Friday, November 23, 2012

The Lake Country Momentum

Reflecting upon the past year serving the community, I have come to the realization that there is much on the go and much has been accomplished by our local government. A number of road improvements, for instance, have been completed, bringing with them a much higher sense of safety in the community. Lodge Road is an example and as I am writing this article, Lake Country staff members are working on an even safer path for pedestrians reaching from the Copper Hill subdivision down to Lodge, especially students that go to and from George Elliott Secondary. But I also think of the important improvements on Davidson Road, Camp Road, and Robinson Road to cite a few. Even the provincial work on the new Highway 97 section, which will be finished in the summer of 2013, is seen as a major improvement that will definitely benefit the community. Since I have moved to Lake Country, my family and I have been a bit reticent in driving along Wood Lake at night and even during the day on those gloomy cold days in the snow or rain – that section of the Highway is not safe and the new section is a great relief to all drivers.

The District is also actively working to solve many issues related to water service and quality. The major one is the water quality in Oyama. Finally it can be said that much improvement is being made through the Kalamalka Lake Interconnect project that will be completed in the spring of 2013. The improvements will be fully available at that time and the Oyama residents will be able to finally access good quality water, something they have not enjoyed probably for as long as they lived there. The major drive for this focus is the Water Master Plan, which has been in the works for three years now. The final version was presented to the Water Advisory Committee which unanimously recommended Council's approval. As I wrote many times before, the Plan provides a 20-Year infrastructure vision that comes with a cost, but a necessary one, and Council just approved the necessary increases over the next four years to get on with the Plan - $50 a year per residential property on the District's water system beginning in 2013 and ending in 2016. This was not an easy decision by Council but was supported by the findings in the Water Master Plan and even pushed a bit by some mandated requirements from Interior Health. But this is positive because water, after air, is the most precious commodity we have. For years we have lived ignoring the reality that water, like everything else, is not endless and that, as any other organic material, is subject to possible contamination. Lake Country is certainly leading the Valley in ensuring protection of this critical resource in terms of quality and conservation and other governments are looking at the District's Plan as an example of a progressive approach to deal with such an important issue.

Other things are also happening. I can think of the healthy reorganization the District went through this year. This has improved a number of processes and is going to also provide needed funds for important infrastructure projects, which are suffering from the lack of grants available from both the federal and provincial governments because of the economic times we are living. Staff have been praised a number of times for changing gears in dealing with "customers" and in processing applications. With the rare exception, the level of satisfaction from members of the public has exponentially increased.

The addition of an Economic Development Officer has also introduced an element of energetic marketing activity that is bringing much deserved attention from investors in diverse areas of the Country, and even from across the border. A big piece of land on Main Street has finally been sold to a developer and we are waiting to hear about another piece of land on the same street that has captured the interest of a number of investors with an ambitious vision for the Town Centre.

There is more but suffices to say that it seems to me that Lake Country is gaining momentum. And it will do more so once a sustainable plan for the whole community is initiated and completed. The District has received a grant for this and it is in the process of selecting a firm to guide the community through the process. This plan – which is formally called the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) – will be prepared with the purpose of creating a holistic community vision in the four pillars of quality living: economic, social, environmental, as well as land use and infrastructure. This plan is so critical that a number of other plans have been put on hold until the ICSP is completed and approved. Furthermore, the public and community stakeholders will be directly and extensively involved in the creation of the plan because this is theirs – or ours as I live here with my family.

So stay tuned and be ready to participate!


Friday, November 16, 2012

One Year with the New Council

The most recent local government election was held last year on the third Saturday of November – so pretty soon we will celebrate the new Council's one year in office. Four out of six councillors are new and three of them come from three wards. Our system is unique in British Columbia but it is reflective of the varied diversity that we enjoy in Lake Country. By the same token, though, our Community, Council and Staff are also proud of the fact that Lake Country is one community, one municipality where the sense of history, diversity, and cultural variety stemming from the four wards blend into what best represents life, the Okanagan way. I cannot imagine a better place to live, visit, and do business than Lake Country where three of the most beautiful lakes in the province and beautiful natural settings offer the opportunity for a quality in life that is the envy of many visitors.

Since incorporation, the various councils have worked hard to build this wonderful community and have done many good things that other municipalities only dream about. It is no different with this new Council. They have been working as hard to continue to provide the same – or even better – level of life enjoyment notwithstanding the challenges that we all face due to the continuous struggles in the global economy.

In previous articles, I have attempted to share many of the accomplishments that we were able to make just in the last year. You can certainly read those again on our state of the art community portal at and specifically under the "Blog" section. However, today I think that it would be better if I wrote about the future and specifically some of the things that will happen and come up in the next few months.

