Friday, October 29, 2010

Metro Vancouver Budget

As the alternate representative for Port Moody on the Metro Vancouver Board, I attended the Oct 29 meeting of the board at which the 2011 budget was on the agenda. We had previously had a budget 'workshop' meeting on Wednesday (27th) to go over the budget revisions for 2011.
In a nutshell:
Metro Vancouver 2011 Budget, expeditures: $ 603.4 million , + 5.8% (across all functions)
Impact on 'average' household - $ 513 / hh / year , up $ 44 / hh or + 9.4%
Now, the Metro Vancouver budget is a VERY complicated budget, as any $ 600 million dollar budget is likely to be, but, the budget is actually quite transparant, and 'honest'. Particularly, they disburse 'common costs' and admin costs across the various functions (water, sewage, garbage, parks, etc), and the budget is very well analyzed.
Unfortunately, maybe due to the transparancy, there are also things that just LEAP off the page and set off the alarm bells. In particular, those items for me are:
- Solid waste (garbage) tipping fee - increasing from $ 82 to $ 97 per ton - or + 18%, due primarily to a decrease in garbage vs. fixed costs on operating the system. So if we continue to reduce our garbage our 'rate' will just keep going up ? We have seen this before in the 'metered water' discussions, where so much of the cost has NOTHING to do with volume that decreaasing consumption does not achieve efficiencies. YIKES, we need to reduce our garbage for so many reasons, if nothing else, maybe increased fees provide increase motivation to REDUCE !
- Corporate communications - + 19.64 %. Metro Vancouver has a huge budget for communications allowing them to produce the sustainable region tv series and many 'glossy' media releases, etc. Nice... but necessary ? These are tough times ! If nothing else we need to make sure these resources are not duplicates of what is already going on municipally and make sure we are getting full value for these costs.
- Media Relations - + 10.66%. In my opinion, part of the 'media relations' puzzle is that Metro Vancouver is being portrayed as a 'regional government', which it is NOT. It is an association of municipal governments, but, with items like this, seems to be somewhere convenient to hide some expenses from the taxpayers !
- Boards and Committees - + 44% since 2009. This is the one that bugs me the most - this is the salaries and indemnities for mayors and councillors to gather in Burnaby to discuss regional issues - in fact, to FEED THE BEAST that is Metro Vancouver, and where I'm concerned, to hide costs and spending from taxpayers. If we are electing representatives to our municpal councils, and it is in the interest of the municipality to participate in regional planning and operations, then this should be clearly and truthfully identified for the municpal taxpayers to adjudicate .. not buried in their water bills !
So yes, as you might imagine, I am not pleased with the MV budget, so , I had some amendments I was going to propose to the plan - particulary including reducing the expenditrues on those items noted above. After making my first amendment, it became clear that the board wasn't interested in revisiting the 9.4% increase to the taxpayers and I heard several times comments like ' this late hour', '.. insignificant in the context of the overall budget', and '... it is what it is.' Yes, I find this offensive - its NEVER too late to evaluate the amount of money you are taking from taxpayers pockets, its NEVER insignificant if we can save $ 1 and, frankly, I dont even know what 'it is what it is' means, although I believe Todd Bertuzzi used the quote at some point ??
Metro Vancouver collects the vast majority of its revenue through municipal utility charges , and we all know that muncipal utility charges have increased in the double digit percentage wise for several years running. We are told that this is necessary for our waste, water and sewage systems - and yet, in the Metro Vancouver budget we have millions going to pay municpal politicians meetings, for advertising and PR, and $ 300, 000 for board international travel.
These things might have some merit if money isn't an object, but it's irresponsible spending of taxpayer money, and I voted against the budget for this reason. My preference would have been to amend the budget to remove / reduce some of these items, but as the board had no desire and defeated the two amendments proposed (one by myself and one by Vancovuer Mayor Robertson), they proceeded to approve the budget as written.
Next time a municipal politician says to you 'Its not us, its Metro Vancouver' , ask them to explain that and whether they supported the near 10% increase !

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Translink, Oct 7,2010 Consultation on Funding

Well, if you've been living in a cave, or somewhere outside of the lower mainland, you may not be aware that Translink is having some financial challenges, and in particular, struggling to come up with the $ 400 million for their commitment to the Evergreen Line. Today, Translink hosted a meeting at Metrotown to discuss their funding outlook. The event was VERY well attended by municipal politicians from throughout the region, including Mayor Trasolini and myself from Port Moody, and media.

While the meeting was significant on the issue of funding, there was a VERY IMPORTANT side issue arising at this meeting, for residents of the north east sector.

