Comment on Draft 2019-22 City of Victoria Strategic Plan

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Draft 2019-22 Strategic Plan for the City of Victoria prior to the public engagement summit on Jan. 19.

To be clear, Grumpy Taxpayer$ is not opposed to taxes – a necessary price for a civilized society – but we argue there are limits of affordability for residents. We advocate for better value for our taxes and a culture of frugality.

There are, of course, ideas with merit in this draft plan, although the objectives are not prioritized and costed as yet. This concerns residents living in a jurisdiction with the lowest income in Greater Victoria.

Co-ordinated Disaster Response – The Capital Regional District – tasked with a co-ordinated regional response to a disaster – must develop an annual test of our collective capability. We are pleased that Mayor Helps committed to ensuring this item was added to the CRD’s strategic four-year plan. As the critical jurisdiction in the region, the City should be taking a lead role in this regard.

Limits to Municipal Mandate – Advocate for more affordable student housing. Explore the potential of creating a Victoria Housing Corporation. Explore ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.

It concerns Grumpy Taxpayer$ that municipalities unrealistically – 179 objectives in total – ‘try to be everything to everyone all of the time.’

Often there’s insufficient focus on the core mandate of providing quality, basic services that are affordable to all of its residents, as opposed to pursuing pet projects or ideological bound expenditures or straying into areas of provincial or federal jurisdiction.

Declaration of Principles and Values – Respectfully, we suggest the additional value of ‘frugality’ be added. The economical, thrifty, careful, cautious, and prudent spending of tax dollars is also a shared value in our community.

Such a value would help to “create a culture of deep respect and deep listening, in order to build the relationships we need to do the work, and to aspire to be our highest selves even when it feels hard and when difficult decisions could stand to divide us.” Lack of frugality and wasting tax dollars is divisive in itself.

In order to highlight this as a priority for the City, it’s suggested a very modest amount of cash accompany an annual ‘frugality award’ for staff. Savings can be quantified – it’s a quality public relations story.

Updating Legislation Governing Local Governments – We are pleased that Mayor Helps moved to support our 2018 election platform advocating the updating of legislation governing local governments.

We view this as a priority for the City (and region) and believe lobbying the UBCM is an additional worthy objective. The Local Government Act and Community Charter are out of date and updating is overdue if municipalities are to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Stick to your knitting, but you shouldn’t have to beg for wool and needles from the provincial and federal governments.

Big City Mayors’ Caucus – Given the City of Victoria enjoys an out-sized impact on the region and the decisions made at the CRD, we urge that membership in the Big City Mayors’ Caucus be added as a governance objective. For years, the balkanized governance structure in Greater Victoria disallows membership, the only provincial capital in Western Canada. An effective national voice at a federal level is critical and should be a priority advocacy role for this mayor and council.

Scrutinizing Police Budgets – As a matter of urgency, we support the City objective of exercising fiscal responsibility in policing expenditures. We support working toward the regionalizing of police services and considering the possibility of a single amalgamated police service for the region.

Given the major and ever increasing cost of police services, it’s our contention that budgets require closer examination and scrutiny. The issue is explored in a Jan. 13, 2019 Times Colonist column ‘The huge challenge of setting police budgets.’

Municipal staff salary review – In our view items 12 and 14 under the section good governance are repetitive. We encourage that any review also look at excessive pay or benefits to city staff compared to other jurisdictions of comparable size.

Bastion Square Revival – The business neighbourhood called Bastion Square needs reviving and renewal. Bastion Square is an important part of a walkable downtown, historically significant, and a connector to the waterfront.

For many years has not lived up to its potential and solid leadership from city council needs to be directed toward it. When successful a renewed Bastion Square will provide an added source of revenue to the City and strengthen our destination as a tourism hub.

Unknown Sewer Treatment Operating Costs – The City is a key player in upgrading the regional sewer treatment that will continue to have a significant impact on taxpayer bills. But the major omission in the process to date is the major and unknown uptick to operating costs. The City must quantify that for the taxpayer sooner rather than later.

Taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent estimate of future operating costs on this $765 million project as soon as possible.

Summation – It concerns us that the City unrealistically – 179 objectives in total – tries to be everything to everyone all of the time.

Rather, Grumpy Taxpayer$ urges the City to focus and refocus again on carrying out existing core objectives and mandate in a thorough and more comprehensive fashion.

Stan Bartlett, Chair, Grumpy Taxpayer$
grumpytaxpayers@telus.net 250-477-9907

John Treleaven, 1st Vice-chair, Grumpy Taxpayer$
treleavengroup@shaw.ca 250.656.7899, cell 250.588.7899