Letter: City needs to make DCCs pay the way
To the editor:
Kelowna city council made three decisions last week that are neither sustainable nor in the public interest because they shift project costs away from developers and onto taxpayers and ratepayers. This is not good behaviour in an election year.
First, council decided to raise sewer rates to pay for recently built and planned sewage treatment and sewer trunk line system upgrades. This was done despite the fact city policy requires developer cost charges (DCCs) to pay for 99 per cent of the sewer system. The premise behind this policy is that new projects impact city infrastructure and taxpayers should not be burdened when new projects are approved. The city never collected enough DCC money from developers so it turned to ratepayers to pick up the deficit. This public subsidy indicates poor financial planning and poor decision making to service new developments. DCC rates need to be increased and properly planned so developers pay their full share of sewer costs.
Second, council approved an application to remove the Thomson Flats area of the Upper Mission from the Kelowna Official Plan 2030 (OCP) designated Future Urban Land Reserve. The initial application proposes 1400 single family homes on 260 hectares (640 acres) on the city's southern boundary. The application will go to public hearing in the next few months, despite staff reports to council that servicing the area will have high costs, will impact taxpayers and should not be removed until after 2030. The steep terrain poses numerous servicing challenges and visual impacts that require high cost solutions. The applicants specialize in end of road projects on cheap land at the edge of cities that not only create significant profit but also increase problems from urban sprawl. Site servicing will redirect city finances away from much-needed, long-planned and previously approved projects in other neighbourhoods.
Third, council approved a $1.45 million cost increase for design and construction upgrades to Lakeshore Road. These upgrades are needed to provide road, sewer and water services for projects built in the Mission area during the past 20 years. Total cost estimates to upgrade five km of Lakeshore Road from Richter to Barnaby are now over $65 million. Unfortunately, construction delays, poor planning and engineering design and inflation have significantly increased their public costs.
The city has abandoned its policy requiring developers to pay DCCs to cover 85 per cent of the road costs, 99 per cent of the sewage treatment costs, 99 per cent of the sewer trunk line costs and 99 per cent of the water delivery system costs. Over the years the city has increased the scope and costs of the Lakeshore Road project in its 20-Year Servicing Plan and Financial Strategy because developers are placing more growth pressure on the area. The result is that taxpayers are now required to pay 50 per cent of the costs of the proposed $11 million Mission Creek Bridge and pick up costs for numerous design changes and construction of new road, sewer and water systems. The city now plans to twin the existing sewer line and to increase its diameter to accommodate future development in the Upper Mission to include the Thomson Flats area and the adjacent land proposed for the Kelowna Mountain Resort Project lands, which currently sit outside the city boundary.
The devil is in the details. Council has been hiding and shifting project costs every year following approval of land use and rezoning applications. Once developers pay their DCCs and build their projects they pick up their profits and move on. Years later, council kites the as-built costs and increases utility rates and taxes to pay the cost overruns.
Election campaign donations from the mayor and council and from Four Change, the local business group that promoted them in the media, show numerous donations from developers.
Residents need to tell council to behave better and to get out of their pockets. Specifically, residents need to tell council to stop taking donations from developers; to stop removing land from the OCP Future Land Reserve; to end public subsidies to developers; and to make developers pay their full servicing costs over the long-term.