Budget deliberations start on Tuesday, November 20th. The first meeting will be held at Municipal Hall, in the Council Chambers, commencing at 3:30pm. The intent is to provide Council with an update on the current 2012 numbers and introduce plans for 2013 and beyond. Council has to approve a 5-Year Financial Plan under current provincial legislation; hence, the whole discussion cannot be isolated to the 2013 budget, although next year will be looked at in more detail than the following four years.

The new budget will benefit from some of the cuts that were applied to the District's operations last April and hopefully those cuts will assist increasing the amount of money that we need for capital projects such as roads, parks, and so on. And while, as I just said, the minimum requirement of the financial plan is to forecast for the next five years, Lake Country staff have been working over the last two years on 20-Year plans for managing our assets properly and wisely. The first piece of this planning exercise is the Water Master Plan, which will be finally adopted before the end of the year. The infrastructure component of the plan has been known for about two years now and calls for a $79 million price tag over the next twenty years – all this for clean, affordable water and the ability to foster proper conservation practices both at the institutional and family/individual levels. In order to accomplish all that, water fees – obviously only for those who are on District's water system – will need to be increased; and Council has agreed to a 5-Year increase beginning in 2012. District of Lake Country water customers' bill went up $49 this year and, according to the plan, should go up $50 per year in the next four years, from 2013 to 2016.

Other plans regarding the long-term Integrated Transportation Framework – which includes roads, trails and pedestrian connections –; and the long-term Liquid Waste Water Management Plan – which includes our sewage system – are close to completion and in 2013 we will have a clear picture of our infrastructure priorities.

Finally, in December and January, Council will make more specific decisions on the overall budget and specifically what projects will be approved and how much service will be provided to the community. In the first case, Staff is proposing to use most of the money saved through the District's reorganization for capital, infrastructure projects. In the case of services – in other words the daily operations of the community (maintenance of infrastructure, firefighting and fire prevention, bylaw enforcement, legal services, financial services, leisure programs, policing, the theater and more) – Staff will have to establish the impact of current contract increases, cost of living, slow growth and so on to see how much needs to be allocated to cover for those expenses. An example is that the current RCMP contract will cost an extra $120,000 in 2013 which is the equivalent of a 1.5% tax increase.

In December, the District will begin the process of creating an overall Economic Development Strategy. This has been a priority of Council and now that, through the recent reorganization, the District has an Economic Development Officer (EDO) we have the capacity to begin and complete this task. Our EDO is working with a number of stakeholders to ferret out the details of the strategy and come up with a plan, including priorities and actions. In addition, Council will also review its Strategic Priorities to see what is still relevant and what needs to be added. Much of it will have to deal with how resources can be properly allocated to exploit current capacity efficiently and effectively. In this past year, Council members were able to evaluate for themselves where some efforts need to be made and this may mean that some priorities might be shifted or new ones could be created.

Pretty soon, the new municipal website will be up and running. It will look much like our community portal (the The site will be easier on the eye, information easier to find, and browsing more user-friendly. I wish to thank the Corporate Services group that has been working very hard on this project for the last few months. We were told that our current website needed an overhaul and we have done it. I am convinced that the new one will offer a much better experience to both the skilled and the less skilled web navigator.

In conclusion, I wish to spend just a few words on an important piece of our Business Systems Review – which is the streamlining of land use applications, including processing and information gathering for development permits, building permits, and so on. Council approved many changes that have allowed for much faster application course. Soon, the Planning & Development group will be able to tell us how much time we are saving for the applicants and staff through the new process. However, the most important change is that we are seeing more appreciation for the service provided by staff. In the past, it was felt that the District had an issue with the quality of customer service. Whether that was a perception or reality, Staff have been working hard to change that. In order to monitor our efforts, the Planning & Development group has created a Customer Comment Card to monitor the level of satisfaction of their customers and receive important feedback for things that need improvement. Just a few days ago, a customer filled out the card and he was very complimentary of the two staff members providing assistance to him, and ranked our service as top notch. The card contains very nice comments and I believe it is a testimonial to our sincere efforts to do our best for the community as a whole and to those individuals we come in contact with every day at the counter.

So a big "Thank You" to staff for their selfless desire to be their best!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lake Country Phase 2 of Business Systems Review Underway

In May of this year, Council passed a resolution that, as the Administrator, I look further into the Business Systems Review recommendations and suggest further implementation of those that are going to affect the budget in coming years, beginning in 2013. As a result, I submitted a number of suggestions to Council which were approved as action items to be implemented as the second phase of this project.

