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

Source – Islands Trust Council Agenda Package March 2019

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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 – Page 159

Part 2

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

  1. I wish such mathematical deductions were part of a ‘General Formula of Relativity’ used to calculate whether a government service should even exist for some things. It seems, over time that bureaucracies increasingling use taxation to prop up their choice to establish a snail’s pace for more time.

  2. Pingback: Part 3 – How Islands Trust Ignored Trust Policies | islandstrust

  3. Pingback: How Islands Trust Council Can Save $2,000,000/year and Increase its Efficiency | islandstrust

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