Breaking down the costs of commuting – now with two jobs!

Update: I’ve added the savings if someone was driving a car/truck that got more average mileage. (9L/100km or 26 US mpg)

As many of you likely already know, I commute to work at VIU five days a week. Yup, this means driving back and forth everyday in some fashion.

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Click to see the bus schedule

Since about 2008 (I can’t even remember anymore haha) I have been taking advantage of the Regional District of Nanaimo BC Transit bus from Qualicum or Parksville to Woodgrove and then on to VIU. It adds between 30 and 60 minutes to the trip a day. On a ‘normal’ day I leave Port Alberni around 6AM, drive to Parksville Civic Centre, hop on the bus at 6:45, transfer at Woodgrove and end up at VIU around 7:30AM. On the way back it is a longer journey because of a long layover at Woodgrove and a ‘milk run’ to Parksville so I generally leave VIU at 3:35PM and arrive home at 5:30PM.  If you’re wondering if I’m the only person on the bus, nope not at all.  There are other VIU commuters (employees and students), High School students going to Nanaimo, other workers, many seniors going for day trips either to Nanaimo or often to Vancouver and beyond and other regular bus users, like kids going to the Mall or people who likely don’t have a lot of money, especially First Nations.  The use of the commuter bus between Parksville and Woodgrove has grown noticeably, especially as gas prices have risen.

IMG_1914The cost of an RDN bus pass is $700 a year through the VIU “Pro Pass” program, which is pretty cool.  My pass is #0040.  I’m an early adopter… and as you can see from how grungy it is I use it a lot. The previous Federal Government also instituted a Tax Credit for all bus passes.  So I get 15% of that cost back ($105) so I am currently paying about $590 for the bus pass.

So why take the bus?

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Remember, I’m a geek. So I track my distance travelled with an App on my iPad called “Waze”.

I get this question all the time.  The answer is simple.  Money, and stress. As you can see on the side, the full trip from home to VIU is about 82km.  The drive to Parksville is 45km. I used to drive to Qualicum which is shorter but they changed the bus routes two years ago and made the trip much longer.  So I save about 35km of driving.  That doesn’t seem like much, but in terms of stress on both myself and my car, I find the drive along Highway 19 to be far more stressful, and potentially dangerous, than the extremely familiar Highway 4.

Ya I track that too at www.bcgasprices.com
Ya I track that too at www.bcgasprices.com

Even in a fuel efficient car like my previous 2004 Toyota Echo Hatchback and my even more efficient 2012 Toyota Prius C, this year I saved myself about 9730km of driving by taking the bus.  Not only does that mean 442L of fuel not burned and $505 saved on average, it also means 1.02 tonnes of CO2 not put into the atmosphere. (The buses would run anyway if I am on them or not of course).  Compared to buying a parking pass for either $400 or $600 at VIU and add in the wear and tear on the vehicle and the economic argument is easy as is the safety.  The time argument is the hard one but so far it works.

So now that you have two jobs….

As you might know, I decided to take on a new set of responsibilities (and have been honoured to be allowed to do so!).  So my burning question over the past 12 months in the back of my geeky and miserly brain has been… with the additional driving that I have had to do to attend to City Council business, does it still make sense to take the bus whenever I can?

Well here are the numbers for the past 12 months.

I parked at VIU 41 times = $175 daily parking fees
I drove to VIU and parked for free elsewhere 30 times
(this is my late classes on Wednesdays when I can’t take the bus…)

The only thing I don’t have exact numbers for is days I took the bus, but working backwards I figure I had about 139 “bus days”.  At $700 that works out to around $5 a day.  Which is exactly the same as the cash fare ($2.50 each way).

Average mileage of my Toyota Prius over 2015: 4.548L/100km = 0.04548 L/km (51.7 U.S. mpg).

Home to VIU distance: 82km
Home to Parksville distance: 47km
Difference: 35km

So this year the money I spent on driving all the way to VIU was:
35km * 71 days * 2 = 4970km extra driving past Parksville = 226L fuel *1.144$/L = $258.  Add $175 in parking fees and that’s $433.  CO2 emitted: 0.52 tonnes CO2.

For the bus trips the money I saved was: 35km*139 bus days*2 = 9730km avoided on bus = 442L fuel *1.144$/L = $505 saved = 1.02 tonnes CO2 not emitted.

