that the City uses to offset property taxes in providing services that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to deliver.

The utility is spending a *lot* right now on a major capital upgrades. We just built a $30 Million substation in Queensborough, and are now rolling out Advanced Metering Infrastructure, which means 60,000+ new digital electrical meters and the hardware and software to integrate them into our IT network. This is a big, generational investment, and as a result we are drawing down reserves that were intentionally built up a bit to help support this work. Our 5-year Capital Plan has us building these reserves back up to the ~$37 million level by 2028, but at the same time, we are budgeting for a cumulative spend of more than $150 million in upgrading our critical electrical grid over the next 5 years. It’s a good time to be selling electricity, but it is also a challenging time to keep up with the demand for more service.

There is not a lot of change in these budgets compared to recent years, except maybe some increased capital expenditure. The annual increases are essentially the same as the last 5 or so years (sewer increase a bit higher this year, solid waste and water increases a bit smaller, both way lower than Port Coquitlam’s increases this year, but its not a competition!), and the budget drivers really don’t change – Metro Rates are going up to support their aggressive capital investments, and we pass that on. Compared to the region, our water and solid waste rates are about average (though it is hard to do apples-to-apples comparisons because all cities provide different services and rate schedules). Our sewer rates are still at the higher end regionally, because we still have a lot of older combined flow sewers. This has the double whammy of us sending more water to the plant than we should, and requiring higher capital investment to replace and upgrade those systems. Fortunately, we have been pretty successful at getting senior government grants to help offset some of those costs.

Which brings us into the discussion about the Capital Budget, which I will dive into next post.


There is a principle known as Brandolini’s Law. I’m trying to run a family program here, so look it up to understand how it applies to what I am about to write about. I was pointed to some media reports and a Facebook thread about the City’s work on updating its logo, and the conversation is spiraling with misinformation. But in a vacuum of better information, this is inevitable, so I’ll take a bit of time to address the denominator of the Brandolini equation.

“The City is spending Half a Million on Rebranding to get rid of the Royal City”  is not an accurate description of the report that came to Council on Monday, so let me unpack a bit.

Here is the City Logo:

This logo was approved in 2008, during Mayor Wayne Wright’s second term. The old logo (a crest featuring the City’s Coat of Arms – you can still see it on some older City vehicles and equipment, which actually becomes important later in this story) was replaced by what we mostly use now, a St. Edwards Crown pictogram and a serif typeface. It looks a bit dated now, but was probably informed by the 150th anniversary of the City being imminent. It is a product of its time.

The City has been talking about a new logo for most of a year now. It was a topic of discussion through the last municipal election (perhaps an over-played hand), and in the 2023 budget discussions. Council actually approved this path forward back in June of 2023, but the roll-out has been slow due to staff priorities being elsewhere. Staff are now ready to move forward and wanted to inform Council before they went to the public.

By “move forward”, they mean hire a design consultant, and start a public consultation. This is envisioned as a two-phase consultation, where a committee of community members will be assembled to guide the consultation, and they will bring the larger public in through a full public engagement process. Council would need to approve any final design, and staff will need to guide the consultation, but the goal here is to have the public lead with the ideas, setting a vision, and working with a graphic designer to develop those into a refreshed logo. We have $40,000 in the budget to fund this work. Public consultation takes time if you want to do it right, and it takes a bit of an investment in this time.

There has been a $450,000 number thrown around about the cost of the rebranding, which needs to be clarified. Staff were asked last June what the “total cost to replace all letter head, decals, signs, etc.” and provided this response to Council in a public report:

“In response to Council’s questions regarding costs to rebrand City assets – i.e. re-decal vehicles and signage, and replace uniforms, stationary, and other branded materials – staff estimate a total cost across City departments to be approximately $450,000. It should be noted that these costs could be accommodated over time and within existing departmental budgets, with new products only ordered as existing stocks are depleted and/or replacements are required. This was the approach followed when the existing logo was introduced in 2008. For example, some City fleet vehicles continued to feature one of the previous logos until the vehicles reached the end of their service life and were replaced

So the $450,000 number isn’t a real cost, it is the estimated value of current branded materials. This is not a new spend unless Council for some reason decided to throw away all materials featuring the current brand and replace them immediately with the new logo. That would not be a responsible way to manage public assets. We will instead continue to use the current materials until they are exhausted and/or meet end of life, then will replace with new branded material instead of old branded material, like we did last time. This is why you can still see the old coat-of-arms crest on some older equipment and vehicles.

