Federal Budget 2019: Good For Cities

 

 

It was my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to Victoria recently where he toured the City’s Public Works yard as well as a BC Transit “smart bus”, and gave an update on Budget 2019, in particular what’s in it for cities.

Since Confederation in 1867, the funding formula for cities has changed very little. For every tax dollar that Canadians pay, approximately $0.92 goes to the provincial and federal governments and only $0.08 goes to local governments. This despite the fact that about 70% of public infrastructure in Canada is within the jurisdiction of cities. And cities are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gases generated in the country. In addition, cities are faced with poverty, mental health, addictions and homelessness with little to no resources to deal with these pressing economic and social issues.

While this federal budget does not address all of these challenges, it gives an important nod – and some significant resources – to the ability of local governments to solve local problems locally.

Federal commitments in Budget 2019 on affordable housing, transitioning to a green economy, and skills training align closely with Victoria City Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and with the Capital Regional District’s recently adopted Strategic Plan as well.

Municipal leaders know, as do our federal counterparts, that taking action on those issues is crucial to ensuring that Canada’s cities are liveable, healthy, and competitive in the global economy.

I’m proud that the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing First Program was profiled in Federal Budget 2019 (see page 31). I note this because the program is a quintessential example of local innovation and leadership supported by – but not dictated by – federal and provincial funding.

The Regional Housing First Program was designed by and for our communities here in the region. Thankfully, the federal funding for the program is helping us to make transformative progress on eliminating homelessness and providing safe, affordable, and supported housing.

The federal commitment of $30 million was made in May 2018 (to match provincial and regional commitments of $30 million each) and already we have opened Millstream Ridge in Langford. It’s a 132 unit building run by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and it includes 30 units which rent at $375 per month.

This kind of thinking – federal support for local innovation – is why I was pleased to see the Federal government use Budget 2019 to transfer $2.2 billion in Federal Gas Tax funding to municipalities and First Nations. It charts a path toward a modernized federal-municipal relationship that gets more done for Canadians. Permanently growing this core funding stream would directly empower municipalities to deliver on national objectives.

This gas tax measure, which will see an additional $3.5 million flow to the City of Victoria – and $21 million flow to the region – is a great way of allocating federal funds directly to local governments where they are coupled with local expertise to address short-term infrastructure priorities in communities across Canada. This funding allows projects to get underway now without grant applications and federal or provincial approvals.

In recent years, the City of Victoria used Gas Tax funds in several crucial ways. We’re building a 32km bike network for people of all ages and abilities and we’re also working to complete a harbour pathway. We updated our storm drain system. And we installed LED street lights throughout the city. This last investment is saving us approximately $200,000 per year in hydro costs which we are reinvesting to fund other essential energy and GHG reduction initiatives in the city.

These gas tax investments have also made Victoria a more dynamic and enjoyable place to live by increasing infrastructure for health and well-being. And, since addressing climate change is a shared priority of the City of Victoria and the federal government, it is no coincidence that our Gas Tax-funded projects all improved Victoria’s resilience to climate change and reduced carbon pollution.

In addition to being good for health and well-being and good for the climate, local investments in capital infrastructure are good for the economy. For example, last week the CRD adopted its 2019 budget. Included in the budget are $382 million dollars worth of capital improvements – sewer, water, housing, parks, trails and more. This investment is expected to generate 814 new jobs in the region and 1121 new jobs across British Columbia.

Cities are creative, innovative places that hold some of the solutions to the challenges faced by federal and provincial governments, most notably climate change. Investments like the ones announced in Budget 2019 will help the federal government to deliver on its climate mandate by enabling cities to have a strong voice and to take strong action in shaping our own infrastructure priorities. Cities and metro regions are key to the federal government meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; they are behind and we can help. Cities are here as allies and partners.

I look forward to inviting Minister Duclos and other federal ministers back to Victoria in the future.  And I look forward to showing them how we’re continuing to take local action and improve our communities by using the funds announced for local governments in Budget 2019.

 

 

Quality of Life Focus for City’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget 2019

Screenshot 2019-03-19 09.38.22.png

During the election campaign last fall when I was at community meetings, in living rooms, in small businesses and on doorsteps I heard loud and clear that quality of life and well-being are important to Victorians. I heard this from the very young, the very old and everyone in between.

