Wednesday, November 5, 2008

BC Municipalities Need an Auditor General

While provincial and federal governments are held accountable for the effectiveness of their spending through the role of the auditor general, there is no such role in the municipal and regional level of government in BC.

Kamloops has among the highest water and sewer rates in the province. In fact, for every $1 in city taxes, the average homeowner in Kamloops pays an additional 61 cents for water and sewer.

The fact that Kamloops water and sewer rates are among the highest in the province is nearly impossible for the average taxpayer to know based on the City of Kamloops on-line 2008 Budget Review. In this review document, the Kamloops taxes are compared to other cities, but no equivalent comparison is done for the water and sewer charges. Transparency, the hallmark of good accounting practises, is ignored.

With a budget of $129 million, the City of Kamloops might not on its own be able to justify a position of auditor general. However, provincially, the Union of BC Municipalities collectively has budgets exceeding $1.57 billion.

After income taxes and GST/PST, city taxes and utilities are the largest portion of taxes and utilities that we pay. As such, we as taxpayers should demand equivalent accountability from local levels of government as at the provincial and federal levels.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Different Neighborhoods, Different Needs but Same Values

Since April, I have knocked on over a thousand doors in Kamloops and listened to what Kamloopsians want for their city. What has struck me is how diverse our city is. What is important to someone in Brocklehurst isn't even on the radar of someone in Barnhartvale. An issue for someone in Sahali is completely different than someone’s out in Rayleigh. But that's not surprising when Kamloops is bigger than 90 countries in the world including Hong Kong and Luxembourg. Even so, there are core values that Kamloopsians share.

For residents in Brocklehurst, the state of Singh Street, a fun rollercoaster ride, but a sorry excuse for a main north-south artery, came up again and again. One man put it clearly when he said "We pay taxes, and we want our taxes to be spent in our neighborhood". There is money in the budget for roads: Hillside extension is evidence of this. As a city councillor my goal will be to make sure tax dollars are spent equitably across the city.

A concern I heard frequently in Rayleigh was their lack of city sewage. Many homes have aging septic fields, causing potential leakage into the North Thompson River. Residents are also restricted from subdividing large lots because of the need for space for the septic fields. As the city investigates a new waste water system, we need to remember those parts of the city that have no septic service at all.

In Barnhartvale, the ravages of the pine beetle, the desire for chickens on lots less than one acre and the love of campfires were issues that residents raised. One suggestion I heard was that we may want to have different bylaws for different parts of the city. Given that Kamloops is bigger than Trinidad and Tobago, this is something worth considering. Creating and funding neighborhood associations, such as the very successful Friends of McDonald Park is another way to ensure neighborhood voices are heard.

Meanwhile, residents living downtown are directly affected by our growing homelessness problem. With 0.5% rental vacancy rate, there is extreme pressure on low cost housing for many people including a large seniors’ population, many people working for low pay jobs, university students, a psychiatric hospital, a jail, and people using drugs. Each of these groups has different housing needs. The most important thing is to know that these people are part of our community and they all need suitable housing. While both the provincial and federal governments have responsibilities for housing, the City of Kamloops can be part of the solution. First, they can pressure higher levels of government. Second, the city can follow Vancouver’s model to improve the development application process so that neighbors aren’t pitted against each other when social housing is proposed. Third, the city can expedite the sale of surplus land to groups wanting to build low cost housing. As a councillor I would support groups wanting to build more social housing in Kamloops.

Different neighborhoods and different issues. But still I heard many of the same core values again and again. People across the city told me that they valued Kamloops because it was livable, with great recreation activities. Second, they wanted city spending and services to be fair across the city. Third, they wanted a city council that consults neighborhoods before imposing bylaws. Fourth, they wanted a council that is fiscally responsible. Fifth, everyone is part of our community and people want a community that meets everyone’s needs.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kamloops Seniors: growing in numbers and need to be heard

According to Interior Health data, in 2008, 17% of people in Kamloops are 65 and older. By 2018 it will be 21%. Whatever the City of Kamloops does, seniors need to be considered.

As a candidate for councillor for the City of Kamloops, here are some things I would like to address if elected to represent you.

1. Expand the Safer Streets Program. Currently, the City of Kamloops focuses on making streets and sidewalks safer around elementary schools. This program should be expended to include areas of high numbers of seniors. For example, Vernon Avenue on the north side of Northills Mall has no sidewalks on either side of the street, no level entrance by sidewalk to the mall at the Southwest corner (stairs, ramps or level entrance on the street only). There are a high number of seniors (including right at the corner of Vernon Avenue & Tranquille and over at Cottonwood) in this area. Glenfair, in Peterson Creek, is a seniors' residence. There are no sidewalks from Glenfair down to Columbia street. Residents, whether in wheelchairs, scooters, or walkers have to walk in the middle of the street to get out of their residence. At Columbia and 4th, as in many locations, the wheelchair ramp is insufficient. The sidewalk dip on the south east corner only goes onto the sidewalk crossing 4th. People who want to cross Columbia on the east side of the intersection must enter vehicular traffic to get onto the sidewalk crossing Columbia Street.

2. Seniors need more housing options. Kamloops has a 0.5% vacancy rates. Adequate housing is a problem for many seniors, especially those of lower incomes. Housing has been identified by Interior Health as a key component to health. The City needs to work actively with all levels of government and non-profits to ensure housing options are available to all seniors. I would also like the City facilitate seniors who own their own homes who need to upgrade (e.g. safety rails, wider doorways) get grants from the provincial and federal governments. Some cities have a resource page on their website where seniors can go to get this type of information. The City could also follow the lead of other cities who have adopted building codes that address the needs of aging citizens.

3. Make seniors groups a priority. There are city representatives on many business committees such as the Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Home Builders' and Business Improvement Associations, but the Seniors Information Resource and Referral Service has told me that when they asked for city representation the city turned down their request. With seniors making up such a large portion of the population, the voices of seniors need to be heard.

4. Sidewalks & snow. Falling is a major hazard when people age, and icy sidewalks are a major hazard. I would like the City to aggressively enforce sidewalk clearing bylaws, especially for businesses and government. As an example, I notice that the School District and some provincial government agencies often do not clear their sidewalks.

5. Senior friendly parks - one complaint I have heard many times is that seniors often feel unsafe going to the local parks. Activity is key to health. Perhaps the City could have "senior days" where seniors will know that there will be city staff in the parks at specific times so they feel more comfortable going to the park.

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