One Year Reflections….

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It’s coming up to the first anniversary of Sechelt’s current Council taking office.

I’m taking the time to reflect on our momentous first year, and offer a model for the years ahead.

I have collected my perspectives and condensed them into an offering for our 2016 Strategic Plan and Budget. (Currently under negotiation)

I am happy to report that I have found an eager willingness on behalf of the current Council to entertain a long-term approach to reducing our infrastructure investment shortfalls.  This spirit is now embodied within our strategic plan.

I continue to believe that Council has the authority to aggressively combat our current levels of structural deficit, and furthermore, that this can be shown by targeting the levels of any single budget item, and introducing structural reforms if necessary.

I continue to believe that addressing the infrastructure and structural deficit is the key objective to ensuring financial sustainability of District operations long into the future.

The Challenges

 My introduction to our local government over the past year has been a case study of the challenges of abruptly changing direction in a medium sized municipality.

The election brought with it an immediate shift in the very philosophy of our local government.

It is well known that adapting organizational practices produces less instant outcomes than do election results.  Many of the issues we’ve encountered this year are emblematic of a foundational shift in culture and approach at the District as adaptation occurs.

The key challenges of this administration are to, concurrently: overcome our structural deficit and to also address the consequences of inadequate long-term planning.

One key long-term issue identified over this year has been a history of inadequate Human Resources oversight, exemplified within the results of our 2015 Organizational Review.

The impacts of this long-term deficiency are also clearly evident in Sechelt’s 2015 AGLG Report; where multiple projects were presented as difficulties from the perspective of ‘best practices in capital procurement’.

Taken together, both of these documents point towards an organization showing signs of stress and challenge in key areas of administration and oversight.

I will offer some examples that communicate the magnitude of the long-term challenges we are currently facing at the District:

  • Our current structural deficit is 21% of our annual operating budget, or $3.5 million/year
  • Sechelt is ‘debt saturated’ and will require a public referendum to authorise any borrowing above $1 million
  • McElhanney Report (2015) recommending $8 million of road investments this year, and $20 million over the upcoming decade to provide basic road maintenance and repair
  • Despite the investment of $24 million for a new Waste Water Treatment Plant, the majority of District Residents still have no access to sewer services
  • Major system upgrades required to regional potable water supply

Additionally, it is worth considering that we inherited a 2015 draft budget and work plan that would have had us allocate:

  • $10.7 million dollars to deliver an Airport expansion, along with untold staff resources
  • $4-6 million dollars to construct water re-use infrastructure

Both of the aforementioned projects were to be embarked upon without a business case or a clear understanding of the long-term opportunity cost/benefit to Sechelt’s residents.

It has taken us the full year to extricate the most prudent projects from the many that we inherited.  This process was further hampered by the reality that staff where unfamiliar with the new Council requirement of business cases.  This was addressed with additional training, but implementation is taking time.

Misallocated capital investments are the single largest stumbling block to the effective administration of municipalities.  They enshrine inappropriate decisions into the lives of citizens for generations, and directly impact the long-term financial stability of municipal service delivery in profound ways.

It’s fair to say that we are feeling that impact in Sechelt now.

 The Core Opportunity

 The core opportunity for the District of Sechelt is to complete a seamless transition towards a new administrative path that Council can seek to maintain for the years ahead.

Current Council has the potential to work together to provide Sechelt with long-term planning and vision, and launch an action plan aimed at alleviating the current infrastructure challenges we face.

The key features of this new administrative path will be:

  • effective long-term asset management plan
  • synergy among a newly recruited management team
  • investments in core service delivery, and a ‘customer service’ focus
  • civic infrastructure I.e. sewer, roads, amenities

Currently, the personnel committee is hard at work recruiting our new management team.  These managers, once in place, will provide the core staff capacity required to successfully chart a 10 year capital plan aimed at relieving our pressing infrastructure challenges.

