Greater Victoria deserves better municipal governance
“Good governance has 8 major characteristics. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.”
-The United Nations paper, “What is Good Governance?”
Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria believes it’s about time we discuss the serious issue of improving municipal governance in Greater Victoria.We are a non-profit, unaffiliated, citizen’s advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable municipal government. We are non- partisan, apolitical and do not endorse any political party or candidate for election. We advocate improved fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency.
We want to know what you think of our platform for improved governance. Send along your ideas for additional positions.
$ Exercise more fiscal prudence
$ Commit to zero-based budgeting
$ Support updating of local government legislation
$ Be forthcoming with taxpayer information
$ Improve municipal transparency with ‘dashboards’
$ Limit municipal terms to two four-year terms
$ Post annual financial disclosure statements
$ Get our disaster response act together
Exercise more fiscal prudence
The art of taxation, it is said, consists in ‘so plucking the goose as to procure the largest quantity of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing.’ From our observations at Grumpy Taxpayer$, hissing is commonplace these days with ratepayers concerned about municipal finances and escalating property tax bills.Far more services could be shared across the region.
Many of the concerns centre around the downloading of provincial health services premiums and the enormous costs of renewing and updating critical regional infrastructure. Overruns for budgets for large capital projects are commonplace and construction costs are quickly escalating.
Core municipalities worry about the final cost of the $765 million sewer treatment project – they will pay for any cost overruns. Expensive bills are forthcoming on numerous capital projects across the region for pools, fire halls, public works buildings, water pipes, and so on.
In our view, it’s time for a culture of frugality and prudent public expenditures, rather than automatically going to the taxpayer for more and more ‘feathers’.
As an alternative, Grumpy Taxpayer$ suggests tightening up management, focusing on core responsibilities, selling assets, using increased revenue from the economic boom to moderate taxes, and finally, moderating pay and benefits. Far more services could be shared across the region.
Commit to zero-based budgeting
Grumpy$ urges the Capital Regional District and the 13 local jurisdictions institute or run a pilot project using zero-based budgeting to help control municipal costs.
Simply put, rather than just adding inflation or a percentage on to last year’s budget, with zero- based budgeting council drills down deep and decides whether or not services should be cut substantially or even be continued or budgets boosted.
Advantages to zero-based budgeting include: “Efficient allocation of resources, as it is based on needs and benefits rather than history. It drives managers to find cost effective ways to improve operations. Detects inflated budgets, increases staff motivation by providing greater initiative
and responsibility in decision-making, increases communication and coordination within theorganization, identifies and eliminates wasteful and obsolete operations, identifies opportunities for outsourcing, forces cost centers to identify their mission and their relationship to overall goals, and facilitates more effective delegation of authority.”
It’s argued that zero-based budgeting helps in identifying areas of wasteful expenditure, and if desired, can also be used for suggesting alternative courses of action. It’s a weary taxpayer’s dream scenario to help contain municipal costs.
Zero-based budgeting, Wikipedia.
Planning and Response (page 49), Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, B.C., 2017.
Support updating of local government legislation
Taxpayers feeling pick-pocketed by their municipalities aren’t likely to get quick relief or better services, since the province released its study on integrating services and governance in 2017.
The long-awaited Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative (CISGI) examines 16 service areas, from police to housing to transportation. The facts and figures in the report support the belief that the current municipal governance and services model in the Capital region is broken and in crisis. The study is an indictment of the status quo that offers the public the proof needed for demanding the consolidation of one or more municipalities in the region. Overlap and duplication of services are the norm.
Grumpy$ urges that local politicians lobby the province to update the 50-year-old Community Charter and Local Government Act underpinning municipal government.
Service-sharing report pulls punches: Province urged to step into the ring with Dysfunction-by-the-Sea, Grumpy Taxpayer$.
Be forthcoming with taxpayer information
There was a textbook case this year of a local government not being upfront with an important decision that came out of city hall. It ended up a front page headline, “Victoria taxes: Homeowners up 4 per cent vs. business 1.1 per cent.”
Council made the decision to reconfigure the tax load from business to homeowners, but neglected to tell anyone about it until they opened their tax notice and bill. Until then, the public was under the impression residential taxes would go up 2.6 per cent consistent with its policy of ‘inflation plus one per cent.’ Unfortunately, no notice was given through official channels aside from a brief note at the last minute in a tax notice.
