Friday, July 15, 2011

GVRD Taxes on the rise - BIG rise

As reported in the Vancouver Sun this morning, GVRD (Metro Vancouver) utility fee/taxes are being predicted to rise by 44% over the next 5 years. These costs show up in municipal utility fees, which are rarely spoken about by municipal councils at budget time, mainly because most municipalities have seen rises of 100% or more over the last 10 years or so. Most municipalities have chosen to seperate their utility budgets from their operating budgets and it is operating that gets the media coverage each year - utility budgets in the past few years have had single year increases of 20% or more, but , rarely get mentioned.   

(Side note: Its nice to see Kelly Sinoski at the Sun and Jeff Nagel at Black Press continuing to provide some good coverage of the Metro Vancouver issues - without the two of them there would little if any coverage of what's going on over on Kingsway !)

Little surprise that the costs are increasing... I mean, of course , the utility charges are going up, everything does , and the regional utility is facing some huge costs pressures for new sewage treatment, water treatment and garbage processing facilities.  These costs escalate as a function of regional growth, which is why I do not support the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth strategy, which does not identify these cost increases as a result of increased regional density and growth, and , which seem to 'surprise' taxpayers later and exceed our ability to pay !  However the utility costs in the region are being 'amplified' by the increased spending by our regional utility provider , GVRD/GVS&DD , on items not directly tied to the provision of regional utilities (sewer, water, etc). 

GVRD is expanding their parks operations and buying new parkland, without any ability to pay for the maintenance of these parks.  They are getting into social areas, such as 'food security' , homelessness, and cultural programs.  They have dramatically increased budgets for director's travel, to send mayor's and councillors to Europe and the Far East.  Spending is increasing exponentially on communications and media - some of which is intended to defend the increase spending ! (irony !!)  And the decisions on these budgets are made in relative isolation from public/taxpayer scrutiny, or input.

As the alternate to the MV board from Port Moody last year, I proposed amendments to (defeated) and voted AGAINST the MV 2011 budget and reported back fully to council and the public in Port Moody the details of my feelings about the process. Refer to my report , and powerpoint, to Port Moody City Council at our November 2010 meeting regarding the 2011 Metro budget - it's a shame that the media likes to focus on Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby and could not even be bothered to report that a councillor from little ole Port Moody was making suggestions for cost control and pointing out dramatic increases at the MV Board.  Most recently the media HAS decided to run stories around the spending at MV escalating and suggesting that the board should be restructured to include elected membership who would be more accountable.  I have made the point about accountability at MV board for the 6 years I have been on city council, but everyone needs to remember , these people ARE elected in their communities, and they should be held to account there.  I do not favour direct elections to the MV board as you are then creating (what many at MV seem to think they already have) another level of government.  LAST THING WE NEED !

It is obvious, however, watching the decisions and the budgets coming from Metro Vancouver, that the elected officials find it much easier, in the privacy of the MV offices in Burnaby, to make decisions to spend taxpayer money, without having to face their taxpayers.  Ironically, many will later say 'there's nothing we can do about it, it's a Metro Vancouver issue'.  Sadly, often the board members are even voting against resolutions put forward by their own municipal councils - something that in the real world would be akin to 'treason' , but gets brushed aside as a 'regional decision making process'. 

My first suggestion for amending the MV Board operations is to eliminate the pay for attending meetings - councillors and mayors are all paid in their home communities, and if there is value to those communities in having council's work together regionally (which of course I believe there is) then that should be part of their job and they should be paid locally for that, as part of being a councillor or mayor. 

My second suggestion is that MV gets OUT of anything not related to regional utility provision - yes, you may be able to maintain the GVRD as an umbrella organization for municipalities to co-ordinate programs on homelessness, arts and culture, etc - but not running programs with staff and escalating costs - some of these things, in reality, should be shifted to the LMLGA (Lower Mainland Local Government Association), which is where the political association should exist separately from the operational association.

My third suggestion is that municipal voters ensure they are electing people with an understanding of regional issues and those that are willing to protect the interests of THE taxpayer , regardless of which pocket they are taking his/her money from !

Monday, July 11, 2011

Evergreen Line Funding, Continues..

So, as expected, last week the Translink Mayor's Council and the Transportation Minister have apparantly come to an agreement involving funding the Evergreen Line, using gas tax. The media has been repeatedly reporting that the Evergreen Line will be funded through a 2 cent per litre gas tax increase.


For some reason, they are not reporting the whole story here !

The WHOLE story is that the agreement apparantly is 2 cents pre litre gas tax, which will generate about $ 40 million per year, plus an addtional $ 30 million per year to be funded from an as yet undetermined source. And if that source is not found by mid 2012 then it will be funded from property tax, at ABOUT $ 23 per avg household per year. (The 2 cents is equivalent of about $ 34 per household avg property tax).

