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 !