Brace Yourself for Another Tax Increase

Well, City council has received the draft 2011 – 2015 Financial Plan and it calls for an increase of 4.87% in 2011. This would mean that the owner of a residential strata property with a 2010 assessed value of $272,000 would face an increase of $88 and the owner of a residential single family home with a 2010 assessed value of $561,000 would face an increase of $175. Budgeted figures for 2012-2015 are estimated to range between 3-5% increases with the drivers for these increases being commencing operations of the Westminster Pier Park in 2012 , the Multi-use Civic Facility in 2014 and the outcome of future collective bargaining.

The staff report lists a number of new initiatives, amenities and hiring that are one-time capital costs but also present ongoing operating, maintenance and financing costs. Other budget drivers are our aging infrastructure, annual wage/benefits increment and other factors such as the recession and BC Hydro and Metro Vancouver Utility Rate increases.

It is interesting to note that the report (published before BOC governor Carney’s recent comments re: debt and future interest rate increases) mentions that debt and interest costs will increase as the City takes on more debt. The report also mentions that the City increases its tax base with revenue from new construction. The flip side to that, and not highlighted or mentioned, is that the more construction the City has the more people we have all wanting to use the City’s few amenities. So it really is a short-sighted solution.

The report ends with four options for reducing the increase. These increases include advertising revenues, reducing Strategic Projects Budget, capping 2011 salary increases for exempt staff at the rate of inflation and using non-stat reserves to reduce tax increases in 2011 offset with slightly higher tax increases in future years (read: after the 2011 election).

It would be interesting to read this staff report in conjunction with the recent Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses report.

Serious Fiscal Responsibility Questions Raised regarding 150 Celebrations

Also at last night’s council meeting James Crosty requested an audit of the 150 celebration finances. James inquired as to how an initial budget of approx. $386,000 could balloon to over $1 Million. Neither council nor staff seemed prepared to offer any suggestions on how this happened.
We certainly know how to throw a party, don’t we?

Mr. Crosty has now provided us with a copy of the comments he made before council. See below.

James Crosty has provided us with the delegation that he presented before council on Monday. Included in his comments is a handy history of the issue.

Here is a copy of the delegation by James Crosty to city council:
December 13, 2010

Good evening Mayor, council members of city staff and residents of New Westminster

I am here to ask Mayor and council how a budget that was approved for $174,162.44 after grant reductions ballooned to over $1,013,000.00 when you include in kind expenses for the 150th Birthday Celebrations in New Westminster. How can the city justify a 500% increase over the initial budget submitted and approved by council on January 19th 2009?

Further I would ask that council request an full internal accounting audit on the final cost of the 150 Celebrations including a breakdown of in kind expensed items, who provided the in kind items, details on city staff time and wages incurred for the 150 Celebrations, income generated from events and number of tickets sold and number of people that attended these events, clothing income and expense details and finally an explanation from the committee as to why this celebration went over budget.

I ask for this review not to criticize the organizers’ of the 150 Celebrations because I know they worked hard and I even attended some of the events it was an exciting time. I ask for this information to ensure that this kind of over spending will never occur again. You may remember 2009 was a tough year for many of our not for profit organizations with Provincial cutbacks and city funding. Yet here is our own city having expensed $838,000 more than the budget allowed when many not for profit groups had to cut back or go without. If I am correct in my calculations then the issue here is fiscal mismanagement of tax dollars. I believe it is incumbent upon our Mayor and Council to request a review of the 150 Celebration expenses in order for the people of New Westminster to fully understand these costs.

150 Celebration Review (background):

January 19th, 2009 (minutes of council) – Budget presented and Option B was approved for $374,162.44

it was noted in the minutes that “direction was given for staff to endeavor to reduce the budget by actively pursuing partnerships, donation and sponsorships. The director agreed to report back with greater budget detail as event planning progresses”.
It is noted in the budget that application had been made for a $200,000 grant from Ministry of Canadian Heritage – Building Communities through Arts & Heritage. This was not included in the budget at the time as it was an application only. As noted in the direction to staff this would reduce the city’s cost for 150 Celebrations to $174,162.44
A grant for $20,000 from BC 150th Heritage Legacy Fund was included then reduced in the budget. Further an in kind contribution of $10,000 was included in the budget towards venue rental. This should have been accounted for as in kind and not formed part of the budget cost.
I have been unable to locate any further information regarding any update.

