April 23 GPC Summary & Observations

Have any of you watched the netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?  Throughout the GPC meeting yesterday I had the theme song from that show running through my head but with the word “impetuous” replacing “unbreakable”. If you watch a lot of Council like I do, you’d know what I mean and who all I’m referring to.

So what happened today? Video is here if you’re interested. 

There were a LOT of late additions to the agenda.

Passing the Agenda

Mayor Helps started things off by proposing that the  suggested amendments to Parks Regulation Bylaw be removed from the agenda because Council were waiting on a comprehensive staff report on the issue. This revelation then led to the CTV camera guy packing up and leaving. It then had to be repeated a few more times during the meeting to other folks, including the CheckNew camera guy and reporter who arrived a bit late.

There was then quite the back and forth about the consent Agenda (e.g., the space where items get moved forward without any discussion to Council). Credit has to be given to Councillor Loveday who said in response to the “just talk to the item at Council” suggestion from Mayor Helps that:

“it’s so late at night, no one is there to hear discussion”.

Ultimately there was no consent agenda yesterday.

Delegation – Royal & McPerson Theatre Society

This was actually quite an interesting presentation given by Janis Barlow, one of North America’s top art consultants. The RMTS had brought her in to assist in their new strategic plan and business plan. It all sounded quite reasonable to me. However a number of councillor seemed to disagree and a whole bunch of political back and forth quickly.

Then, in response to a particularly pointed accusation from a particular councillor about performance of the RMTS, the Board chair (I believe) spoke to remind GPC that the RMTS is constrained by the City’s ownership of the McPerson Playhouse. And as I indicated in my Early Thoughts this issue of ownership was one that was first brought up back on March 23rd when the CRD visited (see top of page 2). The back and forth then continued.

After about an hour the discussion was ended rather abruptly by Mayor and a request was made to Councillor Young that he bring forward an McPerson Playhouse related ownership motion to a future GPC.

Delegation – Downtown Victoria Business Association

This was a presentation relating to their one day Design Charrette that was held with various stakeholders (not including residents) regarding plans for Douglas Street between Belleville and Hillside. These plans break the proposed section of Douglas down into a series of short and long term development opportunities for which Mayor Helps and Councillor Lucas are the biggest supporters.

With respect to the actual charrette report, it was discussed yesterday how  the four key components of the Douglas St identity are said to include lighting, traffic, pedestrian activity and cycling. After some fairly detailed conversation, discussion concluded on this item with clarification from DVBA Chair Fran Hobbis that this Charrette report is just meant to start a discussion.

Mayor Helps will be bringing back some motion relating to the charrette to the May 7 GPC – I think in relation to how involved the City will be going forward. Of note is that the Business Improvement Area Bylaw by which the levies that fund the DVBA are collected received 3 readings by a special council meeting yesterday as well.

2014 Financial Statements

There was a team of fancy auditors in attendance at GPC. The finance director kicked things off by saying that there would be no presentation about the 2014 Financial Statements. To which I believe Mayor Helps responded “Oh good” and then proceeded to ask a random list of questions including:

  • Why did we only spend half of our capital budget in 2014?
  • What is the capital expenditure for OCP & DCAP implementation?
  • Why didn’t we do all the Harbour pathway work? What is the impact of the additional $1million that we contributed to the pathway in 2015?
  • Why was there a big jump in the infrastructure reserves in 2015?

To which she was told:

  • The need for more strategic capital budgets was a primary driver of the city’s new budget process. Whereas previously capital budgets were just “made up” there is now an effort to ensure that all budgets are “project based” so as to avoid unspent accounts.
  • The capital funds for DCAP and OCP were a one time allocation from Council, funds have been spent and reallocated elsewhere.
  • We’re still working on a report about what Harbour work will get done in 2015 and onwards.
  • The jump infrastructure reserves was for the $23million in debt funding that was necessary for the Johnson Street Bridge. We don’t normally borrow so far in advance, but needed to in this case. To which Mayor Helps requested that the amount of interest paid on this $23million to date be calculated and then added to the JSB mediation claim.

Councillor Isitt as he is wont to do, then made a motion to go in camera and Council all got up and went  incamera while staff sat idly in the Council chambers. When I asked Isitt later about why they went incamera (given the public nature of all the budget documents) and why they chose employee relations for their reason for going incamera, he responded:

Because of the precedent of Enron, it is best practice for boards/councils to receive financial statements incamera because this allows the board/council to ask the auditors if staff have their hand in the cookie jar. 