Still, $40,000 is a real cost, and some will argue it is not worth it. I disagree, as I think re-looking at our branding is aligned with the Community Connections and Belonging pillar in our Council Strategic Priority Plan. A logo is art, and it is art about us. It is healthy and vital for a community to have a conversation about what kind of art we would like to see represent us. Even having the Public Consultation will bring people together to talk about what they value in this community. This has a potential to be an interesting community building exercise. I’m sure Mayor Wayne Wright and his Council felt the same way in 2008.

I can perhaps also respond to a few of the points raised on Facebook, though I do not want to link directly, because that feels a little weirdly like “punching down” on innocent people who are just sharing their community concerns. So here is a bit of a retort to general themes, not specific people:

“Why not fix the roads instead?”
$40,000 doesn’t fix many roads. In our recently-approved capital plan we are investing more than $20 million on pavement management, road repair and upgrades. No money is coming from those investments to pay for this. We have Engineering staff dealing with roads, EcDev staff dealing with logos and the City’s brand.

“Why not invest in helping homelessness instead?”
I agree that homelessness in a rich country like Canada is an embarrassment. This is why we have never stopped advocating to the Provincial and Federal Governments to re-invest in affordable and supportive housing in the City and across BC. In my time on Council, we have approved every affordable housing project put before. 96 units of affordable housing are about to open on 6th Street by the high School, we just broke ground on 356 units of student housing adjacent to Douglas College, and have more than 100 units of deeply subsidized affordable housing approved by the City right now waiting for the Province to come forward with the promised funds to break ground. Meanwhile New Westminster continues to support the Homelessness Coalition, the Rent Bank, and the most aggressive anti-demoviction and anti-renoviction policies in the province, in order to keep people facing housing insecurity in their homes. We also announced this spring a $2 Million commitment to a Three Crises Response Pilot to directly support people suffering homelessness in our community. We can do all these things and have a community conversation about our logo, they are not mutually exclusive.

“Why are you erasing history?”
I don’t agree that updating a 16-year-old logo is erasing history, but it could be a great opportunity for us to talk about and call attention to our City’s history. I hope that people born here and people who chose to move here and make New Westminster their home are both engaged in a consultation about what a logo means. This is where the community building can come from, if we are open enough to hear other voices.

Anyhow, I hope this clarifies where we are going, and I hope everyone so passionate about the City’s logo on Facebook show up for some of the public engagement to come, because comments on Facebook are not recorded for posterity!

Budget 2024 – General Operations

It’s Budget time. The City is currently approving its annual budget, which is more accurately and bureaucratically called the 2024-2028 Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw. There is a lot that goes into a budget like this, and a lot to look at, so I’m going to spend a bit of time writing about it, and hopefully opening up the details so you can understand what you are buying when you write those Property Tax and utilities cheques. I’m going to start with breaking down the various part of the budget.

To understand how we budget, you need to understand the difference between the Operational part of the budget, and the Capital part. You also need to understand the difference between General funds and Utility funds.

The Operational part is the day-to-day running of the city and the programs we offer. On the expense side this is mostly paying staff to do the work, but also includes the cost of consumables we go through as part of operations, like gas we buy to run the police cars, paper we buy to feed the photocopy machines, and things like insurance and bank charges. The money going into this part of the budget mostly comes from property taxes, but also includes grants from senior government, sales of services, and other revenue sources. This is the part of the budget people most people pay most attention to, because this is the one that results in that all-encompassing narrative around the “annual percentage tax increase”.

The Capital part is the money we are investing in the things we need to run a city: buildings, roads, sewers and pipes, a vehicle fleet and computers. We have a five-year capital plan that we periodically adjust so staff can plan out purchases and schedule construction. Every year, we take surplus money out of our operational funds and transfer it to reserves that are then, in turn, applied to pay for the things in our Capital Plan. We can also (within some regulated limits), borrow money to pay for these capital investments.

The General fund is how we budget for the general operation of City services that are funded mostly through property taxes. This is how we pay for parks and recreation services, Police and Fire services, running City Hall and the Library, bylaws operations, planning and much of our engineering services.

Separate from this are Utility funds. In New Westminster we have four separate Utilities: water, sewers and drainage, solid waste, and electrical. All of these rely on utility charges for their revenue, and are completely separate from property taxes. We spend utility money on the utility, and it isn’t mixed with “general revenue”, with two exceptions. First, there are transfers from the Utility funds to the General fund related to staff working on utility files (“internal recoveries”), and transfers the other way, because the City has to pay for its own use of utilities (“internal charges”) out of the general fund. The second exception is the annual dividend paid to the general fund from the Electrical Utility.