Just as a brief reminder, the first phase of the reorganization dealt mainly with two areas: the organization itself and the development permit process. The first one was a response to a clear mandate to find operational savings in view of economic difficulties and alleviate the tax burden to the community. I would also add that the savings gained through the reorganization will also be allocated to much needed infrastructure works. As you may know, Lake Country, and the rest of the municipalities in Canada, are struggling to find sufficient funds to maintain old and failing infrastructure and improving basic needs such as water quality, proper sewer systems, and safe roads and transportation. The second one was a much overdue streamlining of the land development process, by many characterized as long, cumbersome, and difficult for both the individual applicants – typical property owners that wish to improve their home – and professional developers, which we wish to have investing in the community with the aim to increase our tax base for the same reasons I just explained with respect to the organizational changes.

As a result, the District has had to reduce its staff complement by eliminating four management positions and six union positions. We also added three positions to meet the strategic priorities of Council and balance our current capacity issues, which have not gone away but, to some extent, have increased. The net annualized savings are just below $700,000, which will be useful to funding a number of much needed capital projects (this is the equivalent of about 8% tax increase).

Also, Council approved the amendments to the Development Permit Application process. We have made significant changes to applicable Bylaws to streamline the process and timelines to make it easier for people to work with the District of Lake Country and move forward on their projects.  As I mentioned in a blog in July, processes and procedures are reviewed with the intent of cutting red tape and making things easier for the taxpayers, residents, businesses and potential investors – that is a key area of focus and a mandate given to us by Council. Fees are also part of the change and they have been reviewed and new ones will be approved by Council at the beginning of September.

I have been approached by many taxpayers and received a number of e-mails thanking the District and Council for the direction we have taken on this. I always tell them, and staff at the District, that this is an ongoing process and that change is an important leadership tool for the community. More change will come and will continue to come in future years.

Phase 2 deals again with some organizational matters but also with contracted services and regional functions. With respect to the organization, Council approved my recommendation to review all management salaries to see if they are aligned with other municipalities, comparable public sector organizations, and comparable private sector organizations. It is important for Council to know if their managers are paid fairly, are overpaid, or are underpaid. Some think that salaries are too high and certainly higher than in the private sector. Our recent experience in hiring from the private sector has shown us otherwise with difficulty filling positions because we pay much less than the private sector. This will shed a light on comparability and will introduce a more balanced approach to pay, where not all managers are paid the same but based on their responsibilities, including budget administered, staff managed, and complexity of decision-making.

As for contracts, some current arrangements seem to be costly and operationally cumbersome. In particular, the current Sewage System Operational contract, the Road Maintenance contract, and the regional contract for Mapping Services with the Regional District (called GIS – Geographic Information Services). With respect to the Sewage System Operational contract, the District is working on securing a grant to double our Treatment Plant capacity. The issue of operational control, also in view of the proposed Liquid Waste Management Plan envisioning the current plant to provide waste management to the whole community, is becoming more front and centre for our operations and needs to be addressed. The Roads Maintenance contract has lost its competitive edge and needs to be revamped in order to maximize its value-for-money. Finally, Council decided not to renew its GIS contract with the Regional District whose cost has almost doubled since West Kelowna abandoned the function. Feasibility and practicality are going to be a factor of whether the District can continue to be serviced by the Regional District in this area.

One more issue is the Regional Rescue Services. The Central Okanagan Regional District has initiated a review last year. The report generated by the consultant was not satisfactory to the District and the rest of the municipalities utilizing the function. There are 12 different services and administration fees – both from the City of Kelowna and the Regional District – are escalating leaving the partnering municipalities with higher bills. The delivery of these services is also under review. As some of them are contracted out and paid only upon usage, the question that lingers in the minds of all partners is why we receive an annual bill even if the service is not utilized.

Finally, a review needs to be done of our development cost charges (DCC's), which are paid to build critical infrastructure. In fairness, our DCC's are the lowest in the region but the review will also be undertaken with the assistance of the development community. The Urban Development Institute has created a liaison committee which meets on a regular basis and is composed of developers and municipal staff from the District. This is a huge asset for us and I feel that it will take us to a new, much more modern approach to doing business.

I also acknowledge that change spurs negative reactions and I also know that this is the nature of the business I am in. This is part and parcel of a growth process: growth cannot come without some pain. But Council is showing strong leadership in focussing on its vision and its goals rather than been passive spectator to the future of the community. So, kudos to our community leaders that have chosen the less walked road.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Here we Go Again! Time to Get some Action from our Provincial Government

In about a month the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Convention will be held in Victoria. The convention has three main purposes. The first and foremost is for individual councils to meet with provincial ministers and lobby them for important issues to be resolved, projects to be approved, and funds to be granted. The second is to form a ‘local government’ united front in dealing with provincial policy affecting local governments, such as, for instance, use of Crown land or how water is protected and distributed to users. The third is networking opportunities and learning best practices through a series of workshops on momentous issues that are affecting municipalities and regional districts throughout the province.