March 23rd, 2009 (minutes of council) – Budget increased by $14,980 plus GST to allow for a publication of 500 books of poetry by Don Benson. I note that this motion was not approved by everyone with Councilor McIntosh opposed.
Total budget now $389,142.44 (Less $200,000 for the Heritage Grant).
Noted in these minutes was a reference that the 150th Celebration Operating Budget was deleted from Parks and Recreation budget and would be funded from Reserves.
April 20th, 2009 (minutes of council) – A motion to provide the two poet laureates honorariums of $500.ea was approved by council in reference to the commemorative book for a total of $1,000.
Final Budget would be $390,142.44 (less $200,000 from the grant application).
According to the staff report (DOC#149682) December 13th.
Budget as indicated is $386,000.00
Grant BC Heritage Foundation $20,000 included and expensed in the budget
Grant for $200,000.00 was received from Heritage Canada (not used to offset expenses)
Total cash expenses for 150 Celebrations $ 586,000.00
Total in kind expenses for 150 Celebration $ 427,000.00
In Kind offering are usually obtained to offset expenses.
Total expense for 150 Celebrations $1,013,000.00

By the minutes of council the expenses of the 150 Celebration as approved should have been $390,142.44 less $200,000.00 or $190,142.44 **
**should be less $10,000 from Massey in kind as well as ticket & clothing sales which are unknown

Since there is no account for income or Massey savings it can be estimated the expenses would be even larger than the reported cost of $1,013,000.00.
James Crosty,
Resident

See the following links for more on this story.
http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/02/new-westminster-bash
http://www.newwestcity.ca/council_minutes/1213_10/CWLG%20150th%20Celebration%20Final%20Report.pdf

Council Passes Motion Opposing UBE Options A-D

Well, after hearing from a very passionate public over the last month, council last night passed the following motion regarding the UBE.

North Fraser Perimeter Road / United Boulevard Extension

WHEREAS in response to concerns expressed at public consultation meetings; AND WHEREAS New Westminster City Council is concerned over intrusive impacts on residential neighbourhoods;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT TransLink be requested to continue with public consultation and planning in relation to the North Fraser Perimeter Road corridor and United Boulevard Extension project;

THAT TransLink be encouraged to seek an extension of their Federal funding grant;

THAT Council does not support Options A, B, C or D at this time, and that the City reaffirms its position regarding the entire route and mitigation of North Fraser Perimeter Road (as resolved in 2007);

THAT TransLink be requested to work with city staff and the community at large to develop alternative design options for the extension of United Boulevard and its connection with Brunette Avenue; and

THAT TransLink be requested to formally approve removal of the existing commercial truck route designation from the following city streets:

– East Eighth Avenue – McBride Boulevard to East Columbia Street

– East Columbia Street – Brunette Avenue to Braid Street.

Support Local Businesses at Santa Shops Sapperton

Sapperton businesses, although happy with the end result of the street improvements along E. Columbia, have had a tough year with one thing or another related to the work that had to be done. Once again though they are looking beyond themselves and the hard financial year they’ve had and are conducting their annual “Santa Shops Sapperton” event.

The annual event, coupled with the Wesgroup Christmas Tree Sale, is a non-profit community event presented jointly by the Sapperton Business Association and Wesgroup Properties.

All proceeds raised on the day of the event are donated to the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. This year’s event will support RCHF’s Equipment and Patient Care Enhancements Campaign goal of raising $1.6 million.

This Christmas let’s all try, as much as possible, to shop locally. We can start this weekend by supporting the businesses along E. Columbia Street.

On Saturday E.Columbia will have carolers, Starbucks hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts, popcorn and Santa visiting the local businesses.

This is also an opportunity to buy your Christmas tree at Wesgroup’s Christmas tree sale. All proceeds from the sale of the trees support the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. Trees are supplied and BC Grown by Oh Christmas Tree Farm in Langley, BC and are freshly cut the week of the event. There will be a variety of sizes & tree types available including 5-7’ Noble Firs, Grand Firs and many more.

Guy Ciprian, vice-president of of the Sapperton Merchants’ Association, says,The Sapperton merchants are pleased to be working once again with WesGroup Properties to provide Sapperton with a festive event while embracing and supporting our worthy community partners, the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation. I believe that the first step in making a difference is to take care of your own community first.