We would urge municipalities to communicate items critical to the taxpayer, since more often than not, press releases tend to cover fluffy, irrelevant public relations topics. The onus is on local government to communicate critical information, not for the taxpayer to wade through hundreds of pages of agenda. Several jurisdictions send out council highlights reports to inform their residents.
Victoria taxes homeowners 4 vs. 1 for businesses, Times Colonist, May 24, 2018.
Improve municipal transparency with ‘dashboards’
It’s called the “Dashboard” and it greatly simplifies finding out how your councillor or CRD director voted on every motion that’s brought forward.
In April 2016 Vancouver City Council instituted a Council Voting Dashboard, so that interested parties can examine the voting record votes on each item (either in favour, opposed, abstained (conflict) or absent). In 2019 Victoria brought in a similar tool.
Of course, meeting minutes and, in most cases, video archives, also show how individual Council members vote but it is extremely time consuming for the average person (or researcher/reporter) to read through minutes of multiple meetings or view multiple archived council meetings for this information.
The task of updating this record is performed by their Legislative Services, the same personnel that record the minutes – this tool should be relatively easy to maintain once it is set up – and it could be done by the same person who records the minutes.
City of Vancouver Council Voting Record. City of Vancouver.
Limit municipal terms to two terms
Every politician at some point has an expiration date, the only question for voters is, it sooner rather than later. What do you think, they are oldies, but are they still goodies?
Taxpayers will go to the polls to either bring back incumbents who may be doing a decent job or vote for newbies to hopefully rejuvenate the management of their community.
A couple of years ago, Grumpy Taxpayer$ conducted a survey of all 91 councillors in the 13 jurisdictions of the Capital Regional District to identify which politicians have had the longest career. Council terms at the municipal level were three years in duration for generations, until changed to four years in
Two of the municipal politicians have served 10 terms in office since 1987, and there’s a long lengthy list of runner-ups with political longevity extending to six, seven and eight terms.
Newer jurisdictions on the Westshore, Highlands, Central Saanich and Esquimalt don’t have many really long term politicians.The Sooke council is also comprised of councillors with only a couple terms experience.
In its report to the Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative (CISGI), Grumpy Taxpayer$ recommended that local politicians return to society after two consecutive four-year terms before seeking reelection. That allows newcomers a fair chance at getting elected in order to provide new blood in councils.
Post annual financial disclosure statements
Most taxpayers aren’t aware that annual financial disclosure statements are submitted each year on January 15 by the incumbent mayor and councillors, as well as municipal nominee and employee, pursuant to the BC Financial Disclosure Act.
The legislation requires that politicians list income, real property, liabilities and corporate assets assets and investments with the aim of preventing and spotting conflicts of interest.
City of Vancouver is one of the very few jurisdictions in the province that provides the public with links to the financial disclosure statements on its municipal website. Example: http:// vancouver.ca/files/cov/2018-statement-of-financial-disclosure-kerry-jang.pdf
In the interests of transparency, Grumpy Taxpayer$ urges municipalities and the electoral district to follow suit and post disclosure statements for the benefit of the public on a reoccurring annual basis.
Municipal officials, financial disclosure, Government of BC Local elections search options, Elections BC
Get our disaster response act together
Nothing is more important to citizens and taxpayers of Bureacracy-By-The-Sea, than their safety and security. As evidenced by the response to a 7.9 earthquake and tsunami warning Jan. 23, the failed response of the CRD and the region’s municipalities illustrates that we must get our act together.
There was confusion in parts of Greater Victoria: Parts of Esquimalt, Colwood, Saanich and View Royal were told to leave. Others heard about the evacuations, assumed the worst and looked for high ground when they didn’t need to.
A region wide disaster response will be hindered by having multiple fire dispatch centres and the region seems to be heading in that direction. Squabbling over costs has hampered this initiative, despite the fact that many local elected officials are supportive of the idea.
The highest priority must be to rectify the fundamental problem of a disjointed, multi- jurisdictional approach to notifying Greater Victoria of what’s going on and to co-ordinate an effective, regional response.
Several municipalities currently do a test run of their respective disaster response capabilities – that’s not good enough for the Big One. The Capital Regional District – tasked with a co- ordinated regional response to a disaster – must develop an annual test of our collective capability. We live in one community, not on 13 islands, and heaven help us if we don’t work together.
Capital Integrated Services and Governance Initiative (CISGI), Emergency Planning and Response (page 49), Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, B.C., 2017.
CBC Radio, Fault Lines, Five part podcast series on what happens if the Big One hits the West Coast, http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/fault-lines/