In my role as Councillor, I feel it's important to give updates on what's happening at City Hall and the decisions I'm making. I also feel it's important that you know how I make decisions. Of course I bring my principles and values, past experiences and view of the world to the table. But I also come with an open mind, willing to listen and wanting to receive as much information as possible. I look at the big picture and with a long term perspective about what's best for the city and its citizens. And then I decide. Once decided, I'm firm, focused, and ready to turn that decision into action.
In 2014 the City of Victoria will be rolling out its new Stormwater Utility. Modeled in part on a similar utility in Kitchener-Waterloo, the utility will remove the portion of money that comes to the City from residents and businesses from the property tax bill (about $4.5 million per year). Instead, people will receive a utility bill based primarily on the percentage of non-permeable surfaces on a property. The good news? This is a user-pay system, you pay for what you use. And, it's possible to get up to a 40% credit on your stormwater bill by implementing rainwater cachement solutions on your property. The bad news? It's all a little bit complicated to understand! This blog post is meant to provide some resources to help.
A few weeks ago, City staff updated Council on the roll out of the proposed Stormwater Utility. This powerpoint presentationcontains a great deal of detail, including a list of solutions that property owners can implement to get a rebate on their bill. This CBC interview I did with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West explains in a bit more detail how the utility will work. And this Times Colonist article has a helpful infographic that details what people can expect based on the class of property they own.
An article in today's Times Colonist outlines Councillor Ben Isitt's vision for Crystal Pool. Tonight he's bringing his vision to Council in a motion calling on city council to affirm the "public ownership and operation" of any Crystal Pool replacement. His touchstone is a motion made by the previous council in October 2011 that "supports retention of a public pool and fitness centre in Victoria."
Here's my take. 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've spent hours at Crystal Pool over the years. The most fun I've had is with a now ten-year-old. We'd be jumping and playing with those wonderful big mats and then all of a sudden she'd be interested in joining the seniors in their aquafit class so we'd join in, just like that and be welcomed by the instructor!
What is really really important to me as the City goes out to the public in the new year to do a comprehensive public engagement process with regard to Crystal Pool is that we keep our options (and our ears) open with regard to ownership of the facility should we decide to rebuild not to refurbish.
In this video I talk briefly about three of the City of Victoria's underfunded capital projects - Fire Hall No. 1, the Bay Street Bridge, and the Crystal Pool. Last Thursday at Council we received an updated report on the City's 20 Year Capital Plan. We learned that these key pieces of city infrastructure need to be addressed over the next five years but the City doesn't have enough funding to undertake any of them.
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.
This Thursday May 23rd, Victoria City Council will be making a decision with regard to permissive tax exemptions. Here's my take. Please feel free to share.
In 2004 Council created a policy that all new applications for permissive tax exemptions that provided regional services would a get 50% permissive tax exemption; all regional organizations that already had permissive tax status at the time were grandfathered in at 100%. The proposal on the table now is to move current grandfathered organizations deemed regional in nature to 50% exempt status over the next 10 years. I think this is a good idea.
I received an email this week from someone working on economic development and entrepreneurship in the region. His work shows that the general public wants to see a more socially inclusive and clean economy. He wrote to me concerned that I'm being perceived as 'anti-sustainability' in the eyes of some people who are vocal about sustainability in the region. Allegedly, I'm being grouped in with people who would sell the region's resources and its future. It seems an explanation of my approach to sustainability is required.
I'll begin with a story. It was the mid 1980s. I was thirteen years old. A group of friends and I were tired of seeing garbage on the roadside as we biked back and forth between each other's houses. So we bought plain white t-shirts and fabric markers and founded T.I.M.E. - Teens Interested in Maintaining the Environment. We never did more than pick up garbage. Yet from that early age, the sustainability of the planet and its people has been one of my core commitments.
Preliminary Budget Feedback from Residents (PDF) -- In the election a year ago, citizens were concerned about their taxes and the escalating costs of living in Victoria. As a new councilor, I learned that the City has many built-in costs that escalate year after year. Bringing these under control will need continuous hard work at City Hall and engagement with residents and businesses about priorities.
To start this off, in April I introduced a motion to move to a three-year budget cycle, with a maximum increase of 3.25% per year, instead of the 4+% that had been proposed by staff. Council unanimously passed this motion, which also included a third clause re: engaging the public on the budget.
After all the conversations on Facebook, over email and in coffee shops last week, I have a proposal that will continue or even increase funding to the City of Victoria’s Housing Trust Fund at the same time as working to meet the property tax cap that Council set unanimously in April. I've built affordable housing in this City as a volunteer at Fernwood NRG and I know it's important. I also know the importance of keeping property taxes low, not for the mere sake of doing so, but because continual sharp tax hikes increase the cost of living for those least able to pay, namely seniors, young families and many people who rent.
I thank all of you who have contributed to the conversation and to this proposal. Drafting public policy through Facebook and Twitter conversations, via email exchanges and in coffee shops is a radical departure from the status quo. And it’s a necessary departure if we are to re-create together a functional and vibrant democracy.
There is a really good, informative, and for the most part respectful community conversation taking place on Facebook. People are voicing their opinions and sharing information with regard to the City’s proposal to reduce its contribution to ending homelessness from $600,000 to $500,000 per year for the next three years. What’s thrilling to me is that this discourse among citizens is generating new ideas. Or at least it has generated one new idea for me.
I’ve spoken with the City’s Assistant Director of Finance and the City’s Director of Planning and Development and I’ve got some new information. And then I have an idea I’d like to share. It's an alternate proposal for continuing to build the City's Housing Trust Fund at the same time as honouring the unanimous budget decision that Council made in April. I will endeavour to draft this idea into a policy for Council’s consideration.
In this video I elaborate on the post below and discuss the difficult decisions that lie ahead for Council when deliberating the 2013-2015 budget. I urge our Council to have the courage to make these hard decisions in the short term with the goal of creating in the long term a sustainable, thriving city.