Here is how the General Operating fund breaks down for 2024:

On the left is “money in”, on the right is “money out”. The things “below the line” like Amortization or our Tangible Capital Assets and Internal Charges (the money our utilities charge to our General Fund account for utility services the city receives) are separated out because they aren’t really money in-out of the City, but money moving between accounts or accounting categories in the City. The biggest of these is the $23.5 million surplus which is transferred to reserves so it can pay for the Capital part of the budget, which I’ll write about later.

Some people like pie, so here are two pie diagrams: where our revenue comes from, where our expenses are allocated:

This diagram shows how some of the narratives we would like to use around our budget are not exactly accurate. Ideas like “15% of your tax dollars go to Parks” belie the idea that your residential property taxes are only 40% of our revenue. And as all of these expense items are total spending of a department, they ignore that many of these departments recover a lot of revenue through their operations through fees or other sources. The Police category is a specifically difficult item, because the NWPD pay for a lot of things (IT support, Finance staff, fleet operations) out of their budget that other departments like Planning don’t – those are captured under Corporate Services for every department that is “in City Hall”. Still , if you want to know how money in the City is spent, the pies are a start, as long as you are comfortable with all of the caveats.

Next post, I’ll write about the Utilities budgets.

Council – Feb 23, 2024

We got a lot of work done at Council on Monday night, with a fairly long agenda, starting with an increasingly unusual Public Hearing:

Heritage Revitalization Agreement Bylaw No. 8425, 2024 and Heritage Designation Bylaw No. 8435, 2024 for 203 Pembina Street
It’s been a while since we have had Public Hearing, as we have adopted the now-mandated practice that rezoning applications that fully comply with the Official Community Plan don’t require public hearings. Heritage Revitalization Agreements, however, still require them, so here we are.

HRAs are functionally very similar to rezoning, except in rezoning the City gives a landowner some “value” by allowing them to build more or differently on a lot that the zoning bylaw allows, and in exchange, they provide some “value” to the city, in contributing to amenities or making a contribution to our amenity reserve funds. In an HRA, at least part of the “value” given to the city is the preservation of a heritage asset through permanent Heritage Designation. Usually, that is a heritage building, though it can be a landscape, a fence, or in this case, a Heritage Tree. This is a first for New West.

The project is a small 6-unit townhouse development that fits in the neighbourhood in Queensborough. The challenge with the specimen Red Oak tree is that it is located within the “building envelope” already permitted on the site, so the Tree Protection Bylaw would permit its removal. SO the proponent and staff worked on the HRA pathway to allow development of the land in a way that protects the tree, as it is felt to have acquired cultural importance in the community as a landmark and gathering space. The requirements to care for the tree will be baked into a Heritage Designation Bylaw tied to the property.

The Community Heritage Commission did not support using an HRA in this case, but did hope the City could apply a different tool to protect the tree, but the Land Use Planning Committee chose the HRA route. Other than the tree, the proposal aligns with the RT-3 zoning used for townhouse developments of this type in Queensborough, except for a couple of setbacks adjusted to give the tree more room. Public consultation we generally positive.

We had two written submissions to the Public Hearing and the proponent delegated in favour of the project. We also had 5 delegates speak (multiple times each) against the application. I would characterize their feedback as not opposing the development (none lived near the project) or the tree preservation (they all favoured it), but not liking the tool of the HRA being used this way, for non-specific reasons.

In the end, the majority of Council voted to support the application and designation.

The regular meeting Agenda began with the following items Moved on Consent:

Development Cost Charge Bylaw – Inflationary Amendment
We collect Development Cost Charges from new developments to pay for infrastructure costs related to growth. The amounts are based on a budgeted cost to build the specific infrastructure. Since the cost to build that infrastructure goes up every year, we can do inflationary changes to the DCC rates to help pay for part of this inflationary increase, but need to do so through Bylaw to keep things transparent.

Unfortunately, the provincial DCC regulation requires that we use CPI to calculate this inflation increase, and the CPI “basket of goods” does not reflect the massive inflation in concrete, steel, wood, and construction services which are the things the City buys with DCC money. This is one of the unwieldy aspects of the DCC process that comes along with the transparency and predictability benefits the DCC process provides. Everything in government is a compromise.

Then the rest of the items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

12 K de K Court Esplanade Boulevard Trees
Trees are interesting things. They add to the value of property, the quality of life, climate resilience, air quality, and social cohesion. To some they are the view, to others they block a view. A set of trees planted in City lands along the Quayside 15 years ago are reaching maturity, and some adjacent property owners feel they are too large, block their views of the river and light penetration to their homes. The City has been doing extra maintenance to reduce negative impacts, but some residents want them removed. The city is not in the practice of removing City trees, as it does not align with our Urban Forest Management Strategy, or our climate and livability goals. Staff have been working with the owners to address ongoing concerns, and are drafting a Letter or Understanding letter that outlines the city’s commitment to tree maintenance of the three trees of concern.

