Part 5 – CRD Building Inspection – 10 Times More Efficient than Islands Trust?

Efficiency

The CRD underwent  a “cost recovery” review earlier this year (CRD Cost Recovery May 8, 2019) to determine the estimated costs associated with the primary building inspection function in the Electoral Areas (Juan de Fuca, Salt Spring, Southern Gulf Islands).

That investigation indicated, on average, while the CRD had a goal of 80% cost recovery, “that over the last 10 years the actual average fee cost recovery has been approximately 70%.”

Compare that cost recovery to that reported by the Islands Trust development application processing (coincidentally in March of this year) of 7.1%.

In other words, the CRD operations in recovering the cost of processing applications was either:

(a) 10 times more effective, or

(b) 10 times more efficient, and/or

(c) had an application fee structure which was followed, and resulted in greater cost recovery, or

(d) a combination of all of the above.

I am going with (d), and the following is my rationale.

CRD building permit fees are structured in a basic fee + estimated cost of building based on $/sf. The larger the building, the greater number of plumbing fixures, bathrooms, etc. the greater the application fee.

“In determining the appropriate cost recovery for Building Inspection services, an analysis of the building permit fee structure used by other municipalities within the CRD was completed….[using] fees for a Single Family Dwelling (1200 square foot, 2 storey, full basement home, 2 bathrooms, 10 plumbing fixtures and 1 hot water tank)….Building Inspection cost recovery for 2018 was 75.39%.”

Islands Trust’s application fees on the other hand are standardized, and are supposed to be based on an average cost per application (e.g. development permit application).

Why the magnitudinal difference then between the two government bodies?

IMO, and based on both personal and reported experiences, there are three prime reasons – (a) inefficiency, (b) overabundance of requirements, (c) failure of senior management to ensure (a) and (b) are kept to a minimum, and (d) failure of senior management to track and ensure that planners properly estimate the cost of any particular application, using published the “work order” forms, specifically designed to assist in estimating the complexity of applications.

These “work order” forms are the equivalent of the building inspection estimate forms used by CRD Staff to determine the cost of any particular building permit:
Here is an example of such a form:
Appendix 5 Jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since these forms are the mechanism which is intended to ensure that taxpayers aren’t picking up the bill for development applications, it is clear, by the dismal 7.1% cost recovery, these forms have not been used by staff.

And yet, there is specific Islands Trust Policy with respect to Cost Recovery.

5.6.i applicationprocessing June 2004

This all begs the rather fundamental questions “Why not?” and “Why would senior management not be concerned by a failure to collect over $2,000,000/year in the processing of applications?”

Let’s look at some of the most reasonable potential answers to those questions:

  1. Senior management have been willfully negligent in ignoring the Islands Trust Cost Recovery Policy.
  2. Senior management have been ignorant of the Islands Trust Cost Recovery Policy.
  3. Planning staff have been willfully ignoring the Islands Trust Cost Recovery Policy.
  4. Planning staff have been ignorant of the Islands Trust Cost Recovery Policy.

Let’s be clear – this is not about a couple of hundred thousand dollars in a nearly $8 million Islands Trust budget.

This involves over $2 million/year of taxpayer monies, representing over 25% of the ENTIRE Islands Trust budget.

And, it is not as if this is a newly reported problem. As I have detailed in Parts 1 through 4, this has been going on since before I brought it to the attention of Trust Council in 2004.

It has been going on since after the 2007 Stantec Report on the issue.

It has been going on since the 2007 Islands Trust “Focused Review” on the issue.

It has been going on since the Trust’s 2012 “Model Fees Bylaw” report.

The larger question…the most important question…the most relevant question, however is this – When will the Province step in and conduct the independent core review/audit of Trust operations as it promised us back in 2001?

 

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Oh For A Magic Wand…

I was recently asked, “I am curious, what changes to the Islands trust would you recommend? more trustee’s?..etc…and please don’t turn this into an incorporation debate. If you were elected again to the IT, what structural changes would you advocate for?”

If I had a magic wand (because, based on my previous experience as a Trustee, it would require one), and I could make changes to the Islands Trust, what would I do?

