I like the waterfront walkway project – there was significant consultation around it and it’s a fantastic plan. In its essence, the citizens have clearly made a decision in support of this project – including myself. Yet, I find myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with this project. Not because of what it is, but because of its designed flaws and what that means.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the design is flawed. What I’m saying is that the designed survey was flawed and in my opinion, I think it should be revisited around the Departure Bay aspect in particular. The issue as I see it, is of the questions that were asked in relation to the most expensive portion (Departure Bay), and I think it’s of importance because it significantly affects our budget and project planning over the next few years.
If you just want to get right down to financial implications and consider some other options which could help reduce the financial impact in 2019, you’ll find that near the end of this post.
A survey’s value is only as good as its design
You might recall that in the surveying, it asked for people’s priorities around completion of the walkway segments and Departure Bay was marked as the highest. It also asked if we would rather upgrade sections before new sections are developed, or vise versa. It then asked whether an elevated boardwalk or a raised on-beach path was preferred. This all done without having any kind of numbers and implications being presented. Talk about loaded questions!
It was kind of like asking if you wanted to have gold or silver, whether you wanted to exchange your aluminum for magnesium, and what your priority of that was in relation to bronze, copper, steel, and iron – all without knowing what the difference in costs between them all are and how it might impact the wallet. Ok, maybe this is a poor example – I mean, I think most people at least recognize the impact to the wallet between gold and silver. But do most people recognize the impacts all combined?
If everyone knew at the time that the two different options for the Departure Bay section were going to cost $3.6M or $12M, would their choice have been different? And if they knew the cost for that section, would it have been their top priority? Would it have changed their answers at all around any of the questions? Without a doubt, it would have for at least some.
While I suspect that the $12M option would likely still have been chosen (I mean it is a pretty decent option and I’ve seen some pretty great examples of this option in action), but would it have been prioritized further down the road? I suspect the answer to that might have been yes too. It’s definitely just a guess, but we won’t know whether that guess is correct until questions of this nature are asked.
We need all the information
People aren’t stupid; they realize that this large amount of money has impact, and they should have a say towards that impact. There was an opportunity to give input towards aspects of the waterfront walkway – which affects impact – but it was a very limited opportunity, because priority aspects of the waterfront walkway aren’t the only thing that needs to be prioritized – the waterfront walkway is just one project in the big picture which needs to be prioritized, and I believe people generally recognize that.
In fact, I think if given the choice between this and other projects, many might not consider this one to be the top priority. I personally don’t consider it to be the top priority. But regardless, to make properly informed decisions we need all the information and at the time that these decisions were made – we didn’t have all the information. And since the project hasn’t started yet, it’s also not too late to revisit.
You can find the full plan here if you haven’t reviewed it yet: https://www.nanaimo.ca/docs/your-government/projects/2016-waterfront-walkway/waterfront-walkway—final-plan.pdf
How it fits into the budget
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, it’s also worth clarifying the $5.2M that you see applied towards this in 2019’s budget, isn’t quite representative of what many are probably perceiving it to mean – the $5.2M isn’t coming directly out of taxes this year (in other words if we were to theoretically stop the project, it wouldn’t mean that 5% in reduction of taxes would be possible), but what it does mean is that it’s the trigger for a 20 year loan of which we’ll be paying approximately $2M every year over that time. In other words, up to around $2M is coming out of the 2019 budget towards the waterfront project.
So what does this all really mean?
It means the project has a large impact on the budget, and it means we didn’t have enough information at the time. It also means that there’s also some options which haven’t been explored, and that everyone needs to be aware of that in their consideration towards this project and the budget.
Here are some of the ramifications and potential options here, focusing strictly on the financial aspects:
- If we proceed as planned, we’re looking at around $2M/yr for the next 20 years starting in 2019
- If we were to choose the less expensive option for the Departure Bay segment it would save approximately $8.4M and result in a reduced taxation impact of roughly around .5M/yr over the next 20 years.
- If we were to delay the Departure Bay portion with the current option, and prioritize the other sections higher, there would be a direct effect on yearly taxes until that portion proceeds – roughly around $.8M, or .8% in taxes – whether that be applied towards a reduction in taxes, or towards other projects considered to be of higher priority.
- If we were to delay the entire waterfront project for a year, there would be a direct effect on taxes – roughly around $2M, or 2% in taxes – whether that be applied towards a reduction in taxes, or towards other projects considered to be of higher priority.
With this all considered, I would suggest that asking the citizens once more about this Departure Bay section both regarding the path option and towards its prioritization would be a good idea. The original surveying was flawed, and this is a significant expenditure that is preventing other projects from starting. Now is the perfect time to have this discussion.
For myself, as it sits currently from what is known – my personal preference would be to delay the Departure Bay portion for this year (as long as it won’t affect the federal funding that has been conditionally allocated). Take that $.8M or .8% in taxes and apply it towards reducing the significant tax increase anticipated for 2019, or approach the many other priorities that are of importance.
What’s your preference?
Is the waterfront walkway project the most important to you in 2019 – specifically the Departure Bay section, or do you think there are other priorities that are more important to start taking care of first – whether that be the other sections of the walkway, or other project based priorities, or towards tax reduction measures?