So what's it all about ?

The 'Moving Forward' package proposed by Translink's Operating Board requires $ 70 million annual funding. The description of the package can be found on the translink website, on my website ( and includes:
and includes:

- major upgrades to the Main St, Metrotown, New West, and Surrey Central stations
- more seabus service
- over 200,000 additional transit service hours south of the fraser, 425,000 system wide
- New B-Line service from White Rock to Guildford
- Hwy 1 rapid bus from Langley to Lougheed Town Centre
- Addtional bus service throughout the system
- maintain $ 6million in annual funding for cycling network capital
- maintain $ 20 million in annual MRN funding for muncipal project sharing
*NO, the Murray Clarke Connector is not included in this proposal !

This is the ACTUAL quote from the 'Moving Forward' plan on where the revenues will be coming from :
"The Mayor's council and the province have agreed on a funding formula for the plan that includes a 2 cent per litre increase in motor fuel taxes in April 2012 , plus , by 2013, either a property tax increase averaging about $ 23 per year for the average Metro Vancouver residential property, or a new , long-term , source of funding."

So it looks like the 'south of the fraser' contingency has only accepted funding for the Evergreen Line if the items for S.O.F are included in the package. Reading the plan, it really sounds like those items are quite vaguely defined and look like more items where translink is simply outspending the taxpayers ability to pay.

We'll see I guess - but I wonder why we are only hearing about the 2 cents ? Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting a consipiracy theory here, but, I wish they would report the entire story so that people will understand there is more here - otherwise, we will be faced with the 'outrage' when the costs start 'rising' even though they really are at these same levels.

And really, this becomes more of a shell game - there IS only one tax payer, and regardless of how you carve up this pie : I can say I will fund the Evergreen Line using fuel tax and fund the other items from property tax, or I can say it the other way around, and fund Evergreen Line from property tax and the others from the fuel tax. Makes no difference... and it seems to me that it makes more sense for the regional property taxpayer to fund the Evergreen Line than for them to be paying property tax for seabus and bus service - those things just seem a little more directly connected to fuel tax ? Maybe that's just me.... I would not be approving ANY plan right now OTHER THAN the Evergreen Line.

The Murray Clarke Connector is a long time regional priority that has been DROPPED from the plan completely - how have these other items been put the front so expeditiously ? I believe they are there to appease other parts of the region - not necessarily because they are of the highest REGIONAL importance. I would support the funding of the Evergreen Line via property tax, if needed, and that should be the limit of any funding right now - the other options should be re-examined as the MCC has been and all of them re-evaluated for regional importance and our ability to pay.

UPDATE: and wouldn't you know it, now it is being reported that Premier Clark isn't sure if funding via gas tax is a good idea ! Not sure why her minister is out negotiating if he doesn't have the authority or backing of the government ?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Funding the Evergreen LIne, Part 2053

Ok, maybe not 2053, but the ongoing saga of how to fund the Evergreen Line for the extension from Lougheed Town Centre to Coquitlam Town Centre continues today.

Apparently the mayors council is meeting to discuss a funding formula. As a reminder, the project is currently funded 1/3 federal, slightly more than 1/3 provincial, and Translink, representing the local municipalities in GVRD region, has not come up with their $ 400 million they committed to previously.

Let me take a wild guess here ... Mayors have said they will not accept property tax as a method of funding transit projects. So , what will it be then... hmm..

I say they will go gas tax - we know it is a 2 cent per litre tax that would make up the funding vs a $ 32 / household property tax. Or something blending the two. But it will be gas tax. Why ? Because the muni's don't want to be portrayed as raising taxes any more than they already are.

TWO problems i have with this:

1. Cost of the Evergreen Line is WAY higher than what is needed. Should be at grade light rail via the southern (riverview) alignment allowing for future expansion to the east at a much lower cost.

2. How is gas tax sustainable ? What if we managed, god forbid , to actually get people out of their cars and using transit ? Is that not the goal ? So, if we are requiring say $ 40 million per year of gas tax for the Evergreen Line , @ 2 cents per litre, must mean we are consuming 2 billion litres of fuel every year in the region (yikes.. thats a lot !) . SO what if we go down to 1.5 billion litres ? We would have to RAISE the gas tax to make up the 40 million we need - now we are pummeling those left on the roads, and that is the trucks that deliver the goods , the buses that deliver the people, etc. It's a vicious circle.. we need to get out of !

Ok , third problem - this isn't doing anything for the long term structuring of transit/transportation network funding, which is just being put off, yet again, because everyone is afraid of the conversation .

Stay tuned to the media and you can either tell me I'm so smart or so wrong when we hear what the agreement is.

One thing I KNOW for sure - the funding formula , or 'supplemental plan' will not include the Murray Clarke connector, however they propose to fund it !