First, on the funding issue:

Translink CEO Ian Jarvis walked through the proposed funding model for generating the revenues required for the Evergreen Line, and other regional projects. The model is split into two parts, or priorities: Part one being the Evergreen Line (400 million) and the North Fraser Perimeter Road (53 million). These projects are identified as the highest priority because of both importance to the region and leveraging senior government funding. Part two identifies 13 other priority projects for Translink - Main St Station Upgrades, King George Blvd B Line, Metrotown station upgrades, Bus Service Hour Extensions, Bike Capital Funding, Surrey Central Station Upgrades, Highway 1 Rapid Bus Project, MRN Minor Capital Funding, New West Station Upgrades, Bus Service Hour expansion (growth), Bus Service Hours and Infrastructure on U Pass routes, White Rock to Langley Bus Service and Lonsdale Quay Upgrades.

WAIT, you say... 15 projects and the Murray Clarke Connector is not even included on the list ? How can it be that a project that was a priority of the province in 1983 , remains un completed in 2010 and isn't even mentioned as being a priority in the region ??

WELL - interestingly enough, we didn't have to wait long for the answer. Mr Jarvis explained that the Murray Clarke Connector didn't meet the priority threshold, as it had no 'historical' significance and did not have any associated senior partner funding. While he is correct on the lack of senior govt partner funding, I wondered how this project could not have historical significance as a priority ?

WELL - interestingly again, we didn't need to wait long for that answer either. Mr Jarvis noted that the Murray Clarke connector was only needed when the Evergreen Line was an at grade light rail system running along St John's street - and now that it had been changed to skytrain, there was no longer any urgency for the Murray Clarke connector project.

OK, yup , hang on... is that my head exploding ? Did I really just hear someone say the Murray Clarke, a regional priority since 1983 (which of course is two years prior to ANY skytrain line ever being built in the region), was only a necessity if the Evergreen Line was light rail through Port Moody. Oh jeez.. here we go again.... you can refer to my blog post about our meeting with the Minister of Transportation at the UBCM if you don't already understand the frustration around this project !

So, with mind numbing down a little, the presentation into FUNDING for the priorities now proceeds. Translink has determined that the funding required for the Evergreen Line and NFPR projects requires $ 39 million per year, and if the additional 13 projects are also to be funded, they would require an additional $ 29 million per year - total of $ 68 million per year for all of the projects. Somehow, it doesn't sound like so much money when compared to other dollar figures we hear tossed around these days with multi-billion dollar mega projects like the Gateway project, Port Mann or Golden Ears Bridges.

Translink says they have options for funding that consist of.... well... property tax ! Under the legislation of the South Coast BC Transporation Act, they are currently maximized on Fuel Tax, Parking Tax, Hydro Levy and Replacement tax. The other options are Vehicle Levy, Benefiting tax area, Transit fares and property tax.

Apparently, there is no mechanism for collecting a vehicle levy and translink has not had time to figure out how to implement this. (I would think they could have by now, was first proposed , what, 10 years ago ??) Benefiting tax area is a VERY complicated issue whereby you would increase property taxes on development that is directly benefiting from transit projects (ie: area around skytrain stations). I would have to agree this one could not be implemented in such a short time frame and it will really require some long term investigation, but it IS a good tool. Transit fares, translink feels they have pushed the riders ability to pay to the limit with significant fare increases over the past few years. Not sure I agree, but I believe they are also dedicating their resources to the fare turnstiles and smart card system and they need to protect this interest for fare increases they know will be coming in the near future.

SO, we are left with property tax as the option. $ 31 / year for the 'average' household for Plan one, and $ 54 / household / year for plans one and two.

I have to say, I'm thinking that seems like pretty good value for money, to get the evergreen line for $ 31 / year in fact seems like a real bargain. Some quick, and very simple math in my head (OK , i used a scratch pad) tells me that the $ 50 million for the MCC , on the same formula, would be $ 3.85 per household. Now WHO would disagree that the MCC is worth $ 3.85 per year ? Boy, if they would just throw that into the plan 1, call it $ 35 / year, they'd have my support in a heartbeat !!

Alas, my train of thought is interrupted by the opening of the microphones to the audience, specifically , the mayors at the front of the queue. Overwhelming clarity of the message: Property Taxes are not the way to fund transit infrastructure !! There is a clear message about property tax being (the one and only) municipal domain, and meddling in property taxes for projects that would ordinarily be funded by provincial or federal governments or other programs, is yet another form of downloading and an erosion of municipal autonomy.

OK, i get that, I guess.. unfortunately, whether you take my money off my property tax bill, my vehicle insurance, toll booths, my cell phone, or whatever other zany idea you come up with, its still money coming from me, the taxpayer. Nothing will ever change that - government programs and projects are funded by the taxpayer, and there's only ONE taxpayer (OK, i mean, there's several million of us, but you get the point !!)

I do understand the frustration of the mayors and i certainly feel there is a united front on this issue -not sure i fully agree, but, certainly this issue will be playing out over the coming weeks and more information will be forthcoming.

The translink report can be viewed online via my website @