Council is preparing to attend and has requested a number of meetings with a few ministers. Usually, not all of them are approved by provincial officials but we try to get as many as we can.

In the past, the District has been effective in dealing with these meetings and much has been accomplished. We hope to do the same this year but the political atmosphere and the economic difficulties we are living in may be somewhat limiting. Notwithstanding this, our new Council (for a few of them this will be their first UBCM convention) is determined to make a difference for their community.

The District has requested meetings with Minister Chong (Community Development – formerly Municipal Affairs), Minister Lekstrom (Transportation and Infratsructure), Minister Thomson (Forest and Land), and Minister Polak (Aboriginal Reconciliation). The topics range from the current construction of the new Highway 97 stretch from Winfield to Oyama, to funds for an expansion of our current Sewer System Plant. Let me just review a few of these topics of discussion.

Sewage Treatment Plant. We have known for the last two years that the District’s Sewage Treatment Plant is almost at capacity and needs to be expanded sooner rather than later. The cost of the expansion, which will double the current capacity, is in the order of $6 million. Last year, the District applied for a grant to the Provincial and Federal governments for two thirds of the total cost, but it was unsuccessful. We thought it was going to be a no-brainer but the money went to the City of Cranbrook instead. We know that money is limited and the funds are oversubscribed and so, although we were disappointed, we also understood that provincial priorities, when it comes to these grants, takes into account a much larger picture. So this year we have applied again. The Regional District is also contributing to the project and has allocated at least $750,000 for the septage facility component. But we definitely need the $4 million from the province and the feds. Minister Chong’s department handles these applications and we have had numerous meetings with her in the past to show her our leading edge long term infrastructure plan, one of the first and best in the province. We hope this year is the year. Failing that, we will really need to think hard at options that we do not really want to go to, such as, for instance, borrowing. We’ll keep positive and be confident that, this time, the grant will be approved.

The new 8km stretch of Highway 97 will be soon completed and with that the current portion of highway along Wood Lake will be given to the District. We have been asking for assistance in planning for the transition from the province to the District of this beautiful piece of asset. The questions are: will the old section of highway be given to the District in a decent shape (in other words, will the province do some repair and safety work before it gives the stretch to us)? Will they help with the maintenance initially (the cost to the District could be between $100,000 and $150,000)? Will they want the road to continue to be such or are we allowed to do something with it as well? This is a beautiful piece of infrastructure with a huge potential and Council will begin public consultation on the vision and use of the soon to be acquired asset. But in the meantime, those questions need to be answered. We asked before but we have not received any real answers. Let’s hope we do this time.

Finally, the concern of water protection continues to be an issue when Crown Land rights are shared with private individuals for recreational purposes. The concerns are many: water is used (often without specific protection mechanisms) by private lease owners to the possible detriment of expanding reservoirs for public uses, and with that, the rights of the Okanagan Indian Band to a protocol on surety of structures and protection of natural resources, mainly water, in the same area.

These are all complex issues that take time to unbundle and be solved. The work that is done at UBCM is not quick but it is a patient labour of puzzle piece fitting. We just hope that, for some of these, the picture is almost complete.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From Hay Field to Premiere Soccer Facility

Beasley Park is a community legacy thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer work, several fundraising projects and donations from local businesses and individuals. When the Lake Country Soccer Society (LCSS) has a vision, they see it through to fruition; and in this case, the broader community has benefited from their dedicated efforts.

To bring you up to speed on how the past 20 years has unfolded resulting in Beasley Park being transformed from a hay field to one of the premier soccer facilities in the Okanagan Valley, we must recognize the dedicated efforts of the Lake Country Soccer Society directors and members. The land for Beasley Park was originally purchased by the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO) twenty years ago (1992) and then was transferred to the District of Lake Country upon incorporation in 1995. The Lake Country Soccer Society was also established in 1995 and had a strong vision for furthering the sport of soccer in the community.

It was that passionate vision and a strong volunteer work ethic that created the two original soccer fields from an old hay field at what is now known as Beasley Park. The success of the park sparked the need for a facility to house the club and provide adequate dressing rooms for the high profile soccer matches that the park was then attracting. From that need, the Beasley Community Centre was constructed in 2001; and many sports teams and community groups have enjoyed the use of this facility for various functions and activities.

