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).

 

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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?

 

 

Marriage – A term with two definitions…

Who defines what the word “marriage” means?

Well, my understanding is that there are two forms of “marriage” – civil and religious.

Civil marriage, commonly referred to as a civil union, is a legal contract between two parties…to enable/legitimize the contract, the state creates “marriage licences” or better described as civil union licences.

A “religious marriage” is a union defined by, and sanctified by, various religions.

Thus, in a standard West Coast wedding there are usually two “marriages” – the required “civil union” (if the two parties want the civil benefits which are acquired through such a union) and a religious ceremony presided over by a priest, rabbi, etc..

What I don’t get is that most people I have spoken to don’t get the distinction between the two.

One is a religious ceremony and the other is civil contract.

Some religions allow same sex marriages, and some don’t…if you believe in religious freedom, you can’t be upset if some religions’ beliefs don’t jive with your own. If you don’t believe in religious freedom, you have a problem…

On the other hand, the state allows same sex civil unions, as it should. The purpose of same sex civil unions is to allow same sex couples the same rights, benefits and obligations as different sex civil unions.

Which brings us to the case of Kim Davis, a civil servant, being, IMO, uncivil. While Ms. Davis’ church/religion may prohibit the religious joining together of same sex couples, the civil union licenses which she is/was in charge of issuing for the state have nothing to do with her religion, or, for that matter any religion.

IMO the whole problem can be solved by calling the civil union licenses what they truly are – civil union contract application forms, not “marriage licenses.”

It is that simple…

Unintended Consequences

12,000 years ago Fulford Valley was under a mile of ice.

When the thaw was finally over, and rainwater began to fall, and flow over the land, slowly, year after year, Fulford Creek began to be carved out of the valley bottom. Forests began to grow, and after a few centuries there was enough flow and depth for salt water fish to begin exploring the estuary and further upstream.

From time to time, once every couple of decades or so, forest fires would start and burn themselves out. Douglas Firs survived and virtually everything else burned up. This led to more erosion, more runoff, and more material being flushed out into Fulford Harbour.

With each of those fires and flushes the Creek was renewed, as accumulated undergrowth was naturally removed and the creekbed, having found solid ground, was scoured.

Those natural “cycles” kept the Creek alive and well for salmon for centuries.

Fast forward to 1850 and new settlers who weren’t big fans of forest fires.

Fire suppression began and the natural cycle was stopped. Settlers tended to their own portions of the Creek and would clear the Riparian areas of vegetation from time to time, with sheep and cattle grazing down to the edge.

However, the amount of flushing was greatly decreased as a result and the Creek started to fill in.

Forward again to a few years ago, and the Islands Trust passed the Riparian Area Development Permit bylaw, basically banning any human activity with 30 metres, unless it was agricultural activity.

What does all of this mean for the future?

Well, the Creek will continue to fill in with silt and vegetation, choking out the natural habitat that was the result of the aforementioned cycles.

We have interfered continually with Nature, and have yet adopted the common sense to see what we are doing, or what the solutions are.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Transportation (a branch of the Provincial government) will continue to scour the ditches in Fulford valley every few years, to ensure that they don’t fill in and cause flooding of roads or property.

That alone should be a valuable, learned lesson. Ditches fill in, vegetate and need to be cleaned because there is not enough flushing action to naturally scour.

So, what happens now when a private property owners’ drainage ditches that feed into a “riparian stream” fill in? They are not to be touched. They are to be protected by a Streamside Enhancement and Protection Area (SPEA) designation.

And, as they fill in, they will suck up more water that would have run into Fulford Creek.

That’s the table that’s been set by those who blindly believe that we can blindly preserve and protect the unnatural environment we have created on Salt Spring as if it was natural.

 

Welcome to the world of unintended consequences…

Islands Trust Temporary Use Permit

Link to submission to the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee regarding the Islands Trust Administrative Services Division’s request for a 4th Temporary Use Permit for the Trust offices at 500 Lower Ganges (B.C. Hydro building).

Islands Trust TUP Submission

2016 Staff Report – Islands Trust TUP Staff Report September 2016

2019 Staff Report – Islands Trust TUP Staff Report August 2019

Life…When Do We Begin to Live?

This link is to my scientific look at the beginning of life…I learned some new things about my first few days…hope maybe you will too. Life