Budget 2024: 2024 – 2028 Five-Year Financial Plan Bylaw
These are the Bylaws representing the 5-Year Financial Plan worked out through numerous Council workshops and meetings. If you have been following along, there is not a lot of news here, but I will write a follow-up post or two with some of the details of the annual budget. This also includes some public feedback received on the budget, including a request for us to spend more on Bus Priority Measures (we boosted this in 2024, but the writer would like to see MOAR!), some concern that the 7.7% increase was high relative to inflation and Port Coquitlam, and some surprisingly details questions about how we account for the delay of hiring new staff. Once again, the Budget was approved for Three Readings.

Grant Program Refinements
New Westminster has one of the most generous Community Grant programs of any City in the Lower Mainland, with almost $1 million in grants awarded every year to community social development, arts, sports, economic development, environmental and cultural programs. This aligns with Council priorities, so staff are doing a review of the process to make it work more efficiently and serve the community better.

Since I have been on Council, there have already been significant changes to the program. The value handed out has gone up a lot (form $700k in 2015 to $1m now) and we have worked to remove Council from review and approval process to make it more community-centered and improve transparency, while giving more power to the Grant Committee model that includes volunteers from the community. We shifted from 8 streams to 3 portfolios in 2019 to make it easier to manage, but it still takes a considerable amount of staff time to manage.

There is a plan to do a comprehensive review of how this process works, aligned with Council’s Strategic Priority of “Community Belonging and Connecting”, but in the short term, there are some smaller changes being made to address staffing challenges and clunkiness in the existing system. The One-Time Small Grants process has not worked very well, and will need to be revised or rolled into the main grant program. For now, it fails the value-for-money test as it takes a lot of staff time for the small amount it gives out.

As the grant program has evolved over the decades, it’s ad-hoc accounting has become more of a challenge as the values get into the seven figures. More applications arrive every year than value in the budget, and not all of the grants are eventually handed out, as many applicants fail to deliver the idea they asked to grant. So we are undersubscribed, and also underspend, making for a complicated Operational budget impact. A more responsible easy to manage this is to set up a Reserve Fund, so non-allotted money in one year can extend over to the following year, and those carryover funds can help address more applications. There are some complications here, as some of the grant value is in-kind services, but staff are asking to set up a process that is accountable and transparent.

There is more to come here, and there will be some deeper conversation with the community about how to structure major changes if that is where Council goes.

Initiating process for updating the City’s corporate logo
The City replaced its corporate logo in 2008, replacing the Coat of Arms with a gold crown. It’s time for a refresh. The City will engage a professional Graphic Designer, who will lead a two-phase community engagement around this. Look for opportunities to engage soon!

Leave of Absence for Councillor McEvoy
If you follow the news, Councillor McEvoy had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago. He received incredible are at RCH, and is recovering from surgery at home. The best practice in local government is to grant medical leave and keep his seat warm for him until his return. He does have some committee roles that we need to fill in his absence, and we did so.

Rezoning and Housing Agreement: 145-209 East Columbia Street – Bylaws for First, Second and Third Readings
The owners of an empty lot in Sapperton what to build a six-story mixed-use building. It is aligned with the OCP, but requires a rezoning. This would have retail at grade, offices on the second floor, and 99 Purpose Built Rental homes, adding to the vibrancy of Lower Columbia. The 99 PBR homes meet the City’s Family Friendly Housing minimums and will provide active cooling to all units. As part of the “great dentist office debate of 2024”, the owners are concerned they will not be able to lease the ground floor unless some flexibility is offered to allow medial services in come of the units, and staff have hammered out a compromise.

Public consultation on this project was generally neutral to positive, with some concerns raised regarding parking (natch) and impact on traffic (double natch). There were some who felt it was too big for the location (though this being within 400m of a SkyTrain station, the new TOA provincial regulations would actually permit 8 stories). We also received a bit of “it is being built specifically for renters, meaning this project puts the safety and security of our quiet neighborhood in jeopardy” kind of feedback, which seems out of touch with the reality of our housing crisis, and is rather disrespectful to the 45% of the people in New Westminster who are renters. In the end, Council voted to approve three readings of this project.

We then read a bunch of Bylaws, including the following Bylaws for Adoption:

Development Cost Charge Reserve Funds Expenditure Bylaw No 8437, 2024
This Bylaw that allows us to spend ~$3 million from our DCC funds on the projects they were earmarked for was approved by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (810 Agnes Street) No. 8390, 2023 and Housing Agreement (810 Agnes Street) Bylaw No 8389, 2023
These Bylaws that facilitate development of a 33 storey high-rise tower with 352 Purpose Built Rental homes and a publicly accessible indoor community space and adjacent community park at 824 Agnes Street were approved by Council.