That’s a challenging question, but I will do my best to express some ideas:

  1. Implement representation by population at Trust Council. e.g. One Trustee for every 2,000 (or portion thereof) population. That would result in (if I’ve got the populations right), 1 Trustee from each of Denman, Hornby, Gambier, Saturna, Galiano, Thetis and Lasqueti, 3 from the Penders (combined), Gabriola and Bowen, and six Trustees from Salt Spring, for a total of 22 Trustees.
  2. Trust Council’s sole functions would be reduced to (1) establishing/maintaining policies, (2) electing a 3 member Executive Committee (reduced by one from 4 – 3), and (3) budgeting.
  3. The Executive Committee would continue to review any proposed bylaw amendments being made within the Trust Area to ensure they meet Trust Policy. (To the best of my knowledge there has only been one case in the history of the Trust refused – a Galiano OCP amendment, which lost because Trustee Tony Law couldn’t make up his mind, and his “vote” was declared a “no,” the vote ended up being declared 14-12, instead of a tie. https://islandtides.com/assets/reprint/trust_20080821a.pdf )
  4. North Pender and South Pender would become one Trust Area.
  5. There would be a total of 44 Local Trustees elected throughout the Trust Area.
  6. Three member Local Trust Committees would exist everywhere except on Bowen (incorporated) and Salt Spring, where there would be 7 (to avoid ties).
  7. The Chair of the LTC’s would not be appointed by Trust Council, but, would be one of the elected Trustees from the same Local Trust Area, and appointed as Chair by the other two Trustees…which is pretty standard practice for choosing a chairperson.
  8. Contract planners would be used for the smaller islands to reduce costs of fulltime staff wherever possible.
  9. Contract planners for land use applications would also be encouraged to be used by applicants wherever/whenever possible. That would achieve two goals (a) speed up processing of applications and therefore decisions, and (b) place the efficiency of processing applications into the private sector, similar to hiring any other professional as part of the process – e.g. engineer, geotech, or hydrologist.
  10. The preservation of the Agricultural Land Reserve portions of the islands would be transferred to the Local Trust Committees, and all decisions would be made locally in the best interests of the individual islands. The Trust’s mandate arguably includes the preservation and protection of farming already. It is interesting that 30% of all active farms on Salt Spring are outside of the boundaries of the ALR. We have a ton of farm land on the island.
  11. The Chief Administrative Officer would be given the mandate to ensure the entire organization was running efficiently…which it currently, IMO, is not…and asked to provide quarterly updates to LTC’s on performance.
  12. The Trust would change the Policy Statement with respect to being involved with issues surrounding potable water, and recommend the LTC’s remove any proof of water requirements from OCP’s and Land Use Bylaws. Now, just before someone starts screaming, proof of water is required at time of subdivision in BC, and proof of sufficient water is also required at time of CRD Building Permit application. And now, the Ministry of Environment requires licensing of all wells. There is no need for the Trust to be pig-in-the-middle in this duplication of three other regulatory bodies. This would eliminate the Trust’s “fresh water specialist.” The CRD Building Department already accepts rainwater catchment as an acceptable form of potable water, and, since it rains everywhere in the Trust Area, there is no “area” that has a problem with access to potable water…all that is required is a property designed system.
  13. Eliminate the mapping department of the Trust and transfer all mapping info to the CRD’s Regional Area mapping department to be incorporated into their layers. There is no reason why the Trust needs to be involved in mapping.
  14. The time tracking software which I first proposed to be used in 2004, and which the Trust subsequently purchased in 2006, would be implemented as I had suggested, and intended it be used, to track the expenditure of time used, on all Trust staff, on every file or project they are working on, on the same basis as how lawyers track their time – in 6 minute increments. That would achieve two goals – (1) it will act as a monitor of staff performance, and (2) highlight potential inefficiencies. Currently I am led to believe that all tracking of planner time is clumped together, providing us with nothing other than the knowledge there is a $2,000,000 black hole in time.
  15. Each Trustee would be provided with a laptop and computer software that would allow them to participate in online meetings to reduce travel time and expenses. There is no need for quarterly get togethers.
  16. Trust Council would meet once a year in March on Salt Spring to discuss suggested policy changes and the budget for the following fiscal year.
  17. The Islands Trust office would be moved from Victoria to Salt Spring.

