I’m learning a lot about politics in my run to be your mayor. The mayor’s debates have been particularly interesting. I think if someone did an analysis of the amount of airtime the candidates spend looking backwards at what has or hasn’t been done, and pointing fingers, we’d see that a lot of the time is spent on this.
I’ve been trying to keep my spirits up and to stay focused, looking forward, on the future of Victoria, and on the city that we will create, together if I’m elected on November 15th. I relish the opportunity to serve as your mayor and I feel really excited about the energy I sense in the community about change and possibility and a new way of doing politics.
There has been some misinformation, so I want to set the record straight and share my perspective on a few issues that are really important to me, and to you as well.
The word on the street is that I plan to privatize Crystal Pool. I don’t. On October 13th2013, the day Council was asked to vote on whether we want to have a publicly owned and operated swimming pool or not, I published this blog post. In it I said, “I support the retention of a public pool and fitness centre in Victoria. And, to be perfectly clear, I support this facility being operated by the City and staffed by our terrific, competent and very capable workers.”
I also said, should the City decide to rebuild rather than refurbish the pool, that we keep our options open as to how we get to a publicly run swimming pool. My commitment to Victorians in my detailed election platform is to develop a business case for a Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre that incorporates a publicly owned and operated swimming pool and recreation centre as well as commercial / retail space and housing. This may require a partnership with the non-profit or private sector for the housing portion and for the commercial space (for doctor’s office, massage therapist, chiropractor etc).
When I was asked to vote on the issue at the Council table, it was framed as a black and white choice. In order to keep the City’s options open, to innovate, and to look for creative solutions, I was forced to vote “no”. There was no outside the box option available. The spirit of leadership that I bring to the table is to look for a common goal – a publicly owned and operated swimming pool – and a willingness to find new and creative ways to get there.
City of Victoria Housing Trust Fund
Early in our term of Council we were considering the contribution that the City makes to the City and the Regional Affordable Housing Trust Funds. Every year the City puts $500,000 into these trust funds. Early in my term, Council was considering reducing this to $400,000 per year for the next three years.
We were making this decision in October 2012. From July to October 2012, I had undertaken budget workshops across the City to ask Victoria residents and business owners for their input on the 2013-2015 budget. The number one concern I heard from seniors was that Victoria is getting too expensive. While Council may have capped the property tax increase, their pensions weren’t going to increase that much every year.
The voices and concerns of the seniors were on my mind when I voted, at Governance and Priorities Committee in favour of reducing the City’s contribution to affordable housing to $400,000 per year.
But then, in the two weeks between the committee decision and the Council decision (which is where we make final policy decisions) I learned something important. I learned that each $10,000 the City contributes to new affordable housing projects, leverages $1.4 million in contributions for other funders. So in voting to cut $100,000 I’d actually be cutting $14 million in potential funding. With this new information in hand, I voted in favour of keeping the City’s contribution at $500,000 per year. As a leader I’m willing to change course when I get new information and evidence.
In my platform I commit, in year three of our term, to see if there is money in the budget to increase the amount we put into the affordable housing trust funds.
Tax Exemptions for Non-Profits
In this past term, Council reviewed its non-profit tax exemption policy. In so doing, we found something troubling. In 2006, Council had changed its tax exemption program so that new applicants to the program were granted only a 50% property tax exemption. At the same time, Council grandfathered a 100% permissive property tax exemption for all organizations that already received a tax exemption.
Frankly put, organizations that had received a tax exemption before 2006 received a 100% exemption. Organizations which had applied after 2006 received only a 50% exemption. This is unfair and it is an unequal application of policy.
Council wanted to make sure that City policy is applied fairly to all the amazing organizations that do important charitable and community service work in the community. And I also understand the challenges facing this sector, having worked in it for many years. So we voted to phase in a 50% exemption for everyone over a 10-year period to give the organizations receiving a 100% exemption time to adapt to the new policy gradually.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and for continuing to share your thoughts and concerns with me going forward. I welcome a diversity views, even when they differ from my own. This is part of how I learn. For me, continuous learning and ongoing dialogue are key qualities that I’ll bring to the role of mayor.