The last three years highlighted a number of areas that could be improved going forward. The following three stand out:
- communication with UEL residents,
- UEL governance and administration, and
- our taxes and UEL finances.
Communication between the CAC and the UEL residents is in the urgent need of improvement. The CAC holds only one information meeting per year for UEL residents. This is too infrequent and not productive. Correspondence with the CAC takes too long. Often it can take 3 months for a resident to receive a reply from the CAC. First, resident’s letter may be considered at a first upcoming CAC meeting which is a month away, then the matter might require an inquiry or a review – that’s another month until the next meeting, and another month goes by before the CAC prepares a response. A case in point is the CAC discussion on the current UEL budget. It took half a year since the initial budget conversation with the UEL Administration for that update to be shared with the UEL taxpayers. Opening CAC monthly meetings to UEL residents would improve the dialogue.
UEL GOVERNANCE AND ADMINISTRATION
UEL residents, on the number of occasions, have heard the words of the UEL Manager – “I take my direction from Victoria”. Those words describe the bad state of our local governance. UEL residents are reduced to funding the UEL Administration and are excluded from influencing the direction of our community and participation in its ongoing activities.
Our Community Advisory Council is effectively marginalized which is not surprising since it does not maintain a strong connection with UEL residents. As the recipients of local services provided by the UEL Administration we do not have the mechanism for providing our feedback to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development on the performance of the UEL Administration. This feedback should be a part of annual employee performance evaluations carried at the Ministry. CAC could be a perfect, balanced and measured vehicle for providing such feedback.
Placed between much larger entities – the Province, the UBC and the City of Vancouver we have very little voice with respect to matters relevant to our community. Adding Metro Vancouver and the Musqueam Indian Band to the mix further highlights the need for strong UEL representation. We should strengthen our CAC or perhaps explore other governance options available to us before they get decided for us, without our participation. In the short term, our CAC should open itself to broad membership of UEL residents and establish three permanent committees dealing with the matters of local communications, governance and administration, and finances to ensure effective representation of UEL interests.
Our community of some 1000 households and 4000 residents is quite straightforward from the taxation and expenses point of view. We collectively pay approx $3 million in taxes and fees and receive $3 million worth of municipal services.
Over the last couple of years those services have been reduced – no sidewalk snow removal, no lawn care on boulevards while the UEL Administration wants to increase property taxes. In our community where a number of residents are elderly it is a hardship. Thankfully our community spirit prevails and younger residents are seen clearing the snow off their neighbours sidewalks.
Budgets prepared by the UEL Administration talk of transfer payments to UBC. At the time when the UBC is charging UEL residents 30% premiums for access to their services, while not charging those premiums to Vancouver residents it is inconsistent with UEL interests to be sending any funds over to UBC coffers. UEL Administration demonstrates their disconnect with local residents by attempting to send our tax dollars to UBC.
Despite our municipal services having a price tag of $3 million dollars our actual balance sheet is twice as big. It shows over $6 million in revenues and expenses. This is a result of UEL being involved in a $3 million “water trade”. We consume approx $300,000 worth of water, yet buy 10 times that amount. We then resell that excess to UBC. Our “profits” are very small, yet we are responsible for a massive water pipe, its maintenance and expected replacement cost. It is possible that we will have to pay millions of dollars required to replace this ageing water infrastructure. This is an important local matter that needs to be shared with local residents and should not be given an elephant-in-the-room treatment.
With plenty of time ahead of the November 19th elections, UEL residents have a number of points to consider before casting their vote.
With just 1,000 households we have the opportunity to influence our local governance, lets make our voter turnout the envy of others.