In 2010 the District of Lake Country took over the management of the soccer fields from LCSS and then in 2011 assumed the maintenance responsibility for the fields as well. To continue and build on the traditions started by LCSS, the Parks & Recreation staff have increased aeration and fertilization, installed a new central computerized irrigation control system to improve the efficiency of water distribution, utilized new mowing equipment to keep the fields in top condition and a sweeper to clear goose droppings from the soccer fields. The management and maintenance of the community centre also became the responsibility of the District in 2010; and retrofits and upgrades have included a new air conditioning system, bleacher enclosure to reduce vandalism, storage space enclosure, as well as repairs and upgrades to bring the facility up to the current fire code. Community centre renovations will start in November and lighting installation for field #2 will be complete in August 2012.  These two projects are made possible through the Community Recreation Grant program in the amount of $400,000. And as part of the District increased heritage program, a new Heritage marker will be installed this month on the Beasley Park site adjacent to the public art. 

So our heartfelt thanks go out to the many hard working volunteers and organizations for their contributions towards creating a superior soccer facility and community amenity which provides increased recreation opportunities for people of all ages and abilities!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Roads and Water Projects Moving Forward in Lake Country

Many changes are occurring within the Lake Country local government organization and to the way the District does business. However, notwithstanding the difficult times we are going through, I actually have something positive to talk to you about, milestones achieved in moving towards our goal of creating a more liveable community with vibrant and environmentally friendly transportation networks. A few projects that you've heard about in this blog, the news media and from Mayor Baker and Council in the last few months are now in the works or are completed.

The Lodge Road Lift station upgrade is now complete. The upgrade increases capacity for liquid waste collected from all of Lake Country – including the Clearwater subdivision, Woodsdale Road and the Lakes. This project was strategically scheduled to ensure it was completed before the Lodge Road transportation corridor upgrades started.

Speaking of which, the tender closes on May 10th for the Lodge Road transportation corridor project, which will improve safety for pedestrians and help connect neighbourhoods to schools. Once the tender is awarded, the construction will start as soon as school finishes for the year. That means an intense period of work during the summer, so the project can be for the most part complete when the kids go back to school in September.

Recognizing that there will be disruptions to the traffic flow and inconveniences during the construction period this summer, the contractor will be giving all residents updates so that alternate travel routes can be planned and people are made aware of what is happening at each stage of the project. The safety improvements planned within this project were recognized by ICBC, and as a result they are contributing $102,000 towards this $1.5 million project. We are also thrilled to be receiving $146,000 from BC Transit to include bus shelters and pullouts along Lodge Road.

If you weren't able to attend the Open House on April 11th, and you'd like a better understanding of what the roundabout at the intersection of Bottom Wood Lake Road and Lodge Road will look like, or what the concept is for the separated sidewalk and pedestrian bridge over Vernon Creek, drawings of the project are available for viewing right now in Municipal Hall and on the District of Lake Country website.

Our goal for Lake Country is to develop and implement an Integrated Transportation Framework. Basically, this is a project that looks at all modes of transportation in Lake Country, not just vehicle traffic. It promotes liveability and good health, connects neighbourhoods to schools and parks, includes multi-modal transportation options for transit and accessibility and makes transportation convenient, easy to use and barrier free. The key theme of an Integrated Transportation Framework is: sustainable service delivery and active transportation. So anytime work is done on infrastructure renewal we consider making active transportation improvements. And you will hear more about this in the weeks to come as the details are finalized on renewal projects on Trask Road, and on Camp Road to address issues of resurfacing, ditching and pedestrian pathways.

On another note, focusing on some essential and fundamental targets in the area of water quality, safety, and well maintained infrastructure, the Kalamalka Lake Interconnect project will bring significant improvements to water quality for all water customers in Oyama. This $5 million project includes a new reservoir and chlorination system at the Oyama Lake intake, the installation of a UV treatment system at the existing Kalamalka Lake Pumphouse, and a new booster station at Sawmill Road. Construction is set to begin this spring and to be completed in the spring of 2013. With this new infrastructure in place, we will be able to supply customers that currently receive water from Oyama Lake source with treated water from the Kalamalka Lake source. This will much improve ongoing issues with system reliability, capacity and water quality experienced by customers on the Oyama Lake system, and will enable us to remove the current permanent boil water notice.

Speaking of water, the spring melt is underway and we continue to monitor our lakes and creeks for potential risks associated with run-off. Run-off has progressed in a steady fashion and for the lower elevations is mostly complete. The upper watersheds (above Oyama and Beaver Lakes) are melting now. Risk of flooding is low. At the same time, our upper lakes are full, indicating a robust supply of water available to carry us through the irrigation season.

Seasonal run-off can impact water quality. Customers supplied by the Beaver and Oyama Lake sources may notice elevated colour, which is considered normal for this time of year. Water turbidity (cloudiness) has been slightly elevated at times, but remains within an acceptable range.

We are of course at the mercy of Mother Nature – a change in the weather could impact water quality and flood risk. At this time, however, the news is good.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beasley Park Gets a Grant

When Premier Christy Clark announced the funding to be provided through the Community Recreation Program, at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September 2011, the District of Lake Country wasted no time in putting together a case for receiving a grant to renovate the Beasley Park community centre and add lighting to the fields.

