Monday, March 5, 2012

City budget needs work

Contents of the letter I sent to Mayor and Council regarding budget deliberations on Tuesday.  Not happy to see bicycle master plan and other green initaitives targeted for cuts.

I urge Mayor and Council to consider a more modest reduction in your tax lift to ensure important projects and initiatives that the city provides can be sustained.

Cuts to the Bicycle Master Plan, the Greenways Plan, Parks and Harbour Pathway initiatives are of particular concern to my constituents.  They respond to the directions endorsed by Victorians in citizen surveys, in the city’s Official Community Plan development and in our collective commitments to regional growth strategies and climate action.

These investments are essential to support our citizens who wish to choose cycling or walking for transportation, to continue to build on our assets as an active and appealing visitor destination and better reflect directions endorsed by an electorate interested in “keeping up the momentum” on sustainability, livability and action on climate change.  They are essential too, to addressing an infrastructure deficit by ensuring that we not just maintain our assets, but we reinvent them to respond to the needs of the future, not the habits of our past.

Without those investments we cannot support the variances we provide the development industry to reduce vehicle parking requirements and, as a consequence, will discourage investments that can provide for our economic vitality and increase the supply of more affordable “car-free” or “car-light” housing for a growing and diverse population.

I appreciate the challenges cities face in finding savings to keep tax increases affordable but believe a more realistic target can still be achieved to help protect important projects and services that our city provides.  I urge you to seek options for keeping whole those budget areas that maintain investments in our active living and active transportation infrastructure. 

I believe too, that cutting back investments in other areas of parks and greenspaces itemized in your budget report likewise needs re-examination.  These are the very assets that are attracting new tax paying businesses, like Microsoft, which enumerated active transportation and lifestyle advantages of Victoria in their list of reasons for choosing to set up shop here.  We are competing with places like Vancouver, Seattle and Portland for these kinds of nimble and mobile businesses and those cities are investing more, not less, in the community assets that can attract and retain the people who will live and work there.

In the face of threats posed by climate change, other investments in shorelines and underground utilities, as well as other key infrastructure assets also need to be understood as costly deferments, not savings.

Finding the right balance between taxes and expenditures is a tough job.  We should be enjoying the benefits of reduced pressure on police budgets related to our work in creating more housing that should also be reducing the workloads associated with street homelessness.  We must too, take a hard look at the smorgasbord of grant and tax exemption opportunities we provide and see if we can’t find savings there.

Good luck in your deliberations, but please take care to protect those projects and programs that are essential to our future prospects against the marginal savings achieved by sacrificing what we most value.

Budget presentation at:

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