That’s a short list…I could probably come up with a dozen more suggestions…but you get the idea…and I welcome any other suggestions to the list.

Part 4 – Former Islands Trust CAO Defending the Indefensible

The Former CAO of the Islands Trust (Dec. 2003- Jan. 2016), Linda Adams recently responded on Facebook to the “assumptions” I made in Part 1 of this series, with respect to the Islands Trust’s own March 2019 data/reporting to Trust Council that, on average only 7.1% of costs of processing development applications are captured, with the following statements (in italics). (My comments are in blue):

“Eric you seem to be basing a lot of this on an assumption that other local governments have a 100% cost recovery on their development application fees. [No, I did not make that assumption. I have pointed to the Islands Trust Policies and Bylaws which direct Staff to safeguard against $2,000,000/year in overcharges to taxpayers do not occur, BUT, which have been ignored.]

This is simply untrue. In 2017 [the year after she retired], I did a survey of the 24 municipalities in BC with populations between 10,000 and 24,000 to find out just this sort of data. [This is an interesting comment, given what I share just below.]

Of the 24, only 11 tracked the relevant data (or were willing to share it). Of the 11 that shared their data, the cost recovery ratios varied significantly (see graph below) While this was for one fiscal year only, it’s important to keep in mind that application revenue and expenses swing wildly from year to year – sometimes the fees are paid at the end of one fiscal year, but the work is done in the next, for example. A study would need to be done for several years to actually get an accurate picture of the revenue/expense ratio – either at the Islands Trust or at any local government. 

[I provide a comparative analysis of the eleven jurisdictions Ms. Adams provided below.

However, one could very well come to the conclusion thata study…done for several years to actually get an accurate picture of revenue/expense ratio had never been done by the Islands Trust. Ms. Adams’ memory seems to be selectively forgetful, considering that just such a study was commissioned under her watch by Trust Council in September 2011 and presented to Trust Council in September 2012.

Quoting from the report, “Staff undertook a review of the estimated average
actual costs of processing applications over the past three years (January 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011) to determine the extent to which fees charged by local trust committees (LTCs) cover these costs.”

On page 4/18 it clearly states that rezoning applications were costing, on average, $11,122. (The current Salt Spring Fees Bylaw charges applicants $4,400). So, even back between 2009 and 2011, the Trust was only collecting 39.5% of the costs of processing. And remember, the Trust was ignoring Islands Trust Policies while doing that. According to the 2019 figures, it has continued to get worse.] Sept 2012 Model Fee Bylaw Amendments

Also important to remember that many factors affect this. In the past 12 years for example, the province has imposed a lot of extra work on local government planning departments – with requirements that didn’t exist 12 years ago. Plus meaningful consultation with First Nations is much more the picture than it was previously. And as far as I know the Islands Trust hasn’t changed its application fees much or at all in the past 12 years – so they will have quite a different ratio to costs than they did in the past. [The problem isn’t the application fees, it is the gross inefficiencies and mismanagement at the senior levels of the Trust which have led to the $2,000,000/year over charge to taxpayers, and which, with all due respect, was allowed to continue under Ms. Adams’ entire 12 year watch as Chief Administrative Officer.]

So, first, I don’t think you can assume the changes you suggest have actually happened in the past 12 years (without a lot more data). Second, you’d need a lot more comparable data with other local governments. And third, you’d need to consider all of the factors that might have influenced changes, if there are any.”

The following is the graph Ms. Adams included in her post:

Adams 1

Let’s compare the efficiency of these 11 jurisdictions with the efficiency of the Trust:

Linda Adams Comparison of Jurisdictions jpg.jpg

I think the picture painted here is fairly clear.

A few comments on the comparisons.