That’s why in Council’s recently adopted 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and in this year’s budget we are making meaningful investments in livable neighbourhoods, affordable housing, senior’s and community centres and safer, more human-scale streets. I know from speaking with members of our business community that quality of life is key to them thriving as well – business owners and employees like all the amenities that come with living in a place where people’s health and well-being matter.

Over the past four years Victoria has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. We are re-investing the benefits of a strong economy to improve life for people. The actions in our four-year Strategic Plan are focused on what our residents want and asked us to do, to make Victoria more affordable, create welcoming neighbourhoods, and to act now on climate change.

In addition to continuing to invest in better City services for people, Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan puts a priority on things that will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

To make Victoria more affordable for families, the City is putting $1 million into the Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and implementing a new suite of housing initiatives to increase the number of affordable homes for people in all stages and phases of life’s journey and to support renters.

To create infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, the City is investing in active transportation, street improvements and traffic calming, with more than $31.6 million over the next four years going to keep people moving around the city safely and efficiently.

To help them deliver high-quality services, Victoria’s eight community centres and three seniors centres are receiving a $234,000 boost to their annual base funding. Neighbourhood Associations will receive a total of $100,000 to support neighbourhood planning.

The City will also convene a Seniors Task Force to learn more about seniors’ needs and desires and to develop the City’s first Seniors Strategy. This will support seniors in remaining independent, healthy, active and socially-connected in the community.

A new investment of $858,000 annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest, with the long-term goal to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 per cent.

The Strategic Plan and Budget were developed with broad public input. More than 1,500 people provided their ideas and feedback to Council in the budget survey and town hall meeting, and another 150 people participated in the Strategic Plan Engagement Summit to share their knowledge and experience to help Council shape the plans.

 The Goal of the strategic plan was also developed by the public: “By 2022, Victoria will be a bold, thriving, inclusive, and happy city that people love. We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, innovative approaches to affordable housing, and for meaningful reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homelands our city was built.” Working together, side by side – council, staff and the community – we will achieve this.

Read the whole plan here.

Highlights of the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan

The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.

  1. Good Governance and Civic Engagement
  2. Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
  3. Affordable Housing
  4. Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
  5. Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
  6. Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
  7. Sustainable Transportation
  8. Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

In addition, Council has set the following Operational Priorities, reflecting the shared values of Council and  City staff, residents and the business community:

  • Heritage conservation and heritage designation
  • Nurturing and supporting arts, culture and creativity
  • Creating and maintaining a high-quality public realm
  • Continuous improvement with regard to open government
  • Meaningful and inclusive public engagement
  • Sound fiscal management
  • Accessible information, facilities and services

Objective #1 – Good Governance and Civic Engagement

  • Working with Saanich Council to develop and implement a Citizens Assembly process to explore amalgamation.
  • Offering free childcare at City Hall during public hearings.
  • Releasing closed meeting decisions and Council member expenses quarterly.
  • Working to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region

Objective #2 – Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations

  • Working with First Nations and the community to create the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.
  • Reinstating the City’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program, providing the opportunity for a local Indigenous artist to develop artistic works and engage the community in dialogue and events.
  • Establishing an Indigenous Relations function and appointing Indigenous Elders in Residence to provide advice on City programs and operations will be considered in 2020 with guidance and support from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
  • Exploring co-governance of Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and shoreline areas with the Lekwungen speaking people.

Objective #3 – Affordable Housing

  • Investing $1 million in the City’s Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and to acquire lands and partner with other agencies to end chronic homelessness.
  • Investing an additional $545,000 in 2019 on a suite of initiatives to encourage and incentivize more affordable homes for people, especially families, as well as look for further opportunities to speed up and simplify the development process for affordable rental homes.
  • Assigning a Tenant Housing Ambassador at City Hall to make it easier for renters to navigate the Tenant Assistance Policy, Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and other programs to support renters, being considered in 2020.
  • Considering grant programs for secondary suites and affordable garden suites, including those that are accessible and serve an aging population.

Objective #4 – Prosperity and Economic Inclusion

  • Convening the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity 2.0 to hit 2041 job targets.
  • Allocating more than $1 million in the City’s Festival Investment Grants over the next four year years ($270,000 annually) to create a vibrant city, strengthen downtown and enhance liveability.
  • Investing $1.5 million to support public art, festivals and events, including the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, Indigenous Artist in Residence, Artist in Residence, and Poet/Youth Laureate programs.
  • Providing nearly $4.3 million each year to support economic development initiatives and make it easier to do business in Victoria, including the Business Hub at City Hall, the South Island Prosperity Project, the Victoria Film Commission and operating the Victoria Conference Centre.
  • Exploring ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.