So taking all of it together and comparing the two:
VIU Bus Pro Pass = $695.24 – $105 tax credit = $590 (15% tax credit)
Extra Driving = $258
Parking tickets = $175
Total with Bus = $1003
CO2 from Driving Parskville to VIU when needed = 0.52 tonnes

If I did not take the bus:
VIU “Econo” limited Parking pass = $400
Driving = $258+$505 = $763
Total without bus = $1163
If I get a VIU “Employee” pass, the cost rises to $600 and total is $1363.
CO2 from Driving from Parksville to VIU full time. = 1.52 tonnes

So I save $160 and 1 tonnes of CO2 not including wear and tear on the vehicle.

Update: You might be wondering how much of a difference the type of car makes.  The answer is a lot.  My Prius C gets 4.5L/100km or 51 US mpg.  If I instead took our 2007 Toyota Matrix which gets around 9L/100km or 26 US mpg the totals would be:

For the Bus: Fuel: 447L/$511 Total: $1386 and 1.03T of CO2

Without the Bus: 875L/$1001 (plus above) Total: $1912 and 2.02T of CO2.

So in an “average” mileage car I would save $526 and 2T of CO2.

Now these numbers are not going to be perfect but they should be pretty darn close to accurate. So even with the additional driving that I have had to do with the new City Council duties, it still makes sense for me to take the bus as much as possible both from a cost perspective and an environmental perspective.  And that does not include additional maintenance costs or consideration on safety.

Public Transit saves everyone money

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Click to see a full mockup schedule of a mid island commuter train service that I presented to the RDN in 2014.

Commuting isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Especially with home price differences so great between Port Alberni and other mid-island communities I believe we will see more commuters, not less.  This is why I continue to advocate for transit options to open up between Parksville and Port Alberni either with a bus like the one between Parskville and Woodgrove or using the Railway (see the link).  The cost savings are substantial both to people and to the taxpayer in terms of maintenance on roadways and safety, which means more money in everyones pocket to spend on other things. The benefit to the environment and overall safety is obvious.

 

Poll. So? Should we still do it? Airport expansion.

New poll!

Should the ACRD borrow up to $6 million now that no grants have come?

View Results

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The good news is the new lights and GPS routes are already happening. (new lights are part of the borrowing, see bottom of post).  The bad news is the ACRD has so far been unsuccessful trying to get grants to cover some of the cost for the upgrades and runway lengthening at Alberni Valley Regional Airport.

Approval has already been granted through the Alternate Approval Process which means not enough people signed their disapproval for it to go to referendum.

But now that no grants came through, and even though there is still an outside chance for some grants maybe, the ACRD board including the two City reps (Mayor Ruttan and Councillor Mcleman) are taking a step back and seeing if they should still go through with it.

So? Should they? Vote in the Poll on the right. Full information about the expansion is here. 

Here is a screenshot of the costs FAQ based on how much has to be borrowed.

image

Send your comments to the ACRD. mailbox@acrd.bc.ca

More info on the upgrades provided by the CAO of the ACRD.

The cost estimates of the three components of the project are as follows:

  1. The Runway Extension is estimated to cost $5,958,820.
  2. Installation of navigational aids (medium intensity lighting) is estimated to be $1,468,500

The above costs total approximately $7.43 million and were the basis of the grant application to the Strategic Priorities Fund.

  1. Establishing an Obstacle Limitation Surface (OLS) that would be acceptable to the design of a public GPS approach is estimated to cost $350,000.  This involves managing the OLS which are the trees and land that protrude into the defined flying paths as well as surveying and registering the approaches with Nav Canada. Money is already committed to this project and within the current budget.   A portion of the costs ($180,000) were recovered from the Community Forest Legacy). These OLS costs are not reflected in the $7.43M figure.

 

 

The Mark of a Well Respected Man

This evening (Saturday Jan 30) I had the honour of attending Ken Watson’s celebration of his years of service as City Manager and Engineer for the City of Port Alberni.

Even though I grew up in Port Alberni, I am of course a bit of an outsider when it comes to the City workplace having been around for barely a year and also being a (near)millenial in a place where baby boomers still dominate but are now retiring at a rapid pace.  However, after 15 years in my own workplace at VIU and watching my own parents retire, I understand the bonds that are made over long periods when the same people work and really live most of their lives together.