  1. The ratio of fees collected to costs of processing should trend towards a balance as the number of applications increase. Jurisdictions 9-11 appear to support that. (Jurisdiction 8 is obviously an outlier)
  2. The trend to capturing costs would also be in keeping with the Local Government Act, the Islands Trust Policies (as shown in Part 2), and the Salt Spring Island Fees Bylaw.
  3.  Jurisdiction #9 is the closest “Fees Collected” by a jurisdiction to the fees collected in 2018/2019 by the Trust.
  4. None of the 11 jurisdictions come close to the amount of costs the Islands Trust took to process applications.
  5. The highest cost, with the closest relative application fee level to the Trust, was #9, with $677,384 compared to $2,252,000 the Trust spent in 2018/19…a difference of $1,574,616.
  6.  It is unknown whether any of the 11 jurisdictions have “Work Order” sheets, policies or bylaws, like the Trust, to instruct their staff to ensure the taxpayer does subsidize development applications.

Given this “tax scandal” has been going on since prior to 2004 when I first brought it up, no matter which way you look at it, the Trust, and, Ms. Adams in her role as CAO,  have failed miserably to protect taxpayers.

The following are extracts from the 2014 Salt Spring ‘Trustee Toolkit.

Keep in mind as you scroll down to the bolded sections, that this was written 10 years after Ms. Adams became CAO of the Trust, and two years before she retired.  Defense of the indefensible is bolded in red. My comments are in blue.

5.7 A different management culture

Recently, the planning unit has started to track time spent on various tasks [Given time tracking software was purchased and utilized by the Trust in 2006, why did it take so long?]. While this will help balance workloads between staff and to understand the changing needs of different local trust area, it provides an additional benefit of being able to determine performance levels.

5.16 Setting appropriate fee levels

While there are some staunch supporters [Taxpayers?] of a system of fees whereby revenues cover the costs of processing applications, there are other perspectives to consider.  Fees that are too high discourage applications and people may just not bother making applications, thereby causing other issues, such as bylaw enforcement.  [This is a damning statement. It deflects from the gross inefficiencies of processing applications by suggesting low fees are the problem, but, it also suggests that the Trust was concerned about people NOT making development applications. Think about that for a moment and see if that fits with your impression of the Trust – a pro-development government body?]

A strong case could be made that there is an overall public benefit in addressing development applications,so there should be some degree of public subsidization of the review process. [“Some degree” of subsidization? We are talking about a 92.9% “degree” of subsidization]

Given the geographic spread of the islands, actual costs of considering applications are higher than other municipalities because of required site visits and meetings with the local trust committees. With a typical yearly intake of fees of about $170,000, it appears that the level of subsidization is quite high and there is some room to increase, provided it is met with higher levels of customer service. 

The tracking of staff time should continue to determine true costs, and then this should be addressed in the future when more long-term information is available.[The tracking had already been done in 2011! And now, it is another 5 years later. “The future” is here, and its not better, its worse.]

5.17 Setting the application bar

There is a need, in the re-engineering of the development application review process, to define appropriate submission requirements for the islands. [Was that done, because there is no indication anything has changed?]

5.18 Developing Consistency

Many people through the interview process have complained about the lack of consistency in the organization – applications are treated differently in different areas. Planning processes are redesigned for each local trust area. Words are defined in different ways. Some issues are addressed on an island by island basis, rather than resolved by an overall consistent approach.  

Developing consistency throughout the organization is a valid objective. If the best practice is adopted throughout the organization, there should be considerable savings in efficiency with improvements to the quality of work. Consistency in things like definitions would go a considerable way in providing more flexibility in moving staff from project to project and island to island. It would make bylaw enforcement more standard and, therefore, more effective.  [Have changes been implemented? I’m not aware of any.]

Our Priorities

Our Council has established the following strategic priorities;

Part 3 Excellence in Governance

We will strive for excellence in governing the Islands Trust Area:

  • We will provide leadership in seeking sustainable and fair forms of political representation for the Islands Trust Area.
  • We will provide good value, implement fair taxes and fees and seek new and diversified funding sources to support special initiatives.
  • We will strive for excellence in public service and work to attract and retain a strong and skilled workforce.

Provide good value, implement fair taxes and fees….yes, but there is no indication “striving” of any kind has happened.

The current state of affairs is, in a word, indefensible.

Excellence Not…. 

 

 

Part 3 – How Islands Trust Ignored Trust Policies

Yesterday, in Part 1 & Part 2, I reported, by using Islands Trust data, apparently just how inefficient the planning department is when it comes to application processing.