TransLink’s Second United Boulevard Extension Consultation Meeting

Last night TransLink held their second New Westminster consultation meeting regarding the UBE. This particular meeting was much better than the first in that it began with a presentation in the Justice Institute’s theatre at 6:45pm and was then followed by a Question and Answer/Response period. This format was more effective at allowing people to express their concerns and to hear responses from TransLink staff.
The meeting went straight through to the scheduled 8:30 finish time and questions/comments would likely have continued had the meeting not been brought to a close. It was standing room only with people lined up at the back and sides of the room. Many senior city staffers and some councilors were on hand to hear the community speak out as well.
TransLink had been directed by City Council to only present on Option A, the T-intersection, and that is what the focus of the meeting was. They began with discussing some of the regional pressures and the various reasons why it is important for traffic to be moving through this intersection. Oddly, as Voice president, Neil Powell, pointed out TransLink didn’t mention the Braid Industrial area as one of these regional drivers. Nor did they take into account the future stressors of Port Metro Vancouver’s ownership of the former Canfor lands or the fact that Coquitlam wants the waste transfer station removed from United Boulevard and the fact that the Braid Industrial area has been discussed as a possible future site for this or some other (incinerator?) way of dealing with the region’s solid waste. TransLink made it clear that they are not considering the UBE for the purpose of improving commuting but are looking at this for the purpose of moving goods and trucks. That is the reason they are able to get financial buy-in from Transport Canada.
A constant question/concern expressed was that this would also only alleviate the congestion at this location but would not deal with congestion further along the N. Fraser Perimeter Road at Front St. and E. Columbia or E.Columbia and Brunette Avenue. Voice’s Neil Powell, also raised concerns regarding lost industrial revenue as businesses are expropriated and how that will impact our taxes. TransLink has also said that they would be amenable to an application by New Westminster to remove E. Columbia Street from Brunette Avenue to Braid and E.8th Avenue between McBride and E. Columbia as truck routes. Neil Powell stated that this is something that many in Sapperton and the Heights would be happy to see happen, as it is something the McBride Sapperton Residents’ Association has been requesting for a number of years. He did ask though about how trucks would be able to get onto the Pattullo Bridge during rush hour when access is usually restricted. Apparently this issue will need to be dealt with by the City. Likely a lot of this will also be dealt with by the new Pattullo Bridge, whenever that happens.
Now we leave it to our City Council and mayor to direct TransLink as to how they wish to proceed and whether they are supportive of this concept or not.

MSRA extraordinary meeting held to discuss United Boulevard Extension

Voice has received a copy of the McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association (MSRA) letter to Mayor and Council regarding the United Boulevard Extension (UBE).

We want to commend the MSRA for articulating many of the same points raised by Voice in relation to the UBE.

MSRA President Geoff Pinkerton has kindly given us permission to post the letter below for the benefit of our readers.

=============================================

From: Geoff Pinkerton
Date: Dec 6, 2010
Subject: Summary of 1 Dec 2010 MSRA meeting regarding the United Boulevard Extension
To: postmaster@newwestcity.ca

Mayor and Council,

The McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association held an extraordinary meeting at 7:00pm on 1 Dec 2010 at the Sapperton Pensioner’s Hall regarding the United Boulevard Extension portion of the North Fraser Perimeter Road project.

The McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association has been following this issue for many years and has many concerns about the project and its impact upon the livability of Sapperton and in fact upon the City as a whole.

The purpose of the meeting was to gauge public support for, or opposition to, Tranlink’s four proposals regarding the United Boulevard Extension.

The meeting was attended by approximately 90 members of the public, including three members of Council (Councillors Osterman, McEvoy and Harper), and two members of City Staff (Jim Lowrie and Eugene Wat).

The format of the meeting to was as follows:

1. Introduction of the MRSA

2. Review of the history of the project

3. Review of the Tranlink slides showing the four proposals

4. Public discussion

5. Motion

The merits and problems associated with the four options were discussed and debated. A fifth option (Option E) was also discussed. This fifth option included discussion on a wide range of things such as deferring the project and instead focusing on removing traffic from the road network, further upgrades to the freeway and forgoing the United Boulevard Extension as it essentially parallels the freeway, looking at alternative connection points from Brunette to United Boulevard (closer to the Brunette/freeway interchange, building a road along the waterfront from Front Street), etc.

A number of issues were brought up during the open discussion portion of the meeting. Concerns were raised about a substantial increase in the amount of truck traffic through New Westminster, the fact that a three story overpass structure (Option A) will have huge visual and noise impacts on residents, the negative impact on property values and the negative impact on air quality, and that this project will “uglify the neighbourhood”. It was clarified that Translink cannot proceed with this project unless it has approval from New Westminster.