In less than a year I have now been to two celebrations for employees for the City, Scott Kenny and now Ken Watson.  In both cases the outpouring of respect and heartfelt thanks for their years of service has been something to behold.

The dignitaries and community leaders that came out for Mr. Watson, the serious and silly and good hearted speeches, the emotions and impassioned statements and Mr. Watson’s own words all confirm that he is a man who has earned the respect of a whole community over the years.

Personally, I credit Mr. Watson for helping put me in the Council seat that I am in today.  Were he not always so willing to answer every overly detailed email from me, often in a matter of minutes after sending it, when I started to engage in city issues when I moved back to town then I probably would not have continued on, becoming more and more engaged.   He even seemed to like graphs and charts and spreadsheets like me… always the mark of great guys.

Now, as a rookie councillor, he always provided me solid and timely information and answered every question no matter how mundane or naïve.

Most of all though what I have witnessed is Mr. Watson’s great respect for and from those who he worked with at City Hall.  He is a true leader and I know he will be proud of his accomplishments.

I write this so that a few more citizens of Port Alberni may know the excellent people that work for their City and who have nothing but the best for the City and its citizens in their hearts.

Thank You Ken.  You literally helped shape the Port Alberni I grew up in and all its citizens are in your debt for your service.

Sincerely,

Chris

 

Why are my Taxes so High!? A City and Beaver Creek Comparison.

(I’ve updated the post with a correction on the VIRL library fees thanks to info from ACRD Director from Long Beach Tony Bennett)

People really love to complain about their taxes.  If they didn’t there wouldn’t be a meme about it (left).  And since the AVNews ran a story in December with the headline that the City was raising taxes by 7%, the questions and complaints have been pouring in.

Now, first things first, the City has not decided to raise taxes 7%.  In fact, it hasn’t decided anything.  The story was simply based off the first draft of the financial plan that City Staff have to create every year so that we know where we are starting from, what costs have risen over the year, what capital projects we committed to in the coming years, etc.  Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 11.30.02 AMThere are weeks of deliberations to go before a final plan is adopted.  I hope as many people as possible can either come to or watch online the public budget meetings that start next week.  You can see the full schedule and all info about the budget as it is created on the CPA website

The reason for this post though is because I wanted to share with you a specific email that I got from a resident.  His question I think encapsulates a lot of the discussion and tension in Port Alberni and in surrounding districts about the tax situation.  It also shows some of the misunderstanding and incomplete information people may have.  He’s given me permission to reproduce it here.

Here is what he said:

Hello Mr Alemany hope all is well and happy new year. Question, was chatting with friend who owns house off Kitsuksis, house worth 750k and he pays same amount of property tax as me whose house worth 220k. I get that he’s considered Beaver Creek but we pay water/garbage seperate from prop tax so why the Huge discrepancy? We all use Arena, Echo, their kids go to same schools, hospitals and drive on same roads. Only diff i can tell is some in city have sidewalks/street lights and in city we have fire dept. they have fire too but volunteer i understand. And like i said earlier garbage and water we have extra bills so that shouldnt factor into it. Am i missing something? The system here just dosnt seem fair especially since many of people on outskirts of town have way more money and nicer house then in town. Not all but on average. What do you think?

The text below is my response to him with some additions and I have added images and graphics so that it is better illustrated than just the email I sent him alone:

It’s a great question, and a very important one. It all comes down to knowing what services are actually subsidized or completely paid for by the provincial versus the city government.

It is easiest to say first what is covered by the province and we all pay the same: Hospitals and Schools [correction—>and Libraries] are the big ones,  on your tax form these rates are the same no matter if you are in the City or in Beaver Creek.

Here is my tax form for 2014 (I couldn’t find last years :)).  You can see the School, BC Assessment, Municipal Finance, and Regional Hospital rates.  These are all common whether you are in Port Alberni, Beaver Creek, Cherry Creek, etc.  By the way, my assessed value was $155,900 for this tax assessment.

TaxExampleProperty2014

Here is a Beaver Creek property tax notice also from 2014 for a total assessed value of $248,200.

