Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fire Service Costs Download - 1million dollars on the way.

Dear Neighbours,

As you will learn in today's Campus Resident the provincial government will be downloading over the course of two years about 1million dollars for fire protection services.  The cost is based upon the provinces idea that all residents should pay about $100 per capita and that the cost of fire services is based upon a 1995 Vancouver/BC agreement that sets the costs of fire services west of Blanca at 1/20th of Vancouver's total fire costs - with no reference to the actual cost of local fires services.

It is not yet clear whether the downloaded costs will be applied to the rural tax assessment or as an invoice directly to UBC.  No matter which way it comes there is to be no net increase in the amount property owners pay in their combined rural taxes and UBC service levies. ALso irrespective of the mechanisms of the download the net effect on the UNA budget will also be the same.  If the fires service download is applied to the rural tax then the service levies will be lower.  If the charge is applied to the UNA budget then the UNA will have to find a way to pay for it.

As you will read the Chair of the UNA in concert with UBC have developed a plan to cover these costs over the next few years.  In the short term there are reserve funds and other payments that can be either forgiven, ignored, or reduced. In the long term this puts the UNA in an unsustainable fiscal situation.  As I have stated in this blog before it is an untenable situation to be charged with running municipal services but have no capacity to actually set the tax rates that are to pay for these services.

Perhaps we can muddle through the fire services download.  But this is just the start of the provinces downloading of costs that are (in truth) not really the responsibility of residents. Waiting int he wings are the costs of the very expensive RCMP station (about 2million) and the road maintenance and  management costs (about 500K+/-).  Both of these are also being paid by the province who insists that the taxes they received are insufficient to pay for the actual costs of these services.

A big part of this issue is that the university's share is being paid by the province and that province is looking for ways to reduce their costs.  Given the fact that the LNG gold boom wasn't (and likely won't be) a big pay out and the fact that the province was actually relying upon it they are scrambling to find places to cut.  We in the UNA are seen as a fat cow easily picked off.

The fundamental source of costs in fire, policing, and roads are all tied to UBC's corporate plans and Metro Vancouver's Pacific Spirit Park. Even at full building out there will still be more than double the population attending and working at UBC then will live in the UNA.  The primary policing problems in our neighbourhood come from on campus issues and, even more pressing during the long summer, are the activities at Wreck Beach and Pacific Spirit Park that occupy a large number of RCMP officers. The province appears to be more concerned with grabbing a cash windfall than it seems to care about the actual implications of it's decisions.

But this is also a great opportunity for change.  In the short term the outrageous and poorly justified $600,000+ fee that the UNA is forced to pay to UBC Athletics should be stopped immediately.  Second the over the top landscaping charges compelled upon the UNA by UBC Properties Trust should be paid by UBCPT themselves since it is essentially a marketing program and not an ecologically sound or sustainable current practice. Finally it may well make sense to shift the operations and management of the new community centre to UBC Recreation to operate and manage which would remove the need for the UNA to have to pay for this overbuilt facility.

Ultimately what is needed is a change to the way taxation works in the UNA area.  Over the next three years as the fiscal implications start to hit home we need to be provided with the serious opportunity to discuss how best to amalgamate with the City of Vancouver. If we are going to have to pay for these services we might as well get the real benefits of responsible government.

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