Now, to add to the glaring inefficiencies, is what, in my opinion, borders on negligence by senior Trust management for over 15 years. 

When I first brought forward my concerns in December 2004 (coincidentally at the first Trust Council Meeting in Victoria where the new Chief Administrative Officer, Linda Adams, was appointed), there was in existence Islands Trust Policies (still in existence today), which clearly set out direction for Islands Trust Staff to follow when considering a land use application (rezoning, development permit, subdivision, etc.). The following is a link to the relevant sections of the Trust Policy Statement, which I will be referring to:

Application Fees Processing

 “Application Processing Services” is the title, and you will note that it was first introduced in 1993, and has not been changed since (coincidentally) 2004.

The Policies make it clear that:

(a) Some services are provided free (Section 1.1)

(b) There are 11 services which are included in the application fee (Section 1.2.i)

(c) The 11 services are funded primarily through fees as per a local trust committee’s Fees Bylaw. (Section 1.2.ii)

(d) The fees will be based on average processing costs as per Section 931 [2] of the Local Government Act (Section 1.2.ii)

(e) The costs of processing an application are calculated as the product of staff labour costs X processing time.(Section 1.2.ii)

(f) Service activities beyond the scope of a general processing service and the required fees require that additional fees be paid on the basis of a cost recovery agreement between the Islands Trust and an applicant (Section 1.3.i)

Now, here’s where it begins to get interesting.

The Trust wasn’t going to leave it up to planners to wonder when, and/or if, a “cost recovery agreement” was necessary with respect to a particular application.

Staff were instructed by the Fees Bylaws (of each Local Trust Area). The following is from the Salt Spring Island Fees Bylaw 468:

4. Extraordinary Costs

4.1 In the event the costs of processing, inspection, advertising and administration in respect of an application are estimated by the Islands Trust to exceed 150% (percent) of the applicable fee, the Applicant shall pay to the Islands Trust prior to the processing of the application the estimated actual costs of processing, site inspection, advertising and administration.

“150% prior to the processing of the application.” 

Now, lets take a look at “how” a planner would estimate whether extraordinary costs would be applicable to any particular application.

The Trust wasn’t going to leave too much to the imagination of Staff, so 15 “Work Orders” were created.

Below is an example of one of those work orders – for a “Zoning Bylaw Amendment” application.

You’ll note there are 3 columns.

The total number of hours is 60 hours for “Regular” and 70 hours for “Complex” applications, with the 3rd column left open for filling in estimated “Cost Recovery” hours.

So, here are the $2,000,000 questions –

Do Staff ever use these work orders, and if so, how did they underestimate by $2,000,000+ the cost of processing applications last year (and the years before)?

If they haven’t been using the work orders, why has Trust management not enforced their usage, since it is clear numerous applications must have grossly exceeded the 150% threshold?

This is just one more reason to have the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and/or the Inspector of Municipalities conduct a complete core review of the Trust. This nonsense has continued since I brought it to light in 2004. Why has nothing changed, in spite of previous, independent reviews such as the 2007 Stantec Report?

Sorry….I mean why have things gotten far worse, not better?  

Appendix 5 Jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Islands Trust Wasted Millions of Dollars Prior to 2018! (Part 2)

In November 2007, a report was prepared and presented to Trust Council titled “Local Planning Services Review Report.”

It was a summation of an independent review of Local Planning Services conducted by Stantec Consulting in March 2007.

In that report were numerous recommendations for the improvement of services, including efficiency of processing applications.

Annex E of the Report (see below) detailed that only 43% of the cost of processing applications was recovered by application fees.

Annex E

So, in the past 12 years, the Trust has become 6 times LESS efficient in the processing of applications, given that it now only recovers 7.1% of the cost of processing an application from fees.

SIX TIMES LESS EFFICIENT IN 12 YEARS….leading to a $2,000,000/year hit on taxpayers.

Clearly the independent recommendations to improve efficiency and service delivery have been ignored.

Stay tuned…this story is far from over.

Next up… How Islands Trust ignored specific Islands Trust Policies in the handling of applications, and how that mishandling has cost taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars (estimated at $15 million).