PTx2014 copy 2

There are a few differences in Beaver Creek. First, there is a very small provincial “rural” tax rate (0.5600) that goes to the province for things like road work outside city limits.  There is also a small “Police Tax”…more on that in a second.  There is also a charge for the volunteer fire department and for the ACRD administration and a final one for water (which Beaver Creek buys in bulk from the City).  City residents have a similar, though smaller, ACRD charge on top of the “General Municipal” rate paid (9.00500) for all other services in the City and servicing the wider community.

By the way, the “Arena Parcel Tax” you see on my bill is common to all areas that originally agreed to pay for the new Multiplex.  It is not on the Beaver Creek bill possibly because that resident chose to pay the full amount at the time the Multiplex was built rather than have it added on to their tax bill until the Multiplex was paid off.  It does not go toward operation of the arena.

Let’s start with RCMP (image is from the Draft Financial plan in the January 11, 2016 agenda):

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RCMP is the most expense budget in the City, about $500 on the average City tax bill, even though it serves the whole Valley plus Bamfield. Beaver Creek residents pay a separate rate on their bill for police of $63 for the services of the RCMP. This is despite the fact that there are a few City employees that do the needed administrative work for the detachment in addition to the vast majority of the expense which is of course the RCMP officers themselves.

The RCMP cost is nearly twice as much  as the cost of all of the Administrative departments, with all their employees and managers and equipment of the City (Governance/Finance, Planning, EcDev, and Corporate Services) combined which only total around $3.5 Million or about $290 per average City tax bill for 5 divisions including the Heritage services.

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It’s worth noting that every single one of those departments in administration in the City are absolutely necessary in order to service the businesses, not-for-profits, organizations and service centres that all folks with “Port Alberni” on their home address probably use. All of gone through multiple rounds of downsizing and most continue to shrink as the City tries to cut costs.

Of those, only the Museum and Heritage services department could be considered a “luxury” compared to the administration necessities, however there is something to be said about preserving the arts, culture and history of the Alberni Valley which the Museum does so well and which the McLean Mill celebrates.  I am sure there would be readers who would say Heritage and Culture are necessities just as much as finance and bylaws.

You’ll also notice that in the ‘2016’ column at the bottom of each section under “% Increase over Prior Year” most have gone down, many significantly, while RCMP budgets continue to rise largely out of the control of the City and Provincial grants to the RCMP budget lines decline.

The next most expensive department in the City Department is Parks and Rec ($3.6 Million) which includes all the buildings like the Multiplex, the Pool, Echo Community Centre and the other major city buildings as well as the actual parks, fields and other amenities.  Beaver Creek residents pay no taxes towards these facilities.

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All of these require upkeep and operating costs. User fees only cover a very small portion of the costs, even when you include fees from people who live outside the City and use those facilities. All the city parks and upkeep and Harbour Quay and all people in them are included here too.

The next most expensive department is really a tie, between the Port Alberni Fire Department and City Engineering and Public Works.  Both are in the $3 Million range so I’ll include them both here:

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PAFD  is of course a paid rather than volunteer department, though again Beaver Creek does benefit from them as PAFD and BCFD and Sproat Lake FD all have an automatic aid agreement so they attend each others major fires automatically which benefits the region because PAFD can often get there very quickly and it benefits PAFD because it boosts the number of people at a fire so there is more rotation if a fire is really bad.  It is interesting that Beaver Creek residents still pay roughly half ($122 on my assessed value)  the cost City residents pay for fire service even though BCFD is volunteer and PAFD is fully paid.  The PAFD is also in charge of medical first responder from Cathedral Grove to Sutton Pass.  You’ll see only modest increases in the PAFD budget mainly due to contractual wage increases and equipment maintenance.

As far as Engineering, Roads and City Works all roads in City Limits except Johnston/RiverRd/Highway 4 are taken care of and paid for by City taxpayers. Paving, upkeep, sidewalks, cleaning, signals, etc. Roads are horribly expensive. Repaving just one section of lower 3rd Avenue from Napier to Burde (375 metres) is budgeted at $250,000 which is around $20 for every City resident.  By contrast, the “rural provincial tax rate” levied by the provinces costs Beaver Creek residents only around $80 (again using my assessed value) to take care of all of the roads and other general engineering work needed in the rural areas.  That’d be only enough to do a few blocks of work a year in the City.