Objective #5 – Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City

  • Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration
  • Striking a Peer-Informed Task Force to identify priority actions to inform a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, actionable at the municipal level.
  • Creating a city-wide Childcare Strategy and Action Plan.
  • Developing and implementing an Accessibility Framework to make City policies, services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible for all.
  • Increasing local food security with urban agriculture initiatives to foster food production on private land, support farmers markets and community gardens, food storage and distribution systems.

Objective #6 – Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship

  • Taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
  • Working with the community to develop and implement a Zero Waste Strategy that will chart the course to a local economy where nothing is wasted.
  • Allocating $13.7 million in upgrades to the drinking water, stormwater and sewer system.
  • Implementing the BC Step Code and mandating electric vehicle charging capacity in all new developments.

Objective #7 – Sustainable Transportation

  • Providing a $975,000 increase in capital investment for street improvements, for a total of  $3.6 million in 2019.
  • Investing $450,000 in traffic calming initiatives to make local streets safer, and reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h on neighbourhood streets by 2021.
  • Investing $2.5 million in crosswalk upgrades or new installations at 18 locations to improve safety and encourage walking.
  • Fast-tracking completion by 2022 of the City’s 32-kilometre, AAA cycling network through
  • Providing free BC Transit passes for all Victoria youth, funded through new revenue raised by charging for Sunday on-street metered parking beginning May 1, 2019.

Objective #8 – Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

  • Investing $35 million in 2019 in the City’s parks, recreation and facilities, which includes 137 parks, 207 hectares of parkland, 90 hectares of natural landscape, 40 playgrounds, 23 tennis courts, 12 dog off-leash areas, 45 sports fields and 104 City facilities.
  • Expanding the LIFE program to provide low-income families with free year-round use of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre and ice skating at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
  • Exploring partnerships to create meeting space and a home base for neighbourhood associations that currently do not have their own community centre.
  • Providing $60,000 for the City’s Participatory Budgeting program to empower the community to direct investment in neighbourhoods, with youth-themed projects the focus for 2019, newcomers in 2020 and neighbourhood placemaking in 2021.

 

Bridge to the future

IMG_6322.jpeg
For more photos of the bridge opening celebration, see the end of this post.

It began early Friday morning. A small group gathered with Esquimalt elder Mary Anne Thomas and Songhees elder Elmer George on the new bridge at dawn. The elders called on the ancestors as they blessed the bridge and asked for protection for all who pass over it. As they did, I thought about all the other public infrastructure in the City, here on Lekwungen territory, that hasn’t been blessed. The City is in a process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt nations; honouring their ancient tradition was the right way to prepare to open our new bridge.

When I arrived at the bridge site before the opening ceremony, I hadn’t expected to see such a crowd. It had taken us a long time to get to opening day, the road had many bumps, and the project had been controversial. But there were Victorians, some 10,000 strong, ready to mark the day together.

I learned something important about our community yesterday. The community scrutinizes (keeping a close eye and criticizing as the project budget increased and the timeline extended) but when the time comes, we are able to look to the future and to move forward together. This is a remarkable quality that will serve us well as we grow and change over the next hundred years.

As a community we collectively persevered to ensure that we have a safe, functional and extraordinary piece of infrastructure that I felt proud to present to the public. The bridge is a manifestation of the dedication and hard work of the people in both China and Victoria who built it. It’s an emblem of pride of workmanship. It’s a testimony to years of local work on site and especially local work in the last eight months since the bridge arrived, getting it ready for opening day. There were a number of local apprentices who trained on the job; they are the workforce of the future. And, they’ll be able to visit the bridge with their kids and grandkids and to say, “I built this.”

There was another key reason to celebrate: through the lessons learned on the bridge project, City Hall has turned a corner on project management and now has the capacity to deliver large scale infrastructure projects; both the Fire Hall Project and the Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre Replacement Project will demonstrate this. This new way of doing business is what the public expects and deserves.