 

Islands Trust Wasted $2,092,108 in 2018! (Part 1)

Source – Islands Trust Council Agenda Package March 2019

In 2004, I did an analysis of the cost, per development application (rezoning, development permit, development variance permit, subdivision, Temporary Use Permit, etc.) in the Trust Area.

I was shocked when I found that, on average, an application cost $17,000 of planning time.

At Trust Council, in December 2004, I brought forward my findings to Council, and queried the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) on the cost, and therefore, the time which was being spent by planning staff.

I asked these questions, “Are we not charging enough for development applications? Do we need to increase the application fees?”

He responded that the application fees were at the top end of the level that one would find in any other land use planning jurisdiction in British Columbia.

I then asked, then why are planners spending so much time on applications? For example, if a rezoning application fee is $5,000.00, and the average cost to taxpayers is $17,000, where is the justification in the expenditure of over 3 times the amount of time that any other jurisdiction spends?

The CFO said that staff did not track the time spent on any particular application, so there was no way of knowing.

I suggested to Trust Council that perhaps time planning software, similar to what accountants and lawyers use to track the time spent on a file, be implemented so we could understand where the time was being burned up, evidently unnecessarily.

A couple years after that, Trust Council took my advice, and purchased time tracking software, and, started tracking time. However, senior management of the Trust did not instruct planners to track their time by application.

In 2007, Stantec Consulting did a “Local Planning Services Review” of the operation of the Trust. It recommended a number of changes/improvements to the operation of the Trust. Among those recommendations is the following:

5.7 A different management culture

Recently, the planning unit has started to track time spent on various tasks. While this will help balance workloads between staff and to understand the changing needs of different local trust area, it provides an additional benefit of being able to determine performance levels. We note in the recent staff survey, planning staff had little idea of how they were being evaluated. This was a major concern.

The only report on time tracking, which I am aware of, was produced some years later (circa 2012?). And, the only thing it really indicated was that, on Salt Spring, almost 30% of all planning time was taken up by paid vacations, primarily due to time off in lieu of overtime pay.

In other words, effectively, it indicated the equivalency of the Trust Office on Salt Spring being closed for nearly 4 months of the year.

To the best of my knowledge, the Trust stopped tracking time after that one report.

I just did a little digging, and there is a good reason why they stopped tracking their time…it was evidently to cover their tracks…of time wastage.

The following is from the March 2019 Trust Council Agenda Package, and, should have been front page news at budget time.

Application fees

Approximately 71% ($5,635,852) of the overall draft budget is allocated to Local Planning Services, which includes the administration costs associated with the service area. Approximately 60% of this amount ($3,254,341) covers core operating costs, such as, local trust committee meetings, dealing with enquirers and referrals, undertaking local trust committee project work, and supporting the regionally-based Local Planning Committee. The balance— approximately 40% ($2,252,000)—covers the cost of processing applications, such as rezoning and development variance permits.

Despite the high cost of processing applications, fees collected from applicants make up only 2.1% of total planned revenue in the proposed 2019/20 budget. Put another way, approximately 7.1% of the cost to process applications comes from the actual fees paid by applicants themselves.

There you have it. Given that our application fees are at the top end of the planning scale in BC, it is clear that Islands Trust is wasting time, due to inefficiency, to the tune of something in the order of $2 million/year. ($2,252,000 – $159,892 (7.1% of $2,252,000) = $2,092,108/year)

But, adding insult to injury, consider the following passage:

Another factor to consider is that application fees are not consistent across the entire Trust Area, as each local trust committee sets their own application fees independent of one another.

Yes, that’s right, some Trust Areas charge LESS for application fees than Salt Spring, which means Salt Spring taxpayers subsidize development on other islands, since (a) Salt Spring is a net contributor (of about $1 million/year) to the Trust, and (b) all application fees, from all the Trust Areas, are put into “general revenue.”

Source – http://www.islandstrust.bc.ca/media/347296/tc_2019-03_12-14_adg_pkg_final.pdf Page 159

Part 2

The Big LIE

Preamble – I’m not sure about other people, but, when I discover that I’ve either been LIED to, or had someone break an election promise, I lose trust in those who used the mistruths to manipulate my vote.

