Q & A with Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen PLUS Response from resident Esther Paterson
Nils Jensen was elected to District of Oak Bay council in 1996 and has served as mayor since 2011. Mr. Jensen, proud of his Danish heritage, works as a Crown prosecutor and as an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, faculty of law.
Oak Bay is an upscale, distinctive urban neighbourhood of 18,000 in a lovely seaside setting. It was incorporated in 1906, with about 98 per cent of the tax base residential.
Jensen has served on the Parcel Tax Roll Review Panel, Oak Bay Receptions and Police Board. As a CRD director, he’s been on the CRD Hospital Board, Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee, CREST Corp., and served two one-year terms as CRD chairperson.
Q: The Opus International Report estimates Oak Bay’s infrastructure deficit for roads and sewers at $200-million, and an earlier report flagged the costs of updating aging municipal buildings. How will these significant infrastructure deficits be paid for and what impact will this have on property taxes?
A: Oak Bay Council is currently awaiting a staff report that will outline priorities, associated costs and a timeline for maintaining our infrastructure. We anticipate funding infrastructure renewal from a variety of sources including reserves, grants, borrowing and taxes. Once accurate costs, funding sources and timelines are known we will be a position to estimate the impact on property taxes.
Q: Are there additional plans to create more housing stock e.g: legal suites, and more density along major transportation routes (Cadboro Bay Road, Foul Bay Road)?
A: Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan encourages modest growth – up to 0.5% annually or approximately 36 housing units. The Plan envisions regulated secondary suites, infill development and mixed commercial/multi-family housing along major arterials.
Q: How much can the average homeowner expect to pay in property taxes for the capital – and operating costs – of the new sewage treatment system?
A: In its Final Report in September 2016 the Core Area Wastewater Treatment Project Board proposed a detailed project budget of $765M. The projected budget also estimated the annual cost per household for capital and operating using the CRD allocation methodology based on flows. For Oak Bay the per household cost was estimated to be $344.
Q: Some critics have complained about lack of transparency at Oak Bay, so how do does council plan to address those concerns? For example, no press releases went out concerning property tax increases or the Opus Report.
A: Oak Bay is a leader in municipal transparency. We have achieved this in numerous ways including:
Livestreaming and archiving of all council and committee of the whole meetings.
Modern enhanced website.
Online availability of agendas and minutes and reports to Council.
Subscriber notification service for meetings and minutes.
Public participation period at every regular Council meeting.
Open budget meetings including public participation.
Strict adherence to provincial legislation and Ombudsman guidelines concerning in-camera meetings.
Resident committees in areas such as heritage, planning and design – all committees are open to the public.
Adherence to provincial FOI practices and procedures.
Q: Does Oak Bay’s planning department co-ordinate with other major capital projects of other municipalities to prevent redundancies and duplication of services such as fire stations, pools, libraries, community centres?
Q: BC Chamber of Commerce just passed a resolution on ‘Safe Communities and Strong Economics’ which recommends common governance and funding models to ensure consistent standards of policing for all municipalities. How can the costs of a separate police force in Oak Bay be defended?
A: Oak Bay’s per capita costs for policing are amongst the lowest in the province. As a small department we are uniquely able to manage costs. One example of our cost management approach is our standing agreement with the Saanich Police to provide specialized services. This and other examples of police integration creates a highly cost efficient and effective way of delivering policing services.
We are currently working with other communities across the region to create a unified framework for integrating police services.
Q: What’s your position on amalgamation in one form or another? In what ways does remaining separate (as opposed to amalgamating with Victoria, Saanich, or others) benefit the community and electorate?
A: In the 2014 municipal election Oak Bay held a non-binding referendum on the issue of amalgamation. The question on the ballot was: “Are you in favour of the District of Oak Bay being amalgamated into a larger regional municipality? YES or NO.
62 percent voted NO.
As a result Oak Bay Council has not pursued amalgamation. However Oak Bay is constantly looking for cost savings within our municipal operations and through cooperation with other municipalities and the CRD. Currently there are well over 100 arrangements in place between the various groups of municipalities in the region to create cost effective and innovative ways to delivery essential municipal services. Examples of this include water supply, regional parks and mutual aid agreements amongst fire departments.