We then went through a raft of Motions from Council.

An information report on a Crime and Safety Townhall Forum hosted by the New West Progressives
Submitted by Councillor Fontaine and Councillor Minhas

Whereas the issue of crime and public safety is of concern to the citizens and business owners of New Westminster; and Whereas Councillors Daniel Fontaine and Paul Minhas hosted a community forum attended by over 120 individuals in November 2023; and
Whereas Councillors Fontaine and Minhas committed to drafting a summary report and submitting it to Council and the Police Board via the Chair;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council receive for information a summary report from Councillors Paul Minhas and Daniel Fontaine regarding a crime and safety forum they co-hosted in November 2023.

The motion here was to “receive the report”. There were no actions coming out of it, which made it a bit weird for a Notice of Motion process. But that aside, the report is a bit of a mess. It is perhaps a demonstration how public engagement without a clear direction or plan is useless at the reporting out stage. I have no doubt people at the event had valuable input and suggestions, but what is reported out here is a series of strangely unanswered questions, quotes pulled from a newspaper story, and unattributed statements that follow no real theme and draw no conclusions. As a result, no clear recommendations can come out of this, excepting the few things in the summary that read like suggestion to do the things we are already doing.

NOTE: the rest of these Motions below are resolutions intended to be considered at the Lower Mainland LGA conference in May, this being the formal process through which we collectively advocate to senior governments for changes in policy or funding

Allowing local governments to apply commercial rent controls
Submitted by Councillor Henderson

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia regulates annual allowable residential rent increases through the Residential Tenancy Regulation, B.C. Reg. 477/2003, to protect lower income renters from housing insecurity; and
WHEREAS there is currently no similar Provincial policy to protect small businesses or community-serving commercial tenants from unsustainable, unpredictable, and increasingly significant rent increases;
BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia provide local governments with the legislative authority to enable special economic zones where commercial rent control and demo/renoviction policies could be applied to ensure predictability in commercial lease costs, so local small businesses and community-serving commercial tenants can continue to serve their communities.

There has been quite a bit of discussion in the community lately about ground-based retail and commercial, and what the City can do to protect local small businesses that make our neighbourhoods more lively. There have been a few stories recently of businesses facing 200% or 300% lease increases, and deciding it is just not viable to run a small business in the face of that. Though commercial leases are different that residential rent, the impact is the same – if a landlord was able to triple your rent overnight, there would be no such thing as secure affordable housing in our community. One important difference is that small businesses often invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in building improvements to make their business fit in a space, which makes it hard to walk away when the lease changes, and creates too much risk with onerous demolition clauses.

We can complain about 7.7% tax increases (which landlords directly download to leasing businesses), but that pales in comparison to 300% lease increases. The first is hundreds of dollars, the second is tens of thousands. We need to find a way to level the playing field between the people who own the commercial buildings and those who want to set up small community-serving businesses.

I’m not sure how the Lower Mainland LGA is going to respond to this, and there are certainly many details to work out on how rent protections would be applied in the commercial market, but we are asking the Province to consider giving Local Governments the authority to explore these ideas within identified areas of the City which has specific economic development goals.

Additional funding for overdose prevention sites across municipalities
Submitted by Councillor Henderson and Councillor Nakagawa

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia declared a drug toxicity public emergency in 2016, acknowledging the rapid increase in overdose deaths and the need to deploy the necessary harm reduction strategies with urgency to prevent additional deaths; and
WHEREAS over 13,000 people have died of toxic drugs since 2016 in communities across British Columbia, including at least 2,500 people in 2023, about two-thirds of which were from inhalation, yet only about 40% of supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites in British Columbia offer inhalation services;
BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia increase funding for Health Authorities to augment existing and to open new supervised consumption and overdose prevention sites, including related inhalation services, across British Columbia and including municipalities which do not currently
offer this service to residents.

Health Outreach Centers with safe, supervised consumption save lives. People who deny this fact are denying the published research of health care professionals. Too many people in British Columbia are dying from the toxic drug supply for us to engage in that kind of denialism. They are not the complete solution, but they save lives and get people connected to other supports including recovery from their addiction. We need these in every community, because every community has people dying of toxic drugs. We also need to fund them adequately so they can provide health outreach and programs to move people beyond addiction. We also need to fund them so that inhalation is available, as this is largely replacing intravenous drug use in the overdose death statistics.

This resolution is asking the Province to increase funding for this important component of addressing the poisoned drug supply crisis.