An afternoon long, 10,000 person community picnic, festival and celebration might have been enough.  But the old bridge had been decked out with a disco ball and lights. As dusk fell, it became a festival of light. I joined in with the hundreds of people that had started an impromptu dance party, music blaring from speakers left behind from the day’s events.

IMG_3010

I felt like I was in a different city for a moment, but then I realized, this is the new Victoria emerging. It’s a Victoria that believes in spontaneity, light, laughter, well-being,  and connection. This is Victoria in the 21st century.

 

Bridge Opening Day Photo Gallery

IMG_2994
Thousands of people cross the bridge together as a community for
the first time after the ribbon is cut.

 

IMG_2983
The Island Chef’s Collaborative providing fresh snacks.

 

IMG_2818
Celebrating with a picnic lunch on the deck of Old Blue.

 

IMG_2803[1]
The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network in action, gathering people’s favourite memories of Old Blue.

 

IMG_2809[1]
A blue bridge mask-making table saw hundreds of kids go home
with a homemade momento of Old Blue.

 

IMG_2978
Two adorable kids who had just been to the mask-making table.

 

 

City Budget – Your Input Needed

a-look-at-the-budget

City Council is about to make the most important decision it makes each year, and we’d like your help. Join us at the Budget Town Hall this Thursday November 30th. Or take the survey here.

How does the annual budgeting process work? At the beginning of the term Council set objectives for the City through the 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. Each year at budget time Council reviews the strategic plan and allocates funding through the budget to achieve its objectives including Create Prosperity Through Economic Development, Make Victoria More Affordable, and Take Climate Action and Prepare for Emergencies, to name just a few.

In late October and early November Council dove deeply to the 1116 page draft budget document. We face a challenging task: how can we continue to provide the broad scope of approximately 200 services and over 200 capital infrastructure projects that our citizens value and also meet demands from citizens and businesses for increased or new services? And how can we do this in a way that keeps people’s ability to pay their taxes top of mind?

This is where we’re looking for your input. We know our residents are busy so we want to make it easy for you. Head here for all the information you need about how to participate.

There’s be a budget survey so you can share your priorities with us. There’s a property tax calculator so you can see what the impact of any proposed increase would be on your particular property. There’s a budget snapshot for each neighbourhood so you can learn more about the work proposed to be done in your area. And most importantly, there’s a Town Hall meeting on Thursday November 30th at 7pm at City Hall. Come in person if you can; if you can’t you can call in, email, tweet, and Facebook with your questions and comments. We will use the public input gathered to inform Council’s decision on the budget in early January 2018.

Council understands like you do that, the City budgeting process is about services – ensuring your money is spent prudently on the priorities of our community. But the bigger picture, or perhaps the guiding principle of Council in making budget decisions is to make sure that we’re spending your valuable money in a way that enhances individual and collective well-being and meets the demands of our growing and changing community.

As I’ve shared in my last few articles, and based on census data, our community is changing. Young families with kids need playgrounds, green spaces, downtown public spaces that are welcoming for everyone; seniors need gathering places and programs to keep them connected with each other and with the community; young people need to be engaged, have their voices heard and the city shaped around their needs; and all of us need to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century including building a resilient low-carbon city for the future.

 

Who is paying for those bike lanes anyway?

18198979_1380995998659120_9109803726876710182_n

The Pandora two-way separated bike lane opened on time and on budget on May 1st. It’s been open for a month now and the use has been staggering. Preliminary data reveal that we’re seeing well over 1000 people per day using the infrastructure. This is a marked increase from usage on Pandora before the lanes opened.

In addition to data driven declarations of success even in these early days, anecdote and observation tell a deeper story. Before the installation of the Pandora bike lane, I can’t say I’d ever seen someone under the age of ten riding their own bike downtown. Now I’m seeing young kids, on their own two wheels, trailing closely behind their parents. And not only on sunny weekend days but also during the morning and afternoon commutes.

The new bike lane is making older kids and their parents feel safer too. I got this email from a Vic High parent last week, “Good morning Lisa. We attended my daughters last dance performance at Victoria High. After we left for home in our car, she left on her bike.  She got home shortly after us. We said, ‘That was quick how did you do that?’ She said, ‘I took the protected bike lanes; Lisa gave us a map.’ Thank you. Knowing my daughter is safe means a lot to us.”

