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Castlegar Budget 2010

The City of Castlegar is preparing to pass a budget and five year financial plan that indicates spending on new infrastructure to the Airport lands of approximately $4.2 million for water and $1.6 million for sewer over the next two years. This is money that is coming out of the water and sewer funds respectively – funded by user fees, not by developers or the airport fund. Out of the whole budget being proposed, this is a huge project, representing a huge percentage of the total budget and there is no defined/definite revenue source for this expenditure. I don’t believe that development of the airport lands should be undertaken at the expense (literally) of existing residents. If the land never sells, we are holding millions of dollars of assets that will just depreciate. My questions to council are simply –

  1. How is this project a priority given the recent revenue issues with Celgar, and the fact that this project was intended to be funded by grant money, that is evidently scarce across the province and country?
  2. Is the cost of this project included in the land costs for any of the parcels recently sold or available for purchase in the future?
  3. If the City has somewhere around $66 million of water upgrades to undertake in the next 20 years – how was it decided that this project was the highest priority, the extension of a line that services land that may one day be for sale, rather than shoring up the service we already have?

There are arguments for providing this service, particularly for the South East Fire Centre refilling of aerial water bombers – but this is a regional or even provincial service, why is the City bent over upgrading their water supply? What is the rate of return on investment? Where is the economic model that supports the City providing this service – (there may well be one, but it has never been presented to the public)?

The Public Process

Robyn and I (and the kids) were some of the only people who attended the public presentations on the budget. Comments from councillors represent a belief that the public didn’t show up because they “trust council”. When less than .5% of the population attends  a budget meeting, I can kind of understand council thinking that. I think it runs deeper. Most people, when presented with 30 pages of spreadsheet,find that the tendency for eyes to glaze over is pretty overwhelming – they’d rather someone else take responsibility. Equally, when a recent news article informs of budget cuts and tax rises, it really didn’t tell the whole story – when a cut to the planning budget of over 11% was announced, a look at the details tell a different story from what one would expect to see – the majority of the cuts were project based, not service or staffing – but honestly, who is going to look that deeply at the numbers?

The Role of the Media?

The level of media reporting on the budget has been generally conciliatory at best, accepting without question the budget as posed by staff and council. I wouldn’t be so harsh, except that the City just scraped through a tight spot with taxes and Celgar, (which was well reported by the media).

Considering the overall tax increase for municipal services to a residential property is likely to be around 15% for an average home, on top of a 15% increase in water and sewer rates for 2010, restraint in fees and taxes for residential properties appears to be far from a priority – yet there is talk of cuts. While major industrial taxes are going down (16.5%) and commercial taxes remain steady – the home owner is hit with the burden. Tough decisions have been made without adequate public input – I don’t see that council is to particularly to blame for this, but the level of community accountability is woeful and they should be concerned making this decision without the direct support of the public – not the inferred consent from silence.

Parting Thoughts

While many in this part of the world are wiping their brow saying things like, “Thank God superman saved the day and BC / Canada didn’t end up in the same place as America”; the truth is simply that despite the level of spending that has already been committed by governments and developers in cities around Canada, we are not out of the woods by any leap of the imagination. Castlegar is a great place to live but the focus for Council should be less on growth and more on consolidation and improvement. We don’t need to spend money on projects just to keep up with the Jones.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

2 thoughts on “Castlegar Budget 2010

  1. Thanks for this analysis, Mike.

    If your readings of the numbers are correct, my feeling is that the CAO’s response to my question regarding the Airport Lands, might be interpreted as being less than transparent and forthcoming.

    >QUESTION : ” >6 – What will be the Development Charges and Servicing Requirements incurred by the City with respect to the rest of the Airport Lands if and when they are sold and subdivided? What will developers pay, and how will the City recover any amount it incurs?”

    > ANSWER: “There is no agreement in place on the rest of the Airport Lands consequently there are no servicing requirements or service cost allocation.”

    Yours in ‘ongoing puzzlement’ …

    Raymond Koehler
    619 – 9th Avenue,
    Castlegar, BC V1N 1M5

    250.304.2157

  2. The Mayor and City Councillors,
    City of Castlegar
    c.c. Chief Administrative Officer & Director of Finance

    Good Afternoon:

    If media reports are correct, and Interfor intends to re-open the Castlegar sawmill, then this is very good news for the Community.

    However, it may be a little bit premature to be ‘Singing Victory!’ just yet.

    Potentially, there may be small window of opportunity for the City to plan, coordinate and implement a Community-based strategic plan to move us forward, towards an economically diverse, sustainable and environmentally viable future, in the context of this apparent development — with renewed vigour and commitment.

    We know that there are a variety of projects, plans and initiatives ‘in the works’ supporting this kind of direction.

    My question is, what specific steps is Castlegar City Council going to take, in the immediate short term, to insure that a strategic, coordinated sustainable economic, environmental, social & cultural plan is in place, AND is being implemented, given the current realities facing the Community of Castlegar?

    — and supplementary, which line items in the provisional 2010 Budget and 5 year Plan can be designated as funding for such a coordinated initiative?

    As always, a timely, written response would be most welcome.

    Many thanks,

    Raymond Koehler,

    619 – 9th Avenue.
    Castlegar, BC V1N 1M5

    250.304.2157

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