Residents of West Vancouver will be waking up to a bleaker outlook in February than even that being experienced with the current weather.
With Inflation around 2% West Van wants 6% more in taxes!
How the staff of West Van justify an increase of three times the inflation would be amusing if it weren’t so ‘funny peculiar’. The proposed increase merits a closer inspection on behalf of the tax-paying community.
And it demands that each councillor be accountable for the degree of care and scrutiny they bring to bear on the budget that West Van staff put forward for their approval in the January-February time frame.
Some thoughts for their consideration?
West Van spends more per capita than any other municipality in Metro
According to Metro Vancouver figures in 2018, West Van spent taxpayers’ dollars at over $2,500 per capita — about twice the average of the Metro-Vancouver group.
The out-of-control growth path
Some cost components of “total spending” can be difficult to change because of third-party services like police and transit that are in long term agreements. BUT growth within each district should be manageable year over year because the components remain pretty much the same.
However in West Van, the growth has been consistently high over the last dozen years. This chart, from the Fraser Institute, shows the % growth in the years 2007 to the end of 2018. West Van is up there with 28% increase in tax-spending per capita. . In the same period Vancouver’s growth was 23%.
Note in this chart Langley is top but they started the decade as the smallest spending “culprit” and even small $ increases can lead to large % leaps from a low base.
Staff salaries are the rogue costs
So what’s driving West Van’s spending spree? Salaries!
These are from West Van’s own figures from 2014 to 2018 which show that yearly salaries increased by almost $12.5 million in that period… the leading factor in cost increases.
This 17% increase in staff costs happened at the same time that the population of West Van remained pretty much constant (0% increase).
More salaries over $100,000 In West Van than Vancouver
You would be excused for assuming that the proportion of staff earning over say $100,000 would depend on the size and complexity of the job that they have to deal with.
For example, Vancouver — with its older infrastructure, transit nightmare, and a variety of social and educational services — is a much more complex city than West Van.
But if you thought that low complexity leads to lower salaries — think again!
West Van has about DOUBLE the number of staff (per capita) earning more than $100,000 than Vancouver has. Figures from 2018 show that when you divide the number of high earners by its population (000) West Van scores 3.8 to Vancouver’s 2.0:
You’d be surprised what your job’s worth in West Van
In fact there are staff earning over $150,000 — as many as 22. Our intent here is not to identify individuals but to attach the remuneration levels associated with the position. We show the job titles only here (and use initials to ensure our data are verifiable and can be cross-checked with publicly available documents.)
Those of us who have worked in the private sector all our careers might wonder, for example, what drives a library service to require a director at $174,000 or a general manager (CAO) at almost $300,000.
In the “sleepy hollow” of West Vancouver?
But the upward pressure on the salary bill for tax-payers is continuing — oh yes!
West Van needs more (>$100K) employees?
In the budget for 2020, there is an allowance for eight new employees, each earning over that $100,000 threshold, giving the taxpayer an addition to the salary budget of $1 million per year.
Never ending… apparently.
Those 8 positions have interesting assignments… including trail maintenance, policing, planning and a business manager. Yes, a business manager!
But didn’t they already have someone with that expertise?
Very obviously … not.
West Van needs new development more than maintaining existing assets?
For a municipality that yearns for new development, West Van hardly justifies such additions when you look at how it maintains existing assets and has a significant funding shortfall labelled as “Deferred Maintenance” of over $13 million.
In their own ‘2020-2024 Five-Year Financial Plan’ they recognise that management of existing assets has been neglected – and make the following points:
– under-investment in maintenance of existing assets
– West Vancouver may have taken on too many assets, with assets too widely dispersed
– long list of new and renewal major projects under consideration
– need to address climate change and natural asset issues
And yet, as new development occurs, the strain on existing assets such as roads, sewers and water increases, and presses for that $13 million shortfall to be ignored no longer.
So in order to address those points they need — you got it — more staff! (who will perform better than existing staff… one supposes).
But you’re left wondering whether those additional eight staff whose remuneration will be about $1 million each year couldn’t be re-examined with regard to re-directing taxes to more effective uses.
But you will not see a financial category called “Deferred Management Salaries”.
Compare: The common-sense “wood” or the math “trees”
There is a bunch of math that can be applied to explain why your taxes are going to increase by 6% or in some cases over 10% depending on your assessed value and the mill rate, etc. etc.
All true and all worth reading.
And for the bureaucrats, it has the advantage of seeming to be scientific, and inevitable, and unquestionable.
But that math which delivers the bad news is simply a ‘tail-end’ calculation that arrives at tax requirements after, repeat after, the spending decisions have been taken. Change the spending decisions and you will change the tax requirements.
Change the salary bill and you will change the tax requirements.
Change the parks and perks bill and you will change the tax requirements.
Change the planned maintenance bill to a more timely and asset-protecting schedule and you will change the tax requirements.
And the math will take care of itself.
Neil Carroll is a resident of Ambleside in West Vancouver.
Upcoming public meetings
Public meetings to review the budget are to be held as follows:
Tuesday January 28 3pm-5pm Seniors’ Activity Centre
Wednesday January 29 6pm-8pm West Vancouver Memorial Library
Thursday January 30 6:30pm- 8:30pm West Vancouver Community Centre