To which I responded: “that is what the auditors report is for”.

To which Isitt responded: “we just wanted to make sure staff had’t instructed them to cover any thing up”.

To which I think I just stared at him – I was so frustrated. I then chatted later with a contact of mine who has extensive municipal financial experience and he said that yes, it is common practice for Councils to meet with auditors in camera, both for best practice reasons and also as a way of “keeping staff on their toes”. He also said that Council have to first accept the auditors findings before they can be spoken to.

So maybe we’ll get an actual presentation later?

Tax Rates Bylaw

The Finance Director spoke very briefly to this item. She reminded GPC that they had approved a revenue and tax policy in January that equalized increases across property tax groups – save for industrial. She said that the recommended property tax rates in front of them for consideration was created based on that policy.

According to the staff report:

In 2012, a comprehensive review of the Revenue and Tax Policy was conducted to determine if Council’s objective of reducing the tax burden on the business class was appropriate and if so, that the mechanism of achieving the objective (reduction of tax ratio) was the most effective mechanism. The review concluded that additional relief for the business tax class was warranted. However, the tax ratio was not the best mechanism for achieving that goal; a better mechanism was tax share.

As a result, Council changed the policy to focus on the tax share rather than tax ratios, and to reduce the business class share of property taxes from 49.35% to 48% over three years (2012­ 2014).

Since the final year of implementation for the policy was 2014, and in accordance with Council’s direction, the policy was reviewed by updating and analysing the same indicators from the 2011 review, such as the share of taxes paid by the business sector and the tax burden on residential taxpayers in Victoria, both compared to benchmark municipalities and the trend of commercial building permits. Based on the findings, it was recommended that no further shifting of taxes.

On January 29, 2015, Council approved the recommendation to maintain the current share of distribution of property taxes among property classes excluding the impact on new assessment (see page 15).

Councillor Young then kicked things off yesterday by moving option 3 for consideration (i.e., that tax ratios stay the same) which led to about an hours worth of back and forth. Young’s reason for doing so was that, where residential assessment values have increased businesses assessments have stagnated somewhat as a result of the many vacancies downtown. He was therefore arguing that minimizing business tax increases would be a way of supporting downtown businesses.

Option 3 tax rates

Mayor Helps was a passionate defender of this proposal while others were more cautious. The ever practical Thornton-Joe even suggested that perhaps it would be prudent to wait and see what the Mayor’s task force on economic development finds, and that she could support such a tax ratio if they were to recommend it.

Ultimately the motion failed 5:4.

The staff recommendation was then moved:

Option 1 Tax Rates

And even though she much preferred Option 3 (the one that wasn’t consulted on) Mayor Helps said she has to champion Option 1 (the recommended option that was consulted on) as Mayor. Of note is that the 2015 Tax Rates Bylaw received 3 readings at the Special Council meeting that also occurred yesterday afternoon.

Proposed Alignment of Grants Program with City of Victoria 2015-2018 Strategic Plan

This was a combined item from the Directors of Finance, Citizen Engagement and Parks, and there was actually a bit of a presentation on it as well. Both items provide some context on how this proposal relates to two existing grant streams – one competitive (with five possible streams) and one not (fee for service) at the city in addition to the other category of Direct Award grants.

The rather complicated recommendation which should have been straight forward was that the competitive grants (neighbourhood enhancement, greenways, community arts, and sustainability program grants) be awarded according to the new Proposed Grant Policy & Application Form for 2015 while fee for service grants are awarded as usual. Then in 2016 both grant streams would be awarded in accordance with the new policy.

Meanwhile the other category of direct award grants which are provided to organizations that provide a service on behalf of the City, such as community and seniors centres, neighbourhood per capita base grants, heritage grants and Recreation Integration Victoria were approved by Council for 2015 on February 26, 2015, based on their Feb 23 GPC.

Ultimately, because this new grants policy was crafted exclusively on public feedback received during the strategic plan & Budget consultation, and because community groups were not aware this new proposal was even on the GPC agenda yesterday (so said Madoff), it was moved by Mayor Helps that some consultation is needed. I believe it was also decided that grant applicants will be be required to make their grant application presentations at a large town hall meeting, instead of through staff.