Thankfully our infrastructure challenges, for the most part, have already been identified.  Now we simply need to respond to what we already know, and manage our financial resources effectively towards those ends.

Ancillary Opportunities

I feel excellent work has been done in Sechelt’s Official Community Plan (OCP) towards informing an appropriate path forward for our District.

Not only has it outlined many core infrastructure projects, it has also provided a planning overview which is both rigorous and workable.

By working through even a few of the key objectives defined in the OCP; we can provide Sechelt with tangible movement in a direction that has already been agreed upon and achieved a level of community support.

Here are a few that stood out to me, and I feel take priority:

  • Clearly define Sechelt’s identity – 30th Anniversary
  • Sechelt has long been lacking a clear identity and identifiers, hence branding/placing has been weak; unable to clearly differentiate from other coastal BC towns
  • Enhanced commercial node in West Sechelt
  • West Sechelt is a burgeoning residential area, but lacks basic neighbourhood amenities. We are able to easily add value to this neighbourhood by allowing well placed retail to occur
  • 1000 new residents in Downtown core
  • The easiest way to produce a thriving downtown, with healthy retail and cultural amenities, is to have more residents living within walking distance of our downtown core, and pedestrian waterfront
  • Visual identifiers – enhanced public spaces (Combined with #1, #4)
  • Sechelt must produce visual/physical identifiers that enhance its identity, amenities, and natural features
  • Prime opportunities are the expansion of our public piers, including commercial public, and social venture uses

These items are some of what I consider priorities to focus on. I hope the other members of Council will also present their priorities, so we can work together to clarify a vision for the years ahead.

By having a clearly laid out plan that is straightforward and achieves general agreement, both staff and community can be clear of Council’s intent, and work towards those ends.

We have an excellent opportunity to promote a positive direction within our community, and that begins like any other endeavour: by defining a path forward.

I look forward to the productive years ahead.

-Noel Muller

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5 thoughts on “One Year Reflections….

  1. Hello Noel,

    I not only appreciate the analysis of the current state of affairs but your emphasis on repairing and building the community for future generations.

    It is good to have fresh eyes and we all know that the journey will not be easy.

    Thank you for your service.

    Sincerely,

    Margaret

    Margaret Hodgins, Chief Librarian

    Sechelt Public Library 5797 Cowrie Street / PO Box 2104 Sechelt, BC V0N 3A0 604-885-3260 sechelt.bclibraries.coop

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  2. Excellent description, Noel, thank you for keeping us up to date with Sechelt’s challenges and accomplishments. A little word of advice: I sense a slight potential of an ego (we all have one, don’t we?) who wishes to take certain things in his own hands; a council is a team lead by the mayor, and the mayor only. One day you will probably wish that all council members understand that. Keep on the excellent work.

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    1. Hello Marc, fair comment. I’m offering up my public views to help steer the path ahead, it was also provided to Mayor, Council and Staff for comment before I published it, so hopefully that addresses your point. It’s now up to the rest of Council to collate and express their offerings, so we can meld them together. Otherwise we will be employing a ‘piecemeal’ approach that fails to consider a long-run trajectory, which as I’ve stated, isn’t working as well as it could…

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    2. I appreciate that this is a positive comment but will add the perspective that any effective leader who isn’t an autocrat would and should be welcoming of engaged team members who come to the table with ideas and thought-out opinions. If he were part of the Stephen Harper Conservative caucus, on the other hand, your advice would be very applicable…

      Maybe the “slight potential of an ego” perception has more to do with the medium than the message? If he had put this out as a press release, people would probably think so, fairly. A blog post is very similar in making such a public declaration, yet at the same time takes advantage of social media to allow elected officials to more conveniently maintain communications and accountability with the public. Even most people who follow Sechelt Council relatively closely probably do so only through a newspaper or two, and would have to attend a lot of meetings to keep up with what their elected officials are thinking and contributing.

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