From a budgeting perspective, it was noted that the North Fraser Perimeter Road project was budgeted at $55 Million in 2000, rose to $130 Million in 2007, and now stands at around $175 Million for a portion of the work. It was explained at the meeting that Tranlink’s plan regarding the tunnel portion from East Columbia Street to Front Street, is that it would no longer be part of this work and would instead be done when the Pattullo Bridge replacement is completed. It is not clear if and when the Pattullo Bridge project will go ahead. As such, there is a fear that the tunnel portion would not proceed in any immediate timeframe and the completion of the United Boulevard Extension would simply shift the traffic problems from Braid Street to East Columbia Street.

Some area residents are resigned to the fact that this project must be completed and that “doing nothing is not an option”. These opinions were the minority and in fact the majority of the people at the meeting felt that the negative impacts of the project far outweighed any benefits. The overwhelming opinion at the meeting was that this project cannot be looked at piecemeal and that the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project needs to be looked at as a comprehensive plan. The completion of the United Boulevard Extension portion of the project will only shift the traffic problems elsewhere in the City and negatively impact other neighbourhoods or the downtown core.

We called for a show of hands regarding the four options. Of the 90 people present, none favoured Options A, C or D. Nine people favoured Option B as it would keep traffic flowing more smoothly. The remainder favoured a further option, Option E, which would be to defer the project until the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project can be dealt with as a comprehensive project. It was very interesting to note, and it appeared to be a surprise to the members of Council present, that there was no support for Option A, the only option favoured by New Westminster City Council.

After the show of hands, the following motion was presented and passed:
“That the MSRA opposes all Options A through D and requests that Translink defer the United Boulevard Extension portion of the North Fraser Perimeter Road project until the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project is dealt with as a complete and comprehensive plan.”

The MSRA requests that the City defer any agreement with Translink to proceed with the United Boulevard Extension portion of the North Fraser Perimeter Road project until the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project plan is presented in a complete and comprehensive way. We also request that all conditions from New Westminster City Council’s 5 Feb 2007 resolution regarding this issue are met prior to an agreement being signed, including an agreement that the tunnel portion from East Columbia to Front street would be included as part of the plan.

The McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association also requests that the City sponsor a workshop in which the entire North Fraser Perimeter Road project can be discussed and the impact of piecemeal projects such as the United Boulevard Extension upon the whole city can be analyzed. Additionally, the McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association would like to have other issues/projects that will have a substantial impact on traffic and livability in the Sapperton area of the City be presented at this meeting. These issues include items such as Port Metro Vancouver’s ownership of the Canfor Lands and the continuing discussion of an incinerator in our community.

Regards,

Geoff Pinkerton
President
McBride-Sapperton Residents’ Association

Voice could not have said it better: D. Brown’s letter in the Record

D. Brown’s letter in Saturday’s Record has raised many of the same issues Voice has been raising for the past several years.

While we do not know who D. Brown is, nor is he/she known to Voice, we could not have articulated these issues better and we fully agree with Brown.

For example, D. Brown points to the fact that “The city is piling on residential units at an astonishing rate, yet is not balancing that with infrastructure to support them.”

Of course, one of the consequences of expanding the city’s population without increasing public infrastructure, as Brown states, is the meagre allotment of swim times and skate times “suitable for school children” on weekdays, which Brown says “compares very poorly to other municipalities’ leisure centres, such as Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Delta and Vancouver, which are available, in part or whole, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.”


The 37-year-old Canada Games Pool, is the most used facility in the city. Fourteen thousand children a year take lessons there.” (from D. Brown’s letter in the Record)


D. Brown also comments on the Pier Park and states: “The city has seen fit to commit to $53-plus million for a riverfront, perimeter road/rail-hugging park that is looking more and more like a taxpayer-supplied amenity for the Larco towers that will be built between Sixth and Eighth streets.”

This mirrors the central point that Voice has been trying to make over the past several years; i.e., that during the last eight years the city has slowly but steadily been turned into a bedroom community.

There has been a clear and dramatic increase in density in the city accompanied by the steady erosion of jobs. This has resulted in a shift in the city’s tax base, and what used to be a consistent tax-producing commercial-industrial base has been converted for the most part into multi-family housing which requires a significant increase in costly public services and amenities.

And as D. Brown points out, these public services and amenities, including those vital to children and families, have not kept up with the increasing densification of New Westminster.

Ironically, it was the announcement of a New Westminster Children’s Charter, and its juxtaposition with the strain being placed on New Westminster’s only public indoor pool, that occasioned D. Brown’s letter.

While we reserve judgement on the new Children’s Charter until we see whether it translates words in concrete action, as Brown points out in his/her letter, if things don’t change in this city “the playroom at McDonald’s could be the major recreational facility in New West” and our children will be adults by the time urgently needed school replacement projects are completed.