These kids and teenagers are the people we built the bike lanes for. They’ll grow up knowing how to move through the city by bicycle and they’ll be able to do it safely. Biking will be normal for them not some “alternate” mode of transportation.

In addition to smiles and emails of thanks from parents, we’ve also received emails saying that cyclists should be paying their fair share for this new infrastructure. And that the Pandora bike lane was a waste of their property tax dollars.

In fact, it’s the opposite. People who ride bikes more than they drive cars subsidize infrastructure for cars. Everyone pays property taxes (those who rent pay them through their rent) and its property taxes that pay for roads. It’s enormously expensive to build and maintain roads for vehicles. Vehicles are much harder on roads than bikes or pedestrians. Vehicles lead to potholes and the need for pavement repair. Vehicles mean that when we build new infrastructure like the Johnson Street Bridge we need to build additional new wide, expensive lanes for cars. Those who bike, take transit, or walk more than they drive are subsidizing car infrastructure.

Second, the Pandora bike lanes were not paid for with property taxes but rather with gas taxes. Gas taxes are collected when people pump gas into their cars. Many people who ride bikes also drive cars from time to time so they are helping to pay for this infrastructure too.

Want to learn more about the economics of cycling? Watch the webcast of Portland’s Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy giving a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall.

Victoria Is Part of a Growing Movement to Put Spending Decisions in Hands of Taxpayers

participatory-budgeting1

Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC – Victoria’s first participatory budgeting process kicks-off Thursday with an opportunity for residents to learn more about participatory budgeting and begin to design a process where the community decides how to spend $60,000 in Victoria.

 PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING KICK OFF

Thursday, January 12, 2017
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Foyer of the Atrium Building at 800 Yates Street

The launch event will be facilitated by the Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit agency from New York that works to empower people to decide together how to spend public money. They have supported participatory processes across North America through which over $200 million dollars have been allocated. Shari Davis, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Participatory Budgeting Project, will lead the Thursday session. During her time at the City of Boston, Shari launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the US.

Participatory budgeting, commonly known as PB, pushes traditional public engagement and traditional budgeting methods to the limit by empowering citizens to design a decision-making process and choose how the funds are spent. The municipality becomes the facilitator of the community and supports the citizen efforts, implementing what the community decides they want for the community. This is the first participatory process led by a municipality on the South Island, and one of the first in BC.

Responsive to citizen needs for greater involvement in government decision-making, participatory budgeting was originally introduced in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and is now common across the globe in varying forms and deliberative processes. In North America, cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Toronto, Guelph, and closer to home, Tofino, have introduced participatory components to their annual municipal budgets. In terms of financial allocations in other cities, they range from nominal amounts in small centres, to millions of dollars in large cities such as Chicago and New York. Canadian examples include Toronto ($450,000), Guelph ($125,000) and Tofino ($20,000).

The $60,000 earmarked in Victoria applies to the entire community rather than one specific neighbourhood. It is an important principle of participatory budgeting to reach all demographics and neighbourhoods in the community. Accordingly, efforts are being made to reach neighbourhoods and groups not typically active in the budget process (e.g. youth, seniors, new residents, new immigrants).

Everyone is invited to participate. It’s important there is participation and views from groups across the city. The event will also be of interest to government, school, and community organizations looking to introduce participatory budgeting processes.

— 30 —

For More Information:

Mayor Lisa Helps 250.661.2708

Shari Davis, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Participatory Budgeting Project, is available for interviews January 11 and January 12.  Interviews can be scheduled by calling 250.661.0085

City Plan. City Budget. We Need YOUR Input!

It’s strategic plan time! It’s budget time! And we need your input. Mayor and Council have been working hard for the past two months to put together a bold and innovative strategic plan that will shape the direction we all go together for the next four years. The plan is not a nice wish list. It’s a path forward, with clear, measurable actions and outcomes.

Create Prosperity Through Economic Development. Make Victoria More Affordable. Engage and Empower the Public. Nurture our Arts, Culture and Learning Capital. These are just four of the 13 bold, forward-looking objectives we are aiming to achieve over the next four years to make Victoria into a leading-edge 21st century city.

To make sure we’re heading in the right direction, and spending your money in a way that will get us there, we need your input. Please take the time! If you’ve only got a little bit of time you can fill out the short survey and scratch the surface. If you’ve got more time, take a deep dive.