One Area that is often overlooked is the “External Services” which by its very name should indicate that these are areas that benefit more than only the City of Port Alberni.

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The big expense here is Bus service.  Currently buses do not run outside City limits, so this is wholly paid for by the City with help from standard funding from the Province.  If Beaver Creek or Cherry Creek or other residents did want to have bus service they would need to advocate that their ACRD directors join with BC Transit and the City in funding the service.  In Nanaimo, for example, the BC Transit service is actually run through their Regional District so that it services Nanaimo, Parksville and smaller areas in between like Nanoose and Cedar.  However it does not service Coombs because that area did not agree to pay for the service.

The other big ticket on the external services is the Library Service.. but this is a cost that is the same whether you are in the City or Region.  As of 2016, ACRD residents will see this as a separate tax rate on their bills split from the ACRD “E” (according to their area) line.  This is a cost that is exclusive to the City even though obviously the Library is something that all citizens can and should access.  The City pays for the Library through its association with the Vancouver Island Regional Library service so we can sometimes see costs rise when other communities build new libraries even when services here do not change.

The last departments are Water, Sewer, and Garbage:

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Water and Sewer are completely paid through user fees now so that is similar to Beaver Creek where you can pay for garbage pickup and you pay for water (which Beaver Creek now buys in bulk from the City) and your own septic services. That said, there are sometimes large projects that the city has to dip into its tax bank accounts in order to cover the cost of, say, a big road and sewer project or the new water treatment facility at China Creek that City taxpayers pay for that residents in outlying areas, even if they are paying for City water, are not paying for.

Long story short, there are a ton of things that Beaver Creek residents likely use or benefit from in the City of Port Alberni that they pay a fraction of the amount for in their taxes or fees, if they pay anything at all. So get your friend to buy you dinner. 😉

If the whole Valley was part of the City, tax rates would be much lower across the board because the average values of property would be higher and it would be spread out with more people, but the person in Beaver Creek would likely pay more tax than they do now, so good luck convincing them to join even if it is “fairer” for all especially for those on lowest incomes.

Hope that helps.

Chris

Marking a Year since the Election

A year ago today was my first full day after being elected as a Councillor for the City of Port Alberni.  Of course it was another few weeks before I was sworn in and almost two months before we actually had our first full council meeting.  But today seems like a good day to reflect on how everything has gone since last November.  First though, I have to say a part of me still can’t believe that so many people voted for me last year and allowed me to represent them on Council.  It is and will continue to be a huge honour and responsibility that I take very seriously and I thank you so much for the opportunity.

Accomplishments by Council

It is honestly much harder to pick out stuff that “got done” than I would have thought when we got started. (See “Reality Check!” below)  Since council is a continuing board of government many of the things that have got done, like Dry Creek (final time-lapse coming soon when paving is done!), or improvements at the Multiplex or the new Water treatment system, were initiated by previous Councils and we simply carried the torch forward.  We are just now getting ready to go into the Budget process and this will be the first one where we as a Council will really have the most control over where we are headed so I think you will see a lot more coming in the near future.  There are also many things, like web streaming or electronic participation in meetings, that are still being worked on by Staff.  That said, here are my top 4 changes and impacts made by Council in 2015.

  1. imageFirst Impressions are incredibly important.  And two small changes this Council made I think have helped in this regard both for visitors and residents alike.  The picture shows part of the Mayor’s office with the new carpet, cleaned up wall and new board table made from rough edge lumber from McLean’s Mill.  The other improvement I don’t have a picture of but it is the return of the big flower planters along Johnston Road.  These are small and inexpensive but I think great improvements that will have a lasting impact on how visitors, residents and businesses see us.
  2. Learning and Working as a Team. Just as important as first impressions is ongoing work ethic and I can honestly say that I believe this Council has worked extremely hard to be inclusive of all views on Council, in Staff and in the public. This is harder to do than you might think! :)  However, I think that while especially the rookies including myself still have a lot to learn about ourselves and how we can operate best in this environment, I think we have worked well together including when we disagree and that bodes well for the next 3 years.  One of the biggest learning moments in this sphere I think was when we got thrown into the fire that was also known as the Public Hearing for the Rainbow Gardens expansion.  I won’t soon forget that meeting! But I think we all learned a whole bunch just in that one night alone and it will continue to inform us as we move through this term.
  3. Watershed Issues. Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.02.35 AM The previous council had called for  regular meetings with Island Timberlands, Western Forest Products, Timberwest and other stakeholders to deal with impacts of logging on the City’s water supply.  This council had to make it happen and it has and I think it has helped with the Forest company’s awareness of our concerns. Council also initiated a process to create a new and wider watershed advisory panel to include the whole Valley watershed and all stakeholders in the Valley.  This is something that is ongoing and I hope we can see it start to bear fruit soon, especially with ongoing concerns about low snowpack and summer water restrictions.
  4. Marijuana. IMG_1494Funnily enough, I think one of our biggest accomplishments has been the one we just did. That was a very difficult topic and it took a lot of work by all of Council to come to the solution that we did.