Council will then decide after these presentations who gets funding.

There was then a 30 minute lunch.

Application for a Liquor Primary Licence, Helijet International Inc., 79 Dallas Road

GPC seemed to reconvene for lunch a tad quickly because by the time I returned, this item had already been passed – or so I assume.

Trans Mountain Expansion Project

The Director of Legislative Services gave a brief presentation on this item and GPC were left to decide their official position on the pipeline as well as determine how involved they want to be in the National Energy Board (NEB) hearing going forward. Based on a motion from Mayor Helps, it was moved that Victoria Council be officially opposed to the pipeline for reasons of significant ecological risks and no economic benefit. It was also agreed that the Mayor (or designate Councillor Isitt) participate in the final NEB hearing/closing arguments for this pipeline.

I learned yesterday that apparently the CRD also has a Trans Mountain Pipeline group, of which Councillor Isitt is Chair (see pages 10-11).

Nav Canada Assessment Appeal – Central Saanich

In introducing this item Mayor Helps admitted that it had been on her desk for a while (since February 24th). With respect to any impact on the City of Victoria, the Finance Firector said that there are two Nav Canada properties in Victoria which currently generate $20,000 in property tax revenue and that if the appeal is to be successful in Victoria, the City may have to repay $80,000 in property tax monies received.

Mayor Helps then cut off discussion and said that she would be working with the Finance Director to bring a motion forward regarding possible funding sources for a contribution to the legal efforts being pursued by Central Saanich and BC Assessment.

Good Neighbour Agreements

Councillor Alto motivated this item which apparently stemmed from a 10 year anniversary efforts of a local committee to end racism and discrimination. In general Alto said that more and more communities are looking to make their GNAs more inclusive. And after Alto failed to clarify what GNAs she was talking about (or what she was even talking about) Thornton-Joe asked if Alto was proposing to extend these new GNAs to liquor licensees as well (e.g., typical GNA recipients)?

Nope said Alto who then clarified that the GNAs in question will only apply to those which are signed for neighbourhood gatherings that are attended by social service providers. Or so I believe. Coleman then cautioned that there have been some issues in the past when GNAs have been considered legal documents when they really are not. Alto then concluded by reminding GPC that her motion is silent on what she is actually looking for in her motion.

All and all very unclear but it received unanimous support.

Motion – Oil Spill Preparedness

This item, a motion requesting the Mayor write a letter asking for an audit of oil spill preparedness in B.C. was quickly passed. Isitt then made a reasonable suggestion (don’t think it actually got turned into a motion mind you) that the City should really be practicing for how it would respond to a catastrophic oil spill, especially since tankers travel not too far off of our coast. Mr. Woodland indicated that these travel paths are a result of the coastline being a pilot point for the international transit authority.

It was also mentioned during discussion of the item that apparently municipal reps at the recent AVICC AGM had also endorsed moving a resolution against expanded tanker traffic forward to UBCM (see pages 9-10).

Youth Engagement Strategy

Councillor Loveday motivated this item (a request for a staff report on what would be required to develop a youth engagement strategy) and while doing so extended thanks to Councillor Coleman who had suggested that Loveday bring the motion forward as a first step. Such procedural best practice advice was given because Loveday had been initially planning to just bring forward his own report on what would be required.

As noted within the motion, Youth engagement is a key aspect of strategic planning objective # 2 Engage & Empower the community.

2022 Commonwealth Games

Mayor Helps motivated this item (a motion to submit a letter saying Victoria wants to be considered a backup location for the 2022 Commonwealth games) and described it as “putting our foot in the door and keeping it open”. Ultimately I believe a slight amendment to the proposed letter (that had been written by David Black) was approved by GPC (to then be approved by Council later) for its subsequent submission to the commonwealth games committee.

Isitt then made a series of jokes about writing the letter in a way that would expect/require Mr. David Black sign on as a funder of the games “since he has more money than the city”. There was a lot of chuckling at the table as everyone looked to me to see if I was tweeting about what was going on. I didn’t.

Other Things that Happened Yesterday

During the Special Council meeting that was held to approve the necessary readings of assorted bylaws (e.g., tax rates and business improvement area) Council also gave 3 readings to the Boulevard Tax Bylaw. Additionally, they rescinded 1st reading of the Financial Plan bylaw and then gave 3 readings to the financial plan bylaw as amended. 

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