And, if you like good old-fashioned democracy, like I do, join us for a townhall meeting on the strategic plan and budget, Monday March 23rd 7pm at City Hall. We’re doing things differently this year and we need your help to make it a success. If you can’t make it in person on the 23rd, you can email, tweet or even phone us with your questions and comments and we’ll make sure they become part of the discussion that night.

The goal Council hopes to reach with this budget and this strategic plan is that “Victoria is a leading edge capital city that embraces the future and builds on the past, where human needs and the environment are priorities, where the community feels valued, heard and understood and where City Hall is trusted. Victoria is a city that is livable, affordable, prosperous and vibrant, where we all work in partnership to support opportunities and get things done.”

Together with you, we can make this happen. We look forward to building the city, with you.

What is a Strategic Plan and How Do We Make One?

A strategic plan is not a wish list or a to do list. It’s not a simple list of priorities. It’s not a list of tactics or actions. A strategic plan is a ‘living document’ set by a board of directors – in this case Council – to guide the strategic focus of the organization for a set period of time.

A strategic plan allows us, as the people you’ve elected to govern the City, to be proactive, future-focused, and action-ready. We start by setting a high-level strategic goal, deciding the strategic objectives we need to pursue to achieve that goal, and then determining high-level actions that we direct our staff to implement in order to achieve these objectives.

If this sounds a bit ungrounded right now, not to worry. As we determine the goal, objectives and actions we’ll share them with you before adopting the plan. We want to make sure we’re creating the kind of city you elected us to and doing it in such a way that is inclusive, bold and forward-looking.

In our last term of office, it took Mayor and Council 11 months to complete a strategic planning process. This meant that staff went nearly a year without direction from Council as to what our strategic focus and priorities would be for the term. This time, we’ve committed to completing our Strategic Plan within the first quarter of 2015. This way we can give clear direction to, and empower, our staff as early in the term as possible so we’re not wasting time.

At the beginning of the strategic planning process, I presented the following report and recommendation to Council. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­In the interests of transparency and inclusiveness, even though the first two meetings were held in closed session, Council chose to rise and report on the entire report and strategic planning agenda. I share it here in its entirety. Feel free to join us in person at City Hall or online here as we set to work creating a high-level strategic plan for our four year term.

Governance and Priorities Report, January 26th 2015
Recommendation
That Council adopt the following strategic planning process.

Summary
The objective of the strategic planning process is to end up with a concrete strategic plan that will guide the decisions of Council and the work of staff for the next four years. Once in place, Council will review the plan on a regular basis and update it according to emerging priorities and the will of Council.

In order to have a plan with concrete outcomes that reflects the will of council and the aspirations of the public, we need to do three things. First, we need everyone on council to feel good about the strategic planning process and to feel like there is room for everyone’s ideas to be considered. Second, we need to focus the discussion on concrete problems and concrete solutions. Third, we need to share the plan with the public and ask for high-level input before we adopt it.

Monday January 26th 9:00-3:00
In camera, Council, City Manager, Director Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning Warm-Up with Tracey Lorenson
A facilitated session with Tracey Lorenson to agree on some high level principles for working together, develop a sense of what a strategic plan is and what we want it to do, and begin to discuss high-level goals.

Objectives:
a.) Stretch our ‘working together’ muscles
b.) Discuss what each person would like to get out of the strategic planning process and out of the experience of working together for the next four years
c.) Agree on some basic principles and values for working together
d.) Begin to identify themes and one high level goal that the plan can aim to achieve

Wednesday January 28th 9:00am-1:00pm
In camera, Council, City Manager, Director Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning

Section 1 Where We Are and Where We’re Going
A facilitated discussion to flesh out the problems we’d like to solve and some agreement on the desired reality we’d like to get to.

Objective:
Come to agreement about what is wrong and where we would like to take the City, at a very high level (agree on a shared goal) in the next four years.

Section 1 – Where We Are and Where We’re Going

  1. Start by listing the top ten things that we think are wrong with the city.
  2. Distil everything that is wrong into one sentence.
  3. If our answer to number two is the current reality, then, in one sentence, what is our desired reality?

Monday February  2nd  9am–12 pm
Public

Sections 2 and 3 Big Dreams and Reality Check and Learning From Elsewhere
A facilitated discussion led to flesh out everyone’s big ideas, blue sky scenarios, as well as small things we’d like to see. This is also a structured opportunity for people to bring ideas they’re seen work well in other places.