Eliminating Barriers to Public Home Care Services and Social Supports for Aging in Place and Public Long-Term Care
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas seniors, families and seniors organizations have been advocating to improve access to public home care services and supports to assist seniors to live at home, in their communities, longer and to delay or prevent premature admissions to public long-term care facilities; and
Whereas finances can become an impediment to access the required home care services such as housekeeping, more frequent bathing and meal preparation necessary to age in place, and community programs that have been designed to try and meet seniors’ needs are unable to fulfil the increasing
Therefore be it resolved that the Province eliminate financial and accessibility barriers by investing in more public home care services and social supports required to age in place, and by further investing in public long-term care to ensure seniors are well supported in the continuum of care.

For those who read my Newsletter (link here to subscribe!), you know the outgoing BC Seniors Advocate was at Century House last month talking about senior services, and the places in our province where we need to bring more support to seniors. Not just because it is the right thing to do for seniors, but because investment in seniors home care save the health care system money, and investments in public residential care save seniors money while providing a higher level of care than for-profit homes do. This is advocacy the folks at Century House asked Council to do, and Council voted to support it.

Creating a Ministry of Hospitality
Submitted by Councillor Campbell

Whereas British Columbia is home to over 15,000 restaurants and foodservice vendors that employ over 185,000 workers across the province, generate $18 billion in annual sales and play a key role in supporting BC workers, families, and vital industries such as agriculture, transportation, and tourism and
are at the heart of every community in this province; and
Whereas the costs of food, supplies and transportation have substantially increased, commercial property owners are passing commercial property taxes on to restaurant and food service tenants, many of whom continue to experience longterm impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic;
Therefore be it resolved the Province create a Ministry of Hospitality to support and engage restaurants, food service vendors and the hospitality sector generally by acting as advocates within government for policy development and reform.

This idea is a bit out of left field, but comes directly from the same advocacy efforts that informed the approach to commercial lease rates control proposed above, the “Save BC Restaurants” campaign led by the BC Restaurant & Foodservices Association and Restaurants Canada. Our Local Chamber of Commerce also supported this. The combines voices of hundreds of New West businesses, thousands of BC restaurants, and tens of thousands of food service business across Canada. Let’s hope the Lower Mainland LGA also hears this call.

E-Comm Governance Review
Submitted by Mayor Johnstone

Whereas E-Comm has struggled to provide service levels that meet established standards or the expectations of the communities they serve, while the cost of E-Comm is increasing at an unsustainable rate, creating budget uncertainty for local Police and Fire services, and
Whereas the imminent introduction of next-Gen 911 will represent the single largest change in emergency communications delivery since the introduction of 911, with uncertain cost and operational impacts,
Therefore be it resolved the Provincial Government engage local governments in a comprehensive review of the governance structure and delivery model of 911 emergency call taking, related non-emergency call taking, and emergency dispatch services across BC with a goal to assure reliable, affordable, and sustainable services for all communities.

This resolution was developed in working with the New Westminster Police Board, who are increasingly frustrated with the lack of value for cost we are getting from EComm, the organization that provides 911 call taking, non-emergency call taking, and/or emergency dispatch services for various municipalities across BC.

I don’t think it is necessary for me to list the challenges with EComm that have been impacting our first responders for the last few years. Exacerbated with challenges in BC Ambulance, worsened during the COVID19 Pandemic, and highlighted during the tragic Heat Dome event of 2021, EComm has been challenged to meet not only the service standards set for their industry, but the service levels expected of the community, for years. New Westminster Police could no longer rely on EComm to provide non-emergency call taking because of the massive number of dropped calls and unacceptable wait times, and have taken the measure of bringing non-emerg calls in house at our own cost. Despite recent improvements, 911 service at the best of times can barely meet industry standards, and there is no evidence that resiliency exists in the system to assure it will operate when even a small a regional disaster strikes. At the same time, costs for our Fire Department and Police related to EComm call taking and dispatch are increasing at an unsustainable rate. Meanwhile, on the horizon is the integration of next-Gen 911 that is already looking technically challenging and massively expensive. Community confidence in EComm being able to address these overlapping challenges in a timely way low.

We am hoping the Lower Mainland LGA will support us in asking for the province to step in and lead a comprehensive review of how emergency communications are managed across the province.

And that was the end of a long meeting, with hundreds of rental housing units approved, a new budget bylaw approved, advocacy on major issues impacting our community, a pretty good Monday all around.