How excited we were to find out that $400,000 in funding from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development was approved for the proposed projects in Lake Country through the Community Recreation Program. Many residents, visitors and sports groups in Lake Country regularly use the fields and facilities at Beasley Park. These some 21,500 people participate in recreational activity using the park amenities as part of their healthy lifestyle. And we want to make it even more attractive for people of all ages and abilities to get out there and enjoy recreation at our parks.

As Mayor Baker mentioned recently, local government, the province, and the health authorities want to work together to provide opportunities that make it easier for people to make healthier choices, every day. And what better way to demonstrate effective collaboration, than by making quality recreation infrastructure easily accessible – which will attract residents and tourists to the community.

Maybe you heard the funding announcement on AM 1150 News/Talk/Sports show on Saturday, or saw the news crews and dignitaries tromping around with Mayor James Baker, MLA Norm Letnick and Director of Parks Steve Schaffrick at Beasley Park on Saturday, March 17th to participate in the formal announcement of the $400,000 investment.

So what is going to be done with the $400,000 you wonder? For starters, the Beasley Community Centre will get a new multi-use deck (approx. 1,840 sq. ft.); as well as new wood floors, a fitness system mounting and relocation of the sound system; plus a renovation of the showers and washroom facilities; and a new toilet room. Then when you step outside on to the fields, there will be new field lighting towers on Beasley Field #2, and more work done on the landscaping.

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick acknowledged, "Both the upgraded community centre and soccer fields will be put to great use. The Youth Soccer Association will be pleased with this project. Bigger isn't always better, but Beasley Park is about to be both."

Click on this link to browse page by page through the exciting Spring 2012 Lake Country Leisure Guide and decide what activities you, your friends, and family members can participate in at our beautiful parks and facilities. And mark your calendar so you can plan to come out to Beasley Park to join in the local celebration on Canada Day, July 1st.

Karen Miller – Lake Country Customer Service

Friday, March 9, 2012

Council Approves Preliminary Budget

As many of you would know, Council has been deliberating on the 2012 budget for the last few weeks. On Thursday, March 8th (International Women's Day – and I hope you did not forget to honour the women in your life), Council concluded the first part of deliberations by approving a 'provisional' budget pending further adjustments that may be recommended as part of the Business Systems Review, which is underway. Council had to deal with infrastructure and capital pressures, impact on the taxpayers, and maintaining a decent level of services for the community. It is a complex exercise like in a puzzle, putting all the pieces in the right place will cause a harmonious picture to be created. But a budget is not a work of art. It is, rather, a forecast which remains slightly prone to changes as the unpredictability which comes with it unfolds throughout the year. For instance, because of the economic crisis (which does not seem to be getting better), much of the revenue forecast from building inspections, engineering fees and land use applications in 2011 was a disappointment, therefore new targets needed to be set for 2012.

The focus of the budget exercise for this year has always been to minimize the overall impact on the taxpayers, knowing that in order to maintain the same level of services we would have to keep up with inflation. In addition, it was necessary to increase the funding for capital works as it is very low compared to other municipalities with similar population. At the end, Council decided to adopt a preliminary budget with an inflationary increase of 2.5% for property taxes and to reduce the proposed water fee increase necessary to carry on with our water master plan to less than half of the original proposal ($49 instead of $114). All other fees will remain the same. This will accomplish a few things:

  • The operating budget, which includes the general fund that comes from property taxes, the water fund and the sewer fund, both of which come from user fees, will see a slight increase (less than 1.4%) to factor in some contractual obligations that will also increase due to inflation;
  • The portion of the capital budget funded through property taxes (general fund) will increase from about $350,000 last year to $410,000 this year. This is good for the community as 50% of our infrastructure will need to be properly repaired, maintained and replaced in the next 20 years. To put things into perspective, the District would need between $1 and $2 million a year in property taxes to take care of our assets (roads, water and sewer systems, parks, etc.);
  • The capital program for 2012 will be just shy of $9.8 million which is almost the same as last year.

All this with the lowest tax increase ever in the history of Lake Country (the lowest tax increase prior to this was 3.2% in 2007). Kudos to Council. They had the leadership to direct staff to prepare a budget that would address their strategic priorities, guarantee the same level of services (or in other words quality of life) and begin to address our infrastructure needs properly. This is a visionary effort which will pay back in the next few years and in the long run. Further adjustments may be made once the business systems review is concluded. But those adjustments will mean either less taxes or more money for capital projects.