Personal Accomplishments

I obviously had some part in the things above that Council has accomplished, but we are above all a team.  That said, there are also some personal things I have taken from this experience in the first year.

  1. So Much Learning – One of the reasons I decided to run for this office was because I knew how much there would be to learn.  Learning is growth and boy, have I grown a lot.

    IMG_1163
    One of many sessions at UBCM

    From the first few days when I started to learn about the Committees I would be on, to the multiple meetings in the first couple months on Strategic Planning, to the Local Government training in Parksville, the Public Hearing on Rainbow Gardens, the Financial Planning process, the conferences in the Spring, the ongoing meetings with Advisory Planning, the Community Stakeholders Initiative and the Food Security and Climate Change Committee and the UBCM this fall and of course just learning how the City really works, how it interfaces with higher levels of government (often through AVICC and UBCM) and how the people within it make it go.  It has all been a little overwhelming at times, but also a lot of fun to get to know what it all means and how it all works together.  I don’t intend to stop learning because if I do… then it’ll probably be time for someone to take my place.

  2. Reality Check – Along with the learning comes an understanding of what is realistic to expect from City Staff and from ourselves as Council in terms of what can and cannot be done.  It all seems so easy and simple when you first get in… it ain’t! lol.Through no fault of the City Staff or anyone but the grand processes of the world… it just takes a really long time to make things happen!  When I look back at my campaign pledges around “Accountability“, “Climate” and “Community“.  I see things in there that I know now are not realistic at least in how I understood them at the time. An example? “Limit residential tax increases to 2%.” I used to think that 2% was a good target that might allow some growth while keeping the shock to a minimum.  Now, after seeing the finances and honestly living with them for a year, I know that if we want real growth in the community and real change, it will take more revenue than that 2% would give us.  That will be something we will have to address in the coming weeks and years with the budget process.
  3. Openness, Accountability and Honesty… and fun. – One of my biggest personal goals had always been to try to achieve a more open and accountable Council and that started first with my own performance. 11412380_10155735520180204_7021791299187782115_nWhile it has been difficult to keep this blog as up-to-date as I would like, I have tried very hard to always be available for people to ask questions, to engage in debate in the community and with Council openly and honestly and to try hard to ensure I am always open to new ideas and suggestions.  Facebook has been more central in this than I thought it would be, but so too has been simple emails and the cellphone for concerned citizens on all sorts of issues.  I am feeling pretty good about how I’ve done so far for listening and responding to concerns and I have heard many kind words from people so I hope I am doing OK in that regard and I will continue to use every means possible to improve myself and my performance.  I have also tried to have some fun in the process… and just generally, it all is kind of fun… especially when I make a fool of myself by trying to paddle board. :)
  4. Connections – Without a doubt one of the most valuable things I have taken away from this first year has been the connections I have made and conversations I have had with the public, and with councillors, directors, mayors and staff from other communities and organizations. Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 8.34.15 AM I am generally not the most in-your-face kind of person… but I have worked hard, and in many cases simply been thrown in (which is OK with me! lol) to situations where I had to strike up conversations with seemingly random people about issues that affect the City.  This has been a big source of personal growth for me… I am getting slowly better at it… I am one of those people who could write a novel most the time (as I seem to be doing right now!) with all of the things bouncing around in my head but sometimes don’t always get it out my mouth.  Definitely working on it!

