In the popular science fiction TV series The X-Files, special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully teamed up to investigate paranormal phenomena. Their slogan was “The truth is out there.” With a newly installed municipal council ready to hit the ground running that catchphrase has considerable relevance.
In the next four years Squamish will likely see the most wide-ranging shakeup in its history. And depending on whose opinion carries the most weight, everything is either under control, or the wheels are on the verge of coming off.
At least five major residential developments are in the works and most of the District’s infrastructure is reaching end-of-life status. The tab for upgrading or replacing those facilities will be in the $100 million range.
This past July, when she was still in office, Mayor Patricia Heintzman told The Chief that the municipal tax base and borrowing will pay for some of it. She said because the District has been so calculated in its planning, funding from the federal and provincial governments has also started to materialize.
“We have really good master plans and strategies for all of our infrastructure, and we layer those within our five- and 10-year financial plans… We aren’t perfect, don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to sugar coat this, but we have done an excellent job,” she added.
However, in the lead-up to the recent election, mayoral candidate and two-term councillor Susan Chapelle told The Chief, “There have always been strategic plans for everything imaginable, but they have not been funded nor resourced appropriately.”
And in an email exchange with me she revealed that “many initiatives were hasty, and not well planned. We had no strategy; most of our agenda was reactionary and ill informed. An example of this was the ‘smart cities’ initiative that cost us $50,000 for a one-day event and a hasty grant application.”
This past May, prior to her mayoral bid, Karen Elliott wrote a column for The Chief in which she noted the District had completed an analysis of its major resources, including the Asset Management Plan, Liquid Waste Management Plan and Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan. She said that strategy will attract funding from senior levels of government, ensure services are delivered and provide infrastructure in a fiscally sustainable manner.
But borrowing capital for upgrades could pose a problem. Although it is in the $10-million range, there are legal limits on how the District leverages its municipal land reserve.
“Even if we could borrow the funds, servicing this debt would require significant property tax increases. Clearly, there is no silver bullet to address this issue. Even knowing where to start is challenging,” she said.
According to newly elected councillor Jenna Stoner, the biggest failure of the previous council was approving too many developments with an out-dated community amenities contribution policy. She figures they “left a lot of money on the table, which could have been used to fund upgrades to ageing and out-dated community infrastructure and enhance community gathering spaces.”
In the end, as Fox Mulder put it so succinctly: “No one, no government agency, has jurisdiction over the truth.”