To bring perspective to the numbers, the municipal portion of the tax bill we pay is only 52% of the whole (in other words on $1,000 collected, $520 go to the municipality and $480 go to other agencies, such as the province, the regional district, BC assessment and the likes). A 1% tax increase equates to $2.94 for every $100,000 of assessed value. To make things simpler, if your home is assessed at $500,000 a 1% increase would be $14.70. So a 2.5% increase would be $36.75 for the whole year. This year, the District will complete the following major capital projects:

  • Lodge Road reconstruction for a total of $1.6 million;
  • The Kalamalka Lake Booster Station, UV Treatment and Reservoir, which will improve water quality in Oyama, for a total of $4.2 million;
  • Sanitary Sewer works in various areas of the District for a total of $780,000;
  • Beasley Park upgrades, including works at the Community Centre, a Park 'n' Ride, and parking lot improvements for about $1 million;
  • Swalwell Park parking lot and Farmers Market for $220,000;
  • A number of road and pedestrian safety improvements in different locations, including Bond Road, Sherman Road, and Beaver Lake Road for a total of $150,000.

A copy of the budget package is available online at If you have any questions about the budget and the process for its approval, call the Finance Department at 250-766-5650.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Census Stats and Other Lake Country Stuff

The numbers are out and Stats Canada has released them. In the last five years Lake Country has grown in population a total of 21.9% and has now 11,708 people living "Life. The Okanagan Way". Lake Country is the fastest growing municipality in the Central Okanagan and the Central Okanagan is the fastest growing area in BC, second only to Greater Vancouver. 21.9% means an average of 4.38% annually, which is above the 3% average forecast in our Official Community Plan. Now this does not mean that we will continue to experience these growth rates. The current real estate market is very slow due to economic conditions, but when those conditions get better, and they will, we will experience more growth in those areas that Council has identified in our plans. So, investors beware! Lake Country is open for business and this is where the Central Okanagan is really growing. We will need more commercial services and vibrant community to provide what newcomers will need in terms of living our Okanagan experience fully. And growth also means gaining needed tax base to properly maintain our infrastructure which is becoming old. Our 20 year plan cannot be accomplished without new growth and other levels of government assistance. Water quality and conservation, as well as transportation, parks, sewage and other infrastructure do not come cheap and they are beginning to come to the end of their life span. When the municipal budget is up for consideration, Council will have to decide what to prioritize, what to delay and what to cut. Remember, municipalities only get 8 cents or less for every dollar we pay in taxes. The rest (a whopping 92%) goes to the federal and provincial governments.

And speaking about budget, Council will begin discussing it on February 16th. Staff are planning to provide an overview of the current budget and long term plans, incorporate the priorities that were approved by Council in December and come up with a formula that will provide the level of services needed in the community. The current economic times are tough and so Council will be aware of what can be afforded. A business systems review is underway and its final outcome will provide opportunities to scale back some services, save some money and minimize the impact of municipal operations to the taxpayers. We hope to have a final, clear direction from Council next Thursday. I have challenged staff to submit a 'no tax increase' budget, which can be a double edged sword: it could be a temporary relief to the taxpayers but it is also a detriment to future projects as reserves would need to be used in order to continue to make things work. Not an easy task but a very important one for the future of our community.

On another note, I read in the paper that the District is considering a marina on Wood Lake. I have never heard of this before, in fact I was surprised when I read it. I thought maybe I had missed something in the last couple of years. So I asked staff and they were as surprised. We also checked the books and there is no application for such a thing. Maybe the newspaper should ask the District first if this is true before writing something that is not accurate. If, in the past, there was a proposal it is now defunct as far as the District is concerned. Furthermore, deliberations about these things are, by law, made in the public realm and cannot be considered in a closed meeting. In fact, we rarely have closed meetings and only to discuss legal issues, land negotiations and personnel matters. Even in that case, most of the times the resolutions adopted in a closed meeting are brought forward to a public meeting for public knowledge. No secret on this side.

Finally, I wish to highlight the fact that the District of Lake Country has received a grant to do an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan. This is very important for us as our current plans are not fully inter connected. The Plan will include extensive public consultation and will represent a solid picture of where the community sees itself and wishes to be 30, 50, or even 100 years from now. If we don't do this, provincial and federal grants may be not be awarded as those levels of government now require municipalities to take an integrated approach to economic, social, environmental, and infrastructure issues. No big picture, no money. Staff are working on the terms of reference and we hope to begin the process in the spring.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lake Country Needs More Economic Growth

I received a few e-mails asking that I clarify my position with respect to the article “Just a Bit More Balance, Please” published last week in The View as it relates to Lake Country. I am happy to do so with this blog.

The article, which was written by Tom MacDonald in Victoria, was not at all concerned with Lake Country business or the Lake Country Chamber. It was a general reflection on the economic crisis and reactions to it, including some from a number of local government officials.