Personal Highlight so far:

UBCM was exceptional, as I already said in this blog, but in particular, a chance 1 on 1 meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary (pseudo-Minister) of Environment led to a really great discussion on a walk through Vancouver.  That was a place where I realized just how important and informative one-on-one conversation can be. (and since it was private, I really can’t say what it was about! Which is stupid in a way… but another bit of “reality” to add to my learning.)

The Promises!

I thought I would go down the list briefly to give an update on where I think we are… many  of these aren’t really going to start to get addressed until at least this first budget and some will be in the background for a long time but here we go.

Accountability:

  • “Cutting services and people is just as unsustainable as raising taxes forever. Priority has to be balance, fairness, and focus.”  One of the hardest decisions we’ve made as council was to cut Commercial Garbage service.  This ended up being focused on me as I was a deciding vote after the initial vote was tied and the issue was brought forward again.  I still think it was the right decision in the long run but it was a great example where we had to struggle with whether to cut, or increase.
  • “Council pay raises should be determined by third party committees and a public forum.”  Council cancelled the pay raise that was due in 2015.  We have yet to move forward on how to address this in the future.
  • “investigate the creation of a Valley wide District Municipality to expand the tax base, reduce duplication, and provide a voice to all residents of the Valley on affairs in the City”.  While I have brought this issues up in Council and Council has discussed it both in Strategic Planning and in other forums, it’s something that is much more difficult to get off the ground and it will take time. I think though that you’ll see some movement on these kinds of issues, even if it isn’t in a “District Municipality” specifically in the coming months and certainly next 3 years.
  • “Limit residential tax increases to 2%.” – As I already said, this was a reality check for me. I thought 2% was a good number to achieve that “balance” of fairness and growth.  It turns out, 2% is likely only going to lead to cuts on the ledger, so fair warning, don’t be surprised if you see me advocate for investment that will add up to more than 2%.
  • “Live Streaming Council Meetings” – This is getting closer and closer to happening.  The equipment is all in place, and I am hopeful that we will see our first full scale test within the next couple meetings.
  • “Public should be able to ask questions for Council meetings online.” – This is more difficult to manage than I may have thought before, but I still think it is something that is achievable especially once we move to live streaming.
  • “All meetings with councillors participating should be available and prominently displayed on the website so the public knows what their Council are doing.” – This already happens!
  • “Public should not have to ask for Information. The goal should be automatic (web) publishing of all City created or received material including all minutes and agenda of all meetings unless confidential under the Municipal Act.” – This already happens to a large extent but there is more I think we can do, especially when questions are asked of Council at regular meetings.
  • “Better adherence and reference to the values and goals of the OCP.“: This is something that is harder than I thought but I think Council can work harder on achieving this.  It might in fact be time for a full review of the OCP.
  • “Continue the use of the Strategic Plan to direct the actions of Council.”: – Council recently updated the Strategic Plan in September so I think we are definitely always aware of the visions in the plan and that we have to keep the plan’s goals achievable.