Council – Feb 5, 2024

The Monday meeting was an eventful one, and I have already written some initial thoughts about that, and have more thinking and work to do. But before that all, we did get through our full Agenda, which started with us moving the following items on Consent:

Development Cost Charges Expenditure Bylaw No. 8437, 2024
We collect Development Cost Charges from developers to pay for infrastructure related to growth. To spend those DCC funds, we need authorization from Council. This Bylaw authorizes spending (numbers here approximate, itemized to the dollar in the report) $380,000 from our Drainage DCC and $1.2 million from our Sanitary Sewer DCC for sewer separation and modelling work, $145,000 from our Transportation DCC for pedestrian safety improvements, applying $450,000 from our Park Acquisition DCC towards the Pier Park loan, and $850,000 from the Water DCC for water main replacement.

Heritage Revitalization Agreement and Heritage Designation: 203 Pembina Street – Bylaws for First and Second Readings
There is a property in Queensborough where the owner wants to build townhouses consistent with the OCP, and they require a rezoning to do so. As the City and the community expressed concern about losing a prominent tree on the site, the owner agreed to a path where an HRA is offered instead of a typical rezoning. This provides permanent protection to the tree. This has not happened before in New West, but seems a creative way to balance development and tree preservation. The HRA will go to a Public Hearing, so I will hold my comments until then to respect the process.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw No. 8436 (Miscellaneous Zoning Bylaw Amendments) for Consideration
This is a bit of an omnibus bylaw to update our zoning bylaw in various small ways, correcting the inconsistencies, redundancies, language changes, and administrative errors that accumulate in such a complex Bylaw document. There are also a few minor changes to reflect best practice that are not properly codified in our existing Bylaw.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Metro Vancouver Valve Replacements (660 East Columbia Street)
A required valve replacement in the Sapperton Water Main that they are coinciding with some TransLink work for a bunch of good efficiency and operational reasons, and it is going to require some work outside of regular construction hours, which received Council approval.

The following items were Removed from consent for discussion:

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 660 Quayside Drive)
The construction of the Bosa development on the waterfront is nearing completion, and they need to remove the crane, which requires Saturday work outside of regular construction hours. Council granted a Noise Bylaw exemption to permit this.

Budget 2024: Draft 2024 – 2028 Five Year Financial Plan
Our budget is approved by Council in the form of a Five Year Financial Plan, with a 5-year Capital Budget that sits alongside it. We have had a half dozen open workshops on this, over 9 hours of discussion and deliberation, including going back and forth with staff on the line items in the plan and the strategy for paying for all of the items in the plan. There were some significant changes made through the last couple of meetings, and asked staff to take all of that away and draft it into a Bylaw we can vote on (as per Section 165 of the Community Charter).

Our Utility rates are going up between 3.3% and 12.0%, driven primarily by the increased cost of service being passed down to us by Metro Vancouver (for water, sewer, and solid waste services), and our long-term asset management plan that is pushing capital investment to upgrade our utility networks and maintain sustainable reserve levels for the future of the utilizes.

Our five-year Capital Plan is pegged at $208.8 million for general City services (e.g. those funded by taxes) and another $272.9 Million in utility investments for a total of $481.7 million. As we are wrapping up a couple of large capital projects, a good portion of our 2024 capital budget will be funded by reserves set up for this purpose, meaning those reserves will be going down, from $256.8 million to $177.9 million. The 5-year plan sees these building back up to $238 million by 2028 as part of our long-term commitment to a sustainable reserves policy aligned with best practices.

Our “General Fund” operating budget has reached $189 million, which requires a 7.7% tax increase to support. More than half of this reflects inflationary increases and new labour contracts secured in 2023. And I wil write up a follow-up piece on the things that informed our budget decisions.

After reading a few Bylaws (none for Adoption at this time, we moved on to Motions from Council:

Establishing delegation to visit Port Coquitlam to review best practices for limiting tax increases while increasing services
Councillor Minhas

Whereas the City of Port Coquitlam with a population of approximately 60,000 people has consistently registered some of lowest year-over-year property tax increases in Metro Vancouver over the last decade and beyond; and
Whereas the City of Port Coquitlam has proudly continued to expand core services for their residents and businesses including the recent addition of 57 free parking spaces in their downtown core; and
Whereas the City of New Westminster experienced a record high level of property tax in 2023;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor request a meeting with elected officials and senior city staff from Port Coquitlam to explore if any of their best practices could be implemented locally with a goal of limiting future property taxes while enhancing service standards

Any motion that starts with inaccurate statements in the preamble needs to be considered in that context. This is far from a “record high” property tax increase, as compelling a political speaking point as that may be. It also seems like I have already had this conversation

On the subject of the motion, I already noted that we had 9 hours of open workshop this year discussing every aspect of the City’s Budget – and the budget was on the agenda today during the meeting – and the mover of this motion had ample opportunity to ask questions of our experienced and professional staff about comparators or different approaches, and those questions were not asked by the mover. Since I was challenged in Council on this point, I encourage folks to watch the 9 hours of publicly accessible video of those workshops and not take my word for it. (they are all available here, The workshop dates were Oct. 16, Nov 20, Nov. 27, Dec 11, Jan 8, and Jan 22). You can confirm for yourself how proactive the mover was in those discussions.

