Ladysmith council agrees on DCC rate

  • Mar. 1, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Ladysmith council has directed staff to create a new Development Cost Charges bylaw incorporating some reduced figures.Council asked staff back in December to look at what projects under the Parks and Road DCCs could be scaled back or shelved to keep the costs in those sections at the current bylaw level.The town has not increased their DCCs for around 10 years — DCCs are costs charged to developers for things like roads, parks, storm water and water infrastructure to help accommodate the new development.They are now looking at a big increase that has been decried by many local stakeholders. Council has since been asking staff for ways to help soften the blow of the increases.Council was presented with a new option at the Feb. 21 meeting.Option 9, as it is named, sees the Parks Acquisition & Improvement DCC reduced by $387,500 — a $200,000 reduction to the P3 Lot 108 project and P11 Waterfront reduced by $187,500.City manager Ruth Malli informed council the Roads DCCs were not as easy to cut. In the end, staff was able to shave $2.02 million off the roads projects in a plan called Option 9b, but would need to find another $555,000 to get the Roads DCCs to remain at the current level.The projects being taken off the DCC list are the Second Avenue retaining wall and work being done at the waterfront.Joe Friesenhan, director of public works, said the retaining wall is a safety concern and needs to be done, but is not dependent on development meaning it can be taken off the DCC list.The wall, said Friesenhan, was estimated to be around $250,000.Councillors raised questions about the lifespan of infrastructure and were concerned they were creating a backlog of work by putting off some projects.Malli pointed out that if the projects need to be done, they will be still be completed, but not through DCC funding.Under the new plan, a single family residential build will pay $12,780 in DCCs — more than the current $8,884.77 in the current bylaw, but less than the $15,848 first brought to the stakeholders’ meeting.In the end, Coun. Bruce Whittington and Lori Evans were against the numbers for the new pay structure. All councillors were in favour of staff reviewing DCC bylaws for eligible affordable rental housing within the 2011 budget.Whittington noted developers have now had 10 years at low DCCs and it is now time to play catchup.Evans hopes the higher DCCs on developments will let them catch up and that waiving of DCCs for affordable rental housing will encourage builders to focus on creating those rental units.Arnett noted this is a good step towards getting the DCCs to where they need to be.The new DCC bylaw will be brought back to council for review, readings and adoption.Coun. Scott Bastian said the steps taken by council to reduce the planned increases to the charges should go over well with some, but not everyone. “I think we’ve come a lot further than what we were at out last discussion,” said Bastian.“Regardless of where we go and which option we take, there’s always going to be some non-support.”Bastian said he expects taxpayers might get upset at the fact these projects, if they need to be completed, will have to be funded by other revenue. But he said people need to be aware of the process.“If it has to be done or you want it to be done, it has to come from somewhere.“I think that’s the hardest part, with the greater community, is them understanding exactly what that process is.”“I don’t think anyone wants a tax increase.”Coun. Jill Dashwood, who has removed herself from previous DCC talks because of her position as a realtor, stayed through this discussion. Dashwood checked with their lawyers and she was not deemed in a conflict.Dashwood noted the length of the DCC process shows the town is making sure they find the right balance for developers and residents.In her opinion, council should have been looking at increasing the fees a long time ago instead of playing catch up, but is pleased they haven’t increased them to the levels first proposed.Dashwood noted a lot of communities have increased their charges to the highest levels, and she hope by Ladysmith taking a smaller step, it will encourage people to choose Ladysmith.“You can’t really make the local taxpayer pay more, more, more,” said Dashwood, adding putting the chosen projects aside will reduce some of the pressure.Dashwood said she is unsure whether there will be any feedback or backlash from taxpayers for not boosting the charges to the full amount.“As councillors, we’re responsible … that we look after the people of the community. That’s the tough job for us is that you balance it all out.”“We’re really trying hard and that’s why we’ve been struggling with everything and trying to make it as right as we can.”Dashwood said Ladysmith land is a lot rockier and harder to develop, so she hopes the lower DCCs will encourage people.And phasing in the increases over several years will not work, said Dashwood. Because of the 20-year time line Ladysmith uses to look at its DCC projects, spreading out the increases is not considered ‘best practice.’ “Whether you are developing now or five years from now, everyone is contributing equally to those capital projects,” said Felicity Adams, director of development services.Council has also directed staff to look at a time line to review the charges on a regular basis.Developers who work in Ladysmith have had mixed feelings about the news.Bill Eller, past-president of the chamber of commerce and a developer, said the new rates still amount to a sizeable increase and will discourage development and reduce the amount of charges collected.In an e-mail, Eller stated taxpayers of any stripe, including developers, cannot afford increases and the increase will send developers elsewhere if they can.Dave Stalker of Stalker Excavating says he is pleased the town is trying to find ways to stem the increase, but noted the end cost is passed on to the consumer.Stalker was at the original stakeholders meeting and agrees the town needs more money for their capital projects, but said the size of the increase was a bit of a stretch.Stalker said he would have preferred to see any increase phased in over time.“Why couldn’t they just turn around and raise the DCCs a fraction of what they are asking for and then go back a year later and say we’re going to raise DCCs again?”Developers, said Stalker, have their own increases to worry about including supplies, fuel and wages.“Yet the town turns around to us and they say ‘We’d like you to build affordable housing.’ How do you do that?”And when it comes to affordable housing, said Stalker, no one has been able to pin a price on what is deemed affordable.The draft DCC bylaw must be given the OK by the provincial government before being voted on by council.