Objectives:
a.) Begin to identify some of the really big things we’d like to accomplish in the next four years as well as some of the smaller, easier wins. These will tie into the final day of planning.

b.) Share ideas and success stories from other places and asses which, if any we might like to pilot in Victoria. These will tie into the final day of planning. 

Section 2 – Big Dreams and Reality Check

  1. If the City of Victoria had all the time and all the resources in the world what would we do? (Dream big!)
  2. If the City had little time and few resources, what would we do?

Section 3 – Learning From Elsewhere

  1. What cities in the world do you think Victoria has something to learn from?
  2. What are some concrete things we can learn from these cities?

Tuesday February 3rd 9am – 3pm
Public 

Section 4 Passions, Outcomes and Concrete Actions (Part 1)

A facilitated discussion to bring everything together into high-level concrete outcomes and actions. This will loop back to where we started in order to make sure that what the things we said were ‘wrong’ in Question 1 Section 1 are addressed by the outcomes and actions we agree to. This will be the meatiest session and this is where we will actually begin to make decisions.

Objectives:
a.) Learn more about what each Councillor is interested in working on

b.) Determine the high-level plan ‘headings’ or ‘priorities’
b.) Begin to settle on high level outcomes (deliverables) and actions 

Section 4 – Passions, Concrete Outcomes and Actions

  1. What are you passionate about working on?
  2. Now, get concrete about your passions! At the end of four years, we will have achieved these ten concrete outcomes:
    1. 
    2.
    etc.
  3. List the actions we think the City can take to achieve these outcomes.

Thursday February 5th 12pm – 4pm
Public

Section 4 Passions, Outcomes and Concrete Actions (Part 2)
A facilitated discussion to bring everything together into high-level concrete outcomes and actions. This will loop back to where we started in order to make sure that what the things we said were ‘wrong’ in Question 1 Section 1 are addressed by the outcomes and actions we agree to. This will be the meatiest session and this is where we will actually begin to make decisions.

Objectives:
a.) To clean up and tie up our work from the previous four sessions
b.) To make decisions on the high-level plan ‘headings’ or ‘priorities’
c.) To make decisions on the high level outcomes (deliverables) and actions  
d.) To direct staff to produce a draft strategic plan for input from Council and the public

Property Taxes 101

Property taxes have gone up 26% over the last six years. Good tax policy and living within our means is needed to create an affordable city for Victoria’s residents and businesses alike. I have a plan to keep property taxes in line with inflation, or better for the next four years. I also have thoughts on the impact that freezing the property tax ‘mill rate’ for four years would have – both on commercial property owners and on the fiscal management of City Hall.

Before I share my plan to keep property taxes in line with inflation, and look more closely at the impact of freezing the property tax mill rate, here’s a property tax primer. What is the mill rate anyways?

Property Taxes 101
The City divides property owners into six classes. 
Residential and business make up the vast majority of property. To create its annual budget, the City multiplies the assessed value (which is produced independently by BC Assessment every January) by a ‘mill rate’ for each class of property. The ‘mill rate’ is set independently by the City to produce the amount of revenue required for the City’s operations.

The City runs a surplus annually. Unlike other levels of government, municipalities are not allowed to run deficits. The surplus varies from year to year and is transferred to the City’s infrastructure reserve fund at the end of the year. This reserve fund is important to the City’s long-term sustainability. The City uses its reserves for important infrastructure like water and sewer pipes, parks, roads and greenways. With reduced or no surpluses in the annual budget, infrastructure reserves would shrink. This would compromise the City’s ability to care for its infrastructure for the long term.

Taxes collected make up roughly 55% of the City’s annual budgeted revenues. User fees for water, sewer and garbage are other ways the city earns revenue to provide services.

New tax revenue from new growth is based on re-assessments of properties on which there is construction – new buildings and building improvements. New tax revenue has decreased significantly in the last five years. The last two years are dire:

2009:  $1,958,701
2010:  $1,878,822
2011:  $1,659,973
2012:  $328,105
2013:  $108,640

These numbers show what I hear a lot – that it’s hard and slow to get through the processes at City Hall to build or improve a building in Victoria.