Further, every City’s budgets are open books – the Province even prepares spreadsheets and posts them comparing every City at the end of the year. Any member of Council or public can look at those spreadsheets and see where we are the same, or where we differ. You can not only compare us to PoCo, but to the other 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver or the other 160 municipalities in BC. There is no “secret formula” or “tips and tricks” used by PoCo or any other City. Public Service accounting standards are used, and audits are publicly reported. The numbers below are not mine, they are directly from the BC Government site I link to above.

If a Councillor or member of the public does that bit of reading, they find PoCo’s increase of own-source taxation on a per capita basis has gone up 32% over the last decade (a timeline mentioned in the motion). New Westminster’s has gone up 35%, with both of us well below the metro Vancouver average of 41%:

At the same time, as there was significant speechmaking in the meeting about PoCo’s investments in infrastructure, PoCo’s 2024 Capital Plan is $33 Million. New Westminster’s is $152 Million. (the numbers I quoted in chambers were off the top of my head, and not accurate – these ones are).

On the topic of best practices, we have talked at length with our staff over the last year and a half about the best practice of asset management. This has informed our ongoing effort to take a sustainable approach to asset replacement and a responsible approach to asset reserves. Besides spending much more on capital projects, there is a significant difference in our reserves over the last 5 years – the timeline when New West began its serious efforts to address Asset Management. In New West they have more than doubled and are now approaching the 5% of asset value that represents best practice. Over the same decade, PoCo has chosen to not invest in their reserves, and they have not grown at all, to the point where PoCo has some of the lowest reserves in the region. This is not secret, this is not trick, this is a choice.

Now, to be fair, this is not a competition. PoCo opened a new recreation facility in 2021, that puts downward pressure on reserves; we are opening our this year, and that will put downward pressure on our reserves. But the choice to assure our 5-year plan offsets this downward pressure over the term of the plan was discussed several times around the Council Table in the last year, and Council has made a clear decision to follow this accounting best practice. Every City is different and has different pressures. We don’t need to go to PoCo to lecture them about this, nor do we need to bother their staff when we have experienced, knowledgeable and professional staff here ready to answer any question the Councillor is willing to ask whenever they arise. in a public meeting. So I could not support this motion, because it wastes the time of professional staff in two cities.

Increasing support in Budget 2024 to enhance the work done by our local resident associations
Councillor Fontaine

Whereas our resident associations have a long history of engaging with City Hall and actively encouraging community participation and engagement; and
Whereas resident associations only receive $200 each to support the funding of their operations; and
Whereas the grants provided to resident associations have not been adjusted in recent memory and they are not tied to the rate of inflation;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff be directed to increase the annual resident association budget by up to an additional $200 in the 2024 operational budget; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this additional increase in base grant funding be available upon written request of the resident association; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT resident associations with a bona fide and active membership base over 150 individuals on December 31st of the previous calendar year are further eligible to request an additional $200 in funding to support their operations

I hate to once again be correcting the information inherent in the preamble to a resolution, but grants provided to RAs were adjusted in very recent memory – about two years ago to address on-line engagement costs related to COVID.

Although I support the spirit of this motion, I was not in support of the resolutions as written. This is because it is not aligned with the requests made by Residents Associations themselves during our most recent RA Forum. Though I recognize the author of this motion was not present at the Forum, and may have not read the follow-up communications I sent to RAs and members of Council.

There was some direction given to staff to help work out a new model that supports the digital engagement the RAs are requesting (and technical assistance may be more appropriate than funding) more fairly reflects the new world of digital engagement, but also recognizes the varied nature of the RAs. Some RAs are in very strong financial shape and have tech-savvy volunteers, some don’t even request the small subsidy the City provides. If there was a more common concern, it was access to meeting space due to insurance challenges, and we are also working on better supporting them in that area. Those discussions are ongoing, and I hope we have some clear direction to take back to the next RA forum with some proposed solutions. What is important here is that we include them in those discussions to put support where it is needed, not just throw money at a problem when that has not been a clear request from the RAs.

Council agreed to provide a bit more funding to the RAs that request it in the short term, but the “bonus” for having higher membership clause was not supported. None of this takes away from the ongoing work we need to do to support RAs.

And that was the end of the business part of the Agenda!