In the continued debate on local governance for Salt Spring, the questions surrounding the failure of the last referendum on incorporation, still hang in the air.

My experience after the first incorporation vote in 2002 was that many people who voted “No” changed their minds within a couple of years, having had time to reflect, and, to become more aware.

Today, I am hearing chatter that nothing has really changed in the past two years with respect to improving the fractionalized form of governance here, other than the various crises/challenges have gotten worse, not better.

However, the “Big LIE,” told over and over again during the incorporation debate, that the Trust would be significantly, and negatively, impacted, was the #1 reason which No voters expressed as their objection to incorporation.

While that was an effective campaign tactic, it was, nevertheless a LIE to the electorate, many of whom were relying upon the Positively No group for good advice.

When I first entered the political arena, I believed referendums on major issues were a great idea. By the time I left office three years later, I had come to the conclusion that was one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever had.

My change of mind came about as a result of the realization that the complexity of a major issue is not comprehended by the masses. The typical member of the masses does not have enough time or interest to dive deeply into the difficult questions to make an educated decision. And please, don’t get me wrong, its not that they aren’t intelligent enough, its just that politics isn’t everyone’s forte or cup of tea. People tend to listen to what their more vocal friends say, and then follow suit. (I’m sure this opinion will be met with all sorts of caterwalling, however, try Googling “referendum terrible” and see what has been written about the failure of referendums and the manipulation of the masses, the most recent example which is touted is the Brexit referendum.)

The challenge with a referendum on a complicated political matter such as incorporation is the issue can become politicized and open to abuse of “information.” This was exactly the case in both the 2002 and 2017 referendums.

The proof of that was ironically provided by the Positively No group AFTER the election, when 76% of a poll of about 200 No voters, said their concern that the Islands Trust would be negatively impacted was their #1 reason for voting No. (Their 2nd and 3rd top reasons were directly related to their first.)

When I mentioned the “Big LIE” above, I will explain why it was a LIE, and not the truth.

If Salt Spring had incorporated, there would:

  1. have been no changes to the number of Salt Spring Trustees,
  2. have been no changes to the number of other Island Areas Trustees,
  3. have been a reduction in the amount of tax dollars Salt Spring currently provides to support Trust planning on other islands (read other taxpayers),
  4. have been a financial analysis conducted by Islands Trust Financial staff of that reduction, and,
  5. three options would have been presented to the 22 Trustees, of the affected 11 Island Trust Local Areas, at the next Trust Council budget meeting. (I say 22, because Bowen and Salt Spring Island Trustees would not be included in the decision making). Those options would be:
    1. Option A – Continue the same level of planning service to the 11 Island Areas, by increasing the level of tax in those areas by about $70/year per property.
    2. Option B – Reduce the planning budget by the amount of the reduction of the Salt Spring subsidy, thus reducing servicing.
    3. Option C – Reduce the budget by something between $0 and the amount of the Salt Spring subsidy and adjust the planning levels accordingly.

In other words, the absolute “worse case scenario” would have been a $70/year tax increase per property in the 11 areas. That’s a far cry from destruction.

It is also important to restate the budgetary decision would be made by the elected representatives of the 11 areas, not by Salt Spring or Bowen.

The ultimate question then arises – Would those 22 elected representatives be prepared to raise their electorate’s taxes by $70/year to keep the level of planning service that they now enjoy BECAUSE OF THE SALT SPRING SUBSIDY?

Let’s put that $70/year into perspective. The average $600,000 home on Mayne, Galiano or the Penders, pays about $3,000/year in taxes. $70 = a tax increase of less than 3%.

AND, remember, those same taxpayers are getting subsidized by Salt Spring taxpayers this year by how much? Oh yeah…$70.

The LIE that the Trust would be negatively impacted by the incorporation of Salt Spring, is the same LIE that was told to people on Bowen before they incorporated…and yet, here we are 20 years later and both Bowen and the Trust seem to be doing just fine.

I would love to have someone provide their argument/rationale as to how they believe the Trust would be either weakened or destroyed.  No harm in debating the issue…is there?