Boost Industrial Taxes-Or Feel the Squeeze

Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Brad Hodge presents his vision on infrastructure.

bradhBy Brad Hodge
Published: Feb 5, 2015

 

According to a study conducted in 2005 by Urbanics Consultants, Squamish’s population is expected to double: 35,000 by then.  Let’s have a look at a few key pieces of infrastructure and how things will be in 2035.

UTILITIES

Our pipes and sewers are ageing fast.  Problems abound: the water treatment plant is overtaxed and requires a $6.5 million upgrade.  Pipes leak underground.  And every summer the water system is stretched to the max, as a changing climate means smaller snowpacks to feed our system.  When I moved to Squamish in 1999, it was quite rare to be under water restrictions in the summer.  Since the adoption of our Outdoor Water Use Bylaw in 2013, we have reached the highest restriction levels in each of the last two summers.

The good news here is Squamish is well aware of the need to fix these issues, ever since the adoption of the 2010 Public Works Infrastructure Asset Management Plan.  The bad news is on the cost side.  The Plan indicated that to meet our infrastructure needs, water rates needed to rise by 68 per cent, and sewer by 58 per cent over five years.  Council has dutifully implemented most of the recommendations, and we have seen a steady stream of badly needed improvements to pipes.  By 2035, we will have to have upgraded our Waste Water Treatment plant.  Sending twice as much untreated effluent into our watershed will just not be tolerable, environmentally or politically.

TRANSPORT

Early on, access to Squamish for years was primarily by ship, the first railway arriving only in 1914 (and it only went north, not south, until 1956), the Sea to Sky Highway in 1957, and our provincially backed bus system much later in 1990.  Lately, most regional transport news has been negative – the loss of rail service in 2002, mounting local transit costs, declining regional bus service with Greyhound’s recent cutbacks, and so on, although locally, I think Squamish has been doing a decent job on its roads, with the exception of the Valleycliffe bridge fiasco of 2007.  But there are reasons to expect things will, overall, be better in the regional department in 2035, and that local will keep up.

According to the Ministry of Transport & Infrastructure, daily car volume is expected to increase by 62 per cent to 22,000 cars per day by just 2025, up from 13,600 in 2009.  Lacking much room to grow on the mountainside, something will have to give.  What about rail, you say?  Remember that rail service ended in 2002 because of its high cost – at the time BC Rail was losing $5 millon a year, and faced tens of millions to upgrade its equipment.  The cost to re-establish now could easily be into nine figures, and we certainly haven’t helped ourselves by not protecting key pieces of rail infrastructure, like the downtown spur line that is slowly being removed. That makes future passenger service, even intra-urban light rail, much less likely by 2035.  Whatever happens, expect more traffic in 2035, regardless.                          

Public safety

Squamish faces a number of challenges headed towards 2035 in the area of public safety.  From day to day fire and rescue to flood and earthquake management, Squamish has been repeatedly warned of deficiencies and slow to act.  However, in the last few years progress is being made, as well there should, given the National Resources Canada’s warnings that we are likely due for a major seismic event.

A recent Fire Master Plan presented by Dave Mitchell & Associates illustrated critical deficiencies in Squamish’s fire department: an outdated and seismically vulnerable fire station, ageing equipment and an undermanned force.  And that’s for the Squamish of today, never mind the twice as big Squamish in 2035.  I predict Squamish will inch its way towards the recommendations in the plan, if only because the insurance costs of not doing so are potentially greater. 

Dikes are another area of major concern.  Geoscientist Pierre Friele recently warned of needed updates to our hazard management plan, and the District is finally undertaking these.  Under discussion are plans to raise dike heights, build a new dike and catchment in the Upper Cheekeye to protect Brackendale and points south, and improve the stability of existing dikes to stop leaks.   Senior governments recently pitched in over $600,000 for badly needed improvements.  But there is a lot to be done and not much money to go around.  Expect better in 2035, but probably not complete, protection for the District.

In conclusion, one can expect significant improvements in our infrastructure looking 20 years hence.  But as mentioned, there is one major caveat: funding.  Governments throughout the West are struggling with high debt loads and ageing populations over the long term and BC is no exception.   Municipalities, unlike provinces, do not have a wide array of taxation powers to rely on to fund their needs.  Unless this is changed, and especially if Squamish does not find a way to replace its depleted industrial tax base, we will all feel the squeeze — and my optimistic projections might come to resemble mere fantasy.

Comments? Contact me at brad@bradhodge.ca  or on Twitter @bradhodgebc

                                                                                                                                                                              Photo: JOANNA SCHWARZ