I know a lot of people like to say that municipal meetings are boring and difficult to watch and typically I disagree. However this meeting yesterday of the City of Victoria Governance and Priorities Committee was one of those quintessentially boring and yet frustrating meetings to observe.
Video of the Feb 12 GPC is available here. So what happened?
Minutes of January 22 GPC
These were approved but not provided as part of the agenda package. Nor have they been uploaded yet to CivicWeb. This meeting was one of the first ones I attended in my new capacity so unfortunately I never was able to compile my own summary either. It was an interesting meeting though with lots of big items on the agenda.
Presentation from Tourism Victoria
As I mentioned in my early thoughts, the purpose of this presentation was to meet obligations under the Hotel Room Tax Act for distribution of taxes collected by the City of Victoria to Tourism Victoria and the Victoria Conference Centre for Tourism purposes. And because Paul Nursey, the Tourism Victoria CEO was worried about “going over time” he rushed through a very detailed slide deck (which isn’t available to link bc its not on the GPC agenda).
After the presentation there was some general discussion about the table as Council members took turns praising a new relationship with the now forward looking Board of Directors with Tourism Victoria. While we all know that tourism is an important economy for the City of Victoria, my experience observing this meeting yesterday is that there seems to be a ‘language’ associated with tourism that isn’t necessarily shared with the public.
Of note, is that I got some twitter engagement when I reported that apparently 7 million visitors pump more than $1 billion into the economy and that the accommodation sector is still recovering with 68% occupancy where 72% occupancy could be considered healthy – this issue of occupancy being directly relevant to the issue at hand in how taxes collected are directly proportional to rooms booked.
Councillor Isitt tried to kick off a discussion about reviewing the current mechanism for collecting the hotel room tax (an estimated $1.8 million for 2015) but was advised by Mr. Nursey that that is a provincial function/mechanism and not easily done. The recommended motion ended up being passed as written.
Hosting UBCM in 2016
Mayor Lisa Helps tried to get this item on the consent agenda so it would pass with no discussion but Councillor Isitt kept it off so he could he ask assorted questions. GPC agreed to move this item forward to Council as requested for formal approval to empower the Mayor and Corporate Administrator to Council agreed to execute agreements necessary for this purpose; and that Council approve the financial expenditure of $154,575 for hosting UBCM in 2016.
Proposed Reduction in Sewer Rates
This was an odd item with odd discussion associated with it. As noted in my early thoughts, its a proposal to decrease current charges for summer sewage rates by 30% in response to complaints from members of the public who dislike their sewage charges being directly connected to their water consumption. The premise being that using extra water to water your lawn doesn’t necessarily connect back to the city’s wastewater system.
All in all, a seeming majority of Councillors has serious reservations about this proposal because they recognized that the same amount of money still had to be recouped for sewage charges and that the proposed reductions to one group at one time just gets shifted elsewhere. And in order to address any concerns that reduced summer sewage rates may actually result in increased water use, Councillor Loveday amended the motion on the table to include a required review of implications of rate changes in one years time.
Increase Charges for New Waterworks Connections
This item was an easily accepted recommendation from staff to introduce a new rate structure for new waterworks connections and capping of old connections – this was previously updated in 2005. The one thing that prompted some conversation, was when Director of Entering and Public Works Kaynchuk indicated that a recent review had revealed that the City was not only absorbing real costs of new connections for developers but that they were also absorbing costs of the necessary repairs and upgrades to existing systems. Most of these costs will now be passed on to applicants.
Here is a table of the new rates to be introduced.
Wastewater Treatment Update
I had thought that this would be a really simple item with staff requesting that Council pursue a “single track” and not a “dual track” sewage treatment process, but I was wrong as things quickly turned fiery around the GPC table and at one point Mayor Lisa Helps (who requested this item on the agenda) ended up taking things incamera “for personnel reasons so that Council could get all the information they needed”. One complicating factor in this discussion was that the information sought by Councillors (e.g., reports on $ spent consultants and reports from consultants on what they found) is not available until the March 12th GPC meeting.
Said Helps in attempting to clarify what was before Council:
“The challenge for our staff is that they cannot act without direction from this Council. And an eastside committee has been formed by the CRD and the CRD staff are asking for our staff to participate in that process. And our staff do not have the authority from this table to participate in the eastside process. So our staff are in a bit of a bind, and thats why this is here, and its clunky but in order … to honour the way this government works, our staff can’t just go and help out at the eastside table, and yet the eastside committee has been formed by the CRD with support from this Council. Its awkward. I felt like saying “awkward” but [laughs] thats where we’re at today….”
In response to a subsequent statement from Councillor Alto that she’s “not interested” in seeing staff “conclude work on the City’s independent review of wastewater treatment” Director of Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning, Katie Hamiliton said quite plainly:
“Through Mayor Helps, I think Council needs to consider some of the impacts in terms of resourcing, financial and staff work plans should that be the case. And thats also in part, why we are seeking direction. I think practically speaking, what staff are experiencing right now, is we are being drawn into additional meetings and we being asked to produce work for the CRD. Should Council want us to continue with our own process, that is a large work planning item, for multiple staff across the organization and there could be an impact that council needs to be aware of.”
On that note, I can’t see within the the 2015-19 Financial Plan where any money has been put aside for investigation of independent sewage treatment solutions for the City of Victoria so I’ll have to see what gets said in the budget presentations next week.
One additional factor that should be considered as context, was referenced in the earlier report on sewer rates where it was reported that:
“In 2007 a study of the section of the sewage system that drains directly to Clover Point identified $30 million of upgrades required. Much of the work is being deferred until the location(s) of the wastewater treatment facilities are confirmed.”
The city clearly cannot manage what should be a relatively simple issue as I previously argued in an earlier post. We should also be further concerned by quote from Mayor Helps that was aptly captured in a Feb 12 TC article by Bill Cleverly:
“While we don’t want to snub our noses at any funding that’s available to us, there may be possibilities for actually spending overall far fewer taxpayer dollars if we remain or get open — truly open — to new ideas,” she said, adding: “It may mean losing the funding for the biosolids plant.”
See para 7 in New capital region sewage ideas could cost millions
Ultimately decision concluded on this item yesterday with Council unanimously agreeing with the motion that had been put on the table and amended by Councillor Young – past chair of the failed CRD Seaterra project btw. Mayor Helps also added section 4.
1. Council directs staff to
conclude continue work on the City’s independent review of wastewater treatment solutions including development of a public engagement strategy. Further, that work completed to date by the City be reported to council immediately with the intention that it is shared with the Eastside Committee.
2. Council directs staff to participate, in an advisory role, on the Eastside Committee Staff Working Group including in public engagement elements or as needed.
3. Council directs staff to continue identification of potential sites, for a range of treatment options in the City of Victoria and also to work
ing closely with CRD staff and the Eastside Select Committee in the process of site selection.
4. That the City take a
coordinated liaison approach to citizen engagement with the CRD Eastside Select Committee.
What to look forward to
After coming back to the public meeting Helps reminded the GPC table that Council has already put Strategic Objective 13 Steward Water Systems and Waste Streams Responsibly in the draft strategic objectives (see pg 17) and indicated that other strategic items identified for 2015 may/will be being put aside – presumably for purposes of focusing resources on sewage treat instead of the projects.
And that concludes my summary of yesterday’s GPC meeting – my early thoughts here. There were more items on the table and I did think some interesting thoughts hearing remaining items be “resolved” but a solid write up of these would require a significant amount of time. The Times Colonist provides basic summaries of both the parking services update and the amalgamation issue.