The issue in the article was about the continuous reports from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) about businesses being taxed too much by local governments and statements by CFIB with respect to the value-for-money from local governments in general. The Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) has tried to counter CFIB claims (for a copy of the UBCM report on CFIB claims please go to Comments on Fiscal Management in BC Municipalities) and I did have some discussion with provincial staff on the Premier’s position about local governments. In my opinion, CFIB comments are one sided. There are not only issues with local governments taxation systems, if you wish, but also with the way both federal and provincial governments are dealing with the economic crisis and the impact (or not) on the work force and the taxpayers. Having said that, I believe that:
·         The 2008 bailout was wrong and created a bigger gap between the middle class and big corporations. In fact the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ which the article talks about was a reaction to the way the bailout money was utilized;

·         The small and medium businesses came out with the short end of the stick in the current economic crisis;

·         The issue of taxation is real for business and residential taxpayers alike but small business is also struggling more than others because of the economic crisis and cannot afford more taxes and rightly questions the value-for-money for the services they receive (or not) from local governments;

·         All taxpayers are reaching a capacity limit in what they can pay to sustain community and all governments services;

·         We need to work together to find solutions. Conflictual positions do not help.

In Lake Country we need more business and more economic growth. We cannot be sustainable on residential tax base only. It just does not work. In addition, the existing businesses cannot afford to pay more or they will collapse. Furthermore, I know and I appreciate much of the hard work and countless volunteer hours that members of the business community and the Chamber provide to Lake Country. I don’t think a community could really be such without those contributions.

I understand the issues the District of Lake Country is facing and I will continue to work with all stakeholders to make our community an even better place for residents, tourism and business investment. As a supporter of economic development, I will continue to make an effort in cutting back our budget to relieve the taxpayers of unnecessary tax increases, and I am confident the new Council will make the right decisions for the community on this. The vision is there and I will pursue it with vigor. Finally, I also hope that we can all support the efforts of our good District staff, recognizing that adjustments need to be made to the organization and work together to make those adjustments. Cooperation is the key and our partnership with the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce and other important stakeholders in the community will be critical to accomplish our goal of creating a unique place to live.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just a Bit More Balance, Please

I just recently came across an article by Tom MacDonald, the Executive Director of the Local Government Management Association (LGMA) of British Columbia and 2011 Silver Medal Lieutenant Governor Award of British Columbia. The article fully reflects my sentiments about the subject topic of local government taxation and relationship with the business community and so I asked Tom if I could publish his article in my blog. He agreed and here it is:

"I can't think of even a single time over the past eight years where anything even remotely political in nature has been the subject of this report. After all, normally we leave the politics to the folks at UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities). However, a few weeks ago I was out walking with a local government colleague and we got onto the topic of the various "Occupy" movements that were manifesting themselves across North America including Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. While the "Occupy" groups seem to be at best incoherent collectives of people with beefs against "the system," the prevailing theme of the movement is that corporate greed has led to a situation where a very small percentage of the population controls much of the wealth, and that the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.


So what does any of this have anything to do with local government in British Columbia? Well, most of you who are our members and readers will know that local governments have been under a concerted attack this year by business lobby groups who are saying that local government spending is out of control, that business pays too much, and that business has no voice in how they are taxed. Earlier this year, an excellent response to these concerns was prepared by the UBCM in collaboration with LGMA and GFOA to address these specific points. (See Resources and Publications for a copy of the report.) While not wanting to rehash the report, it did acknowledge that local government expenditures and taxes were rising, but that in virtually all cases, these costs were coming from the local taxpayers who were demanding the increased services. It also provided data showing that the business share of property taxes has actually gone down over time versus residential taxes, and that the majority of elected officials in B.C. were from a business background.


So now back to my walk with my colleague and our conversation about the "Occupy" movement sweeping North America. "How is it," he said, "that the business community and Chamber of Commerce groups often lead the charge for pressing local governments to provide additional services – deal with homelessness/street people in business areas, deal with criminal gangs, undertake beautification projects in business areas, provide more downtown parking, install new underground infrastructure to facilitate development, etc., etc. – but in the next breath, they attack local governments for increased expenditures? Isn't this just a bit hypocritical that the business lobby always seem to want more but that they want others to pay? Could this be a version of the same principle that the "Occupy" movement has seized upon when they complain that a very small minority control the wealth while the rest of the population bears the burden?" Of course my friend also raised the point that any business person reading this article would simply make the assertion that as local government employees, comments such as these from us are just self-serving and an attempt to protect our fat-cat jobs. In response to this, one might ask, how many local government managers make up that 1% who control the 99% of the wealth compared to those who are business people?


"Just a bit more balance on this debate please!" said my colleague."


The article speaks for itself…thank you for listening.