Climate

  • “create a permanent Climate Committee”: The Mayor created the Food Security and Climate Change committee immediately and it has been working throughout the year to get familiar with other groups and initiatives in the community as well as now bringing forward some suggestions for Council.  You’ll see those suggestions soon!
  • “Encourage residents to switch to efficient electric heating”: You’ll see that soon. :)
  • “pursue more renewable energy partnerships and projects including the District Energy plan.”:  The District Energy system will be coming back with an update soon.  I am still hopeful we can get this done.
  • “Create a tax break or grant for big home efficiency upgrades (PassivHaus).”:  Hopefully coming soon! :)
  • “Join Solar Community (Solar Hot Water and PV)”: This is not something we have pursued yet, but it’s definitely still on the list.
  • “Bike lanes and paths throughout the City.”: News Coming soon!
  • “Roger Creek foot/bike bridge at 10th Ave or North Island College to Johnston Road corridor.” – Unfortunately I don’t think this will be happening in the near future, but it is still on the radar.
  • “Designated truck route along Highway 4 and new Waterfront Industrial road to keep costs to City maintenance at minimum.” – The Truck Route Issue has been in the paper very recently.  My position on it has shifted a bit in that if we are true to our Strategic Plan I am not sure the waterfront is the right place to send those trucks, but I am still very committed to figuring out the best solution for this problem and I expect to hear back from Staff soon on some options.
  • “Reactivation of railway”: This is an issue that has been more on the back burner than I would have liked, mainly because of the inaction at senior government levels around releasing the funds to get upgrades going on the mainline on the east side of the Island.  Now that we have a new Federal Government focused heavily, hopefully, on infrastructure, I am hopeful that that funding will come through and those repairs will be made, then we will be able to start looking at making the same kinds of repairs to the line coming in to Port Alberni from Parksville.
  • “investigate summertime free city bus with an extension to Sproat Lake.”: This is still something I’d like us to pursue perhaps in the upcoming budget.
  • “Continue to encourage Farmers Market and Market Gardens.”:  Happening!
  • “Edible City. New trees should be fruit or nut trees.”: We’ve talked about this at the FSCC Committee and I also made a motion that gained the support of Council to have the city plant vegetables in amongst its flower garden beds.  Hope to see those ‘bearing fruit’ next summer!
  • “connections between local farmers and local stores and also attract young farmers to Valley.” – Happening!  In fact there was a public open house just two Sunday’s ago specifically for connecting farmers and local restaurants.
  • “Pursue full slate of Air Quality Monitoring”: I need to throw this at Councillor Minions, who’s on the Air Quality Council! :)
  • “Work with Forest Companies to reduce in-Valley slash burning and protect water.”: This is an ongoing thing through the watershed meetings and also potentially through resolutions to the AVICC (Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities).
  • “Continue City/RD Wood Stove Exchange program.”: Happening!

Community

  • “Pursue a new Pool.”: Happening – A new fund was created to save money for the pool.
  • “Continue improving Canal Beach.”: Ongoing.
  • “Encourage more high density and low cost residential spaces in the City like apartments and townhouses.”: This is something that I’ve learned is hard to personally make happen but is something that Council can influence and I think it has.  The Uchuklesaht building is a great example.
  • “Continue strong Parks and Rec programs”: Continuing!
  • “Maintain full Professional Fire Dept. but consider blended Paid on Call and more cooperation with Regional Depts.”: Continuing!
  • “Keep City Staff lean, but supported.”: Continuing (also as part of the Management Review”.
  • “Support and promote Steam Train, McLean Mill and WCIHS and encourage the sale of products to defer City costs.”:  Continuing (and note use of wood in Mayor’s Office!).
  • “Limit Export… expand our Forest holdings and use them to create jobs, in forestry and in other industries (food/tourism/other).”:  This is one of those “easier said than done” things… but it is something that is on the radar and being actively worked on behind the scenes (and was before I got here).
  • “Develop and Beautify both South and North Port Business Areas.”:  With the planter boxes on Johnston and the pocket park on 3rd Avenue, we’re making progress I think.
  • “Pursue the Port Authority’s innovative PATH project.”:  This is a huge project that will be still in the works long after this first term… but I still support it in principle and believe it could be of great benefit locally and beyond.
  • “Encourage small marine ship building like Canadian Alberni Engineering and other small to medium industry.”:  This continues!
  • “expand the airport to encourage both local job creation and more recreational and commercial access to our skies”:  This was already underway and happening and we are already seeing the benefits!
  • “Better, direct communication with neighbouring First Nations.”:  A place where we area always working hard. I’ve made good friendships and working relationships already with many of our local First Nations leaders.
  • “More partnerships to enhance learning and understanding in the community.”: We need to do this more.
  • “Consider as a community what to do with the Martin Mars?” – An ongoing issue.  At this point I think we need to still fight to keep her fighting fires for as long as she can!
  • “Support Library and Early Learning initiatives.” – Continuing!
  • “Work with School District to increase student use of all Facilities.” – This is one priority that I might drop off the list, not because it wasn’t a good thing to aspire to, but because I realize now the School District is very much its own entity and we have little influence (though certainly some!) over it.  I know the SD70 is working hard to make the most of its facilities.
  • “Keep improving WCGH, expanding services and finding doctors” – Something that is always ongoing.
  • “Build more Seniors facilities” – This is starting to move forward again with the public meeting Wednesday (Nov 18th) night about the Rainbow Gardens expansion.  There is also continued work to see what to do with the old ADSS lands.
  • “Support more health programs at NIC.”: Something for the future.

Phew…. that’s it folks.  Lots to do in the next year.  See you at the next Council meeting!