Q: With respect to the CRD, why do taxpayers in the capital region pay four times more on average than people in Metro Vancouver pay for in regional services? Are there additional services that are thought essential? Are programs provided efficiently and effectively, and do services receive less scrutiny by taxpayers than those delivered by the municipality?
A: The CRD provides a complex array of over 200 services to the region’s 13 municipalities and 3 electoral communities including Gulf Islands. By contrast the services provided by Metro Vancouver number in the dozens.
CRD oversight is provided by 21 locally elected mayors, councillors and electoral area representatives. In my view the CRD is governed well and effectively through a series of standing committees and commissions that constantly receive public input. Transparency of meetings, budgets and reports as well as well as annual audits serve to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.
Response from Oak Bay resident Esther Paterson
The Grumpy$ are doing a great job keeping the public informed on local and regional issues. Your articles are relevant, specific and present independent opinion that other media sources don’t always cover. However I felt your Q & A with Mayor Nils Jensen missed the mark.
There are actually 2 consulting reports: Opus International Report on Infrastructure and Moore Wilson Architects report on Municipal Buildings. Combined, the reports put the price tag closer to $280 M. The 2016 Annual Report shows year-end balance of statutory reserve funds at approximately $27 M, the District’s revenue (available for municipal purposes) at about $23 M, with a surplus of approximately $3.8 M. There is serious gap between municipal revenues and long-term capital requirements.
At the February 20, 2017 Council Meeting, staff advised Council that there was no one on staff qualified to put together an Asset Management program. The Consultants’ reports were provided based on data collected in 2015 and work commencing in 2016. My fear is that these reports, like many others, will become redundant if the District does not clearly identify this as a top priority. The District received the reports in July 2016 and yet failed to mention them at Council’s Strategic Priorities meeting in October, the Preliminary Budget meeting in November or the Estimates Meetings for the 2017 Budget. The reports, presented by the Director of Engineering, were the last item on a full agenda and not discussed until 11 pm. Most members of the public had left by that time. In fact the reports might never have come to light without public pressure to release the information.
The Mayor, in identifying sources of infrastructure funding, failed to mention other sources that have been creeping into comments at Council Meetings. Those include densification and selling District Land. As one member of Council stated during discussion on the Cadboro-Bowker development ‘we need the money’. And in discussion on potential use for land at Turkey Head, Mayor Jensen stated that sale and development would be considered.
The survey for our (by Point of View Research) 2014 OCP shows that most residents support development provided that it is ‘done right’. During the 2014 elections Mayor Jensen’s promised a Housing Strategy supported by Zoning and Bylaws. But the Housing Strategy was deferred again this year as a Strategic Priority. The District has failed to even provide ‘Indicators’ outlined in the OCP (p 162) as a preliminary guidance tool on housing and to measure accomplishments against objectives.
Visibility does not necessarily mean transparency. Council meetings are live-streamed but it takes 30 – 60 days to have them archived. If issues important to the public are raised at one meeting, the video information is not available prior to the next meeting. This makes it more difficult for the public to follow the issue through Council to Committee of the Whole (public) and back to Council. And the webcasts are no close captioned.
Minutes of Meetings no longer record the maker of motions, or the discussion relevant to issues (unlike other members of the CRD).
Based on the 2 points above, no provision for persons with hearing disability.
Public participation at most meetings is limited to 3 minutes, for a total of 20 minutes. I timed my comments on long term capital at 5 minutes and knew I would be cut off. So I needed to get help from a neighbor to fully present the subject. We had to split the presentation between us and then, because of the information and public reaction, a Councillor made the motion to extend our time. All that, and we were the only members of the public speaking!
Many meetings are open to the public but do not allow public participation.
Members of the Advisory Planning Commission have documented complaints about difficulty in obtaining reports they consider relevant to applications. It only follows that the public also have difficulty in obtaining reports.
The answers, while truthful, fall short of full disclosure. Oak Bay has no plans for finances, no plans for housing, and outdated by bylaws (according to Staff/Council). There may be trouble in paradise.