I think residents should have easy and complete access to information around how the District operates. A portion of this information is how money is spent. To that end I asked staff that council be given a record of the cheques and credit charges made by the District each month. I was told this request needs to be debated by council. I found this strange as the information is a matter of public record. Anyone can come and ask for it, so why not make things easy?
No matter though, the topic was placed on the last Committee of the Whole (COW) agenda and debated at length. In the end the resolution was passed with one councillor voting against the motion. Now there will be a report given to council and placed on the agenda for the first COW meeting each month. This will start at the COW meeting in October.
The matter of trusting staff and how they spend public funds came up during discussions on the topic. My view on this is that as much as I trust my local bank I still want to be sent a statement of my accounts each month. Furthermore, I want this to be as easy as possible. I do not want to have to go to the bank and have to ask to see it. The same principal applies to public information. It needs to be made available in as easy a manner as possible so that more people take an interest. There is no downside to having engagement of the people you are serving. Well, unless you have something to hide, I guess.
On the subject of not hiding things, the District has just completed the purchase of 584 Barkley Rd. This is the vacant lot behind the Interior Savings building. This was purchased out of the roads account and will be developed as part of the planned downtown core revitalization project. This purchase, along with the HY Louie building, will allow for the possible development of such things as a municipal hall, perhaps an arts and cultural centre and an expanded and improved fire hall. All of these projects are well into the future.
Also in the works is the plan for the expansion of the sewer system as time goes on. This is being done in concert with plans to raise capital to cover the eventual replacement of the wastewater plant. It is poor planning indeed to rely on grants and other such handouts to repair and replace essential infrastructure. A growing number of cities and towns are learning this hard reality in the worst possible way. In the past it was inconceivable that cities and towns would declare bankruptcy. Now it is in the news with startling regularity.
A while ago, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) put together a select committee to review how local governments could be funded. The traditional method of relying on property tax is quickly becoming unworkable. The report is titled Strong Fiscal Futures, A Blueprint for strengthening BC Local Governments’ Finance system. At 107 pages it is a bit of a read but I will see that it gets posted to the District website so that anyone interested can take a look. I have asked that councillor Paula, whose portfolio includes policy, and councillor Sabyan, whose portfolio includes finance, work together and with staff to provide to council as a whole a synopsis of the report and their recommendations as to how the District should deal with the information.
Council’s role is to set the overall direction of the municipality through the creation of policies. These policies are the guidelines that staff must follow as it does the job of running a municipality. An often overlooked role of council is the review of policies and programs to make sure they are working as they should. Policies and programs can become too expensive. Efficiencies need to be found or the program may be eliminated. This is a challenging task. Council can become quite unpopular with residents if a particular program needs to be cut.
That is when you find out if council does the right thing or is working to be re-elected.