My Plan
Fix City Hall so it works
 and so that in can play a role in creating a beautiful, vibrant city and new tax revenue. Foster and support new, sensitive, beautiful buildings and enterprises in Victoria by creating an Economic Development Office (start up funding to come through the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund). Support small business and reduce downtown retail and commercial vacancies through the creation of an Enterprise Facilitator position in the Economic Development Office. More details 
here.

Overhaul City Hall and create an innovative, creative work culture where front-line staff are empowered to innovate and look for cost savings. Working with The Pacific Institute, the City of Saskatoon did this between 2004 and 2009. In 2009, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses named Saskatoon the most business friendly city in Canada. And, between 2004 and 2009 Saskatoon saved $56 million dollars. Not by cutting and slashing services, but by working smarter and encouraging cooperation and innovation throughout the organization. And yes, it’s a unionized workplace, just like the City of Victoria.

With City Hall working and new revenue from new development coming in and with innovation, creativity and cost-savings realized, I will work with Council and city management to keep property taxes in line with inflation, or better.

Freezing the Mill Rate is Not Freezing Taxes
Freezing the mill rate means that if the assessed value of properties goes up, taxes will go up. If the assessed value of property goes down, taxes will go down. In both cases, control of city finances is surrendered to the vagaries of the market. Property owners could find themselves paying dramatically more, or the City’s budget might have a hole blown in it. And, worst of all, we wouldn’t know it until the year in question. Remember, the City only gets the assessment information in January of the budget year. This is no way to govern an organization that is run with public dollars.

Finally, freezing the mill rate would prevent the City from continuing to re-balance between residential and business taxes. In 2010, the business mill rate was 3.59 to 1 versus the residential mill rate. Today it is 3.18 to 1. We’ve made a bit of progress in the past few years and I will keep working on this for the next four.

Sensible Tax Policy
What I’m hearing over and over again is that Victorians want to live in a place they can afford. And they want a city government that takes into consideration their ability to pay as it sets its budget and tax rate each year and decides how to spend their money.

Public Art and the Johnson Street Bridge

I stopped in to see John the singing grocer, as he’s affectionately known, in Cook Street Village today. The first words that crossed his lips, “So, what do you think of the public art proposed for the Johnson Street bridge?” I asked him his thoughts. He said that good welcoming landscaping could take the place of art. We should create a place for people to be and to mill about.

Here’s the context for his question: Last Thursday Council, sitting as Governance and Priorities Committee received an update on the Johnson Street Bridge project. The good news is that at this early stage in the game, the project appears to be on time and on budget. The staff report laid out a revised budget ($300,000 more added to the contingency budget because of savings found through design optimization) and timeline.

After thanking staff for their work, we spent the next hour deliberating about whether to spend $250,000 (already approved as part of the project budget) on public art to accompany the bridge. A motion was put forward to spend the money. Then an amendment was made to reduce the amount to $100,000. Then the majority of Council moved to postpone consideration of the decision until the new year in order to have more information about the site and landscape plans for the approaches to the bridge. I was in the minority who thought we should make a decision that day and move on.

On the evening news, I said that I’m all for public art, but how about we wait until the end of the project and see if we do come in under budget. If yes, then maybe we could consider adding an element of art to public space near the bridge. To me that’s a practical approach. I also feel, as the Times Colonist reported, that the bridge itself is a piece of art. And, my final thought is that we’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on landscaping, lighting, the creation of public plaza spaces for people to gather. Art is great and it plays a hugely importantly role in shaping public spaces. But it is also people that make public spaces come alive. And, as one CFAX caller said, “The art is our harbour; it is a moving picture.” 

My take away from the media attention around this issue and the public response is that there’s a tension between two of Council’s key responsibilities. We are called to be stewards of the City’s public spaces and stewards of the public purse. Standard practice in North America seems to be that one per cent of large public infrastructure projects is spent on art to accompany the project. I understand this. But in the case of the Johnson Street Bridge, which has already risen from an original $77 million budget to $92.8 million, I favour a wait and see approach. It would be heartbreaking to commit $250,000 to public art at this point and then, because of rising steel costs, unanticipated archaeological delays, etc, see the bridge come in over budget. It may seem that $250,000 is ‘nothing’ in the face of a $92.8 million project. But it’s not nothing to me. It’s money entrusted to us by people through their property taxes. And I want to spend that money with care.