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Comment: Langford council is putting its financial house in order

This council is working on issues that were not addressed by previous council.
Langford City Hall at 877 Goldstream Ave. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a Langford resident.

In response to the June 20 commentary, “Langford council is spending too much, raising taxes too much,” I agree that misleading narratives should be addressed with facts and content. Unfortunately, that narrative was short on facts.

I was a founding member of Langford Now, the elector organization that was successful in 2022 in having all five of their candidates elected to council in Langford.

I supported those candidates because I believed they would address the issues in Langford, and that is what they are doing.

Yes, Langford’s director of finance has confirmed that property taxes remained at or below 3% historically.

However, that tax rate was not sufficient to fund the operating costs and capital expenditures, and therefore the funds accumulating in the general amenities fund were used, not for amenities, but to subsidize the tax rate.

Funds were also borrowed from other reserves to cover cost overruns, which eventually need to be repaid.

Who benefitted the most from that subsidy? The owners of more expensive homes and multiple homes received a greater subsidy than the owners of less expensive homes, and renters received no benefits from that subsidy.

Neighbourhoods that relied on those general amenity funds to provide the amenities that were intended, things like community halls, recreation spaces for kids, park space, sidewalk infill, were left without. That policy of using amenity funds to reduce the necessary property taxes to keep the municipality operating was not sustainable, a fact pointed out by the director of finance to previous council.

Growth at some point would slow due to broader economic conditions, and eventually the tax rate would have to reflect the actual costs of running the city.

The “spending spree” mentioned in the previous commentary includes many essential items identified before and after the election.

It includes responding to the independent review that Langford Fire Rescue was severely deficient in manpower. Council has added nine firefighters for each of the past two years to address that.

It includes providing funding for the design phase of the new RCMP building, a need that was identified to previous council but not acted upon.

It includes adding sidewalk infill to address gaps in sidewalk infrastructure that have a significant safety concern for pedestrians, in many cases for students going to and from schools.

It includes creating plans for our municipality which did not exist before, including a Master Transportation Plan, an Economic Development Plan, a Parks, Recreation and Trails Master Plan and an Arts and Culture Plan.

Having a shared vision for a city’s growth depends on concrete plans on how to achieve that vision, and putting those plans in place is a necessary yet neglected part of that process.

Why the need to hire ­consultants? Because the decision to keep Langford “lean” meant that many duties were contracted out or left to private contractors, including road and park maintenance, traffic studies, urban planning, garbage collection, public works, water and sewer.

Failing to increase staff to serve an increasing number of residents means that the ­provision of services will suffer. You can’t have it both ways.

This council is working on issues that were not addressed by previous council. The dire financial situation with the YMCA was known by city staff, and the former director of the Y mentioned his frequent meetings with the former mayor.

The contract that was signed obligated the city to make the monthly payments to the landlord if the Y defaulted or closed, and so the choice was either to pay the rent and leave an empty building until a new operator could be found, or to pay an increased subsidy (something contemplated by the previous mayor) to enable them to stay open.

Many of the “unnecessary and overpriced” initiatives mentioned were expenses also incurred by the previous council, including renovations to the mayor’s office, trips to conferences, and hiring consultants.

Council’s critics object to council networking, learning, and making important connections as an unnecessary expense, and then chastise them for their inexperience. Again, you can’t have it both ways.

Langford is closer to having transparent and accountable leadership than it has ever been. Prioritizing sustainable development with responsible financial policies isn’t the easy choice for an elected official, but it’s the right choice for Langford’s future.

The city is flourishing; it’s just flourishing under new management.

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