ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION and the OAK BAY 2024 BUDGET – A FINE BALANCE

In response to a Times Colonist article on the Easter weekend, highlighting that Oak Bay Council had decided, during its 2024 budget deliberations, to scale back the Active Transportation Plan, by reducing one of two proposed staffing positions over the next five years, it suggested that Council was “backpedaling” on their active transportation program.

On the contrary, active transportation was identified as one of Council’s major priorities, especially over the next five years. In my view, the article did not give the complete context for the decision so my response may be helpful and facilitate a better public understanding of the issue.

In a small community such as Oak Bay, where roughly 97% of all tax revenue is derived from property taxes alone, Oak Bay Mayor and Council are compelled to make challenging decisions that balance the many projects and competing issues that require funding, ensuring that the tax burden is reasonable and fair. After all, affordability for a diversity of age, income and family types is not just about being able to move to Oak Bay but also about being able to stay in Oak Bay and fully participate in building and contributing to our community.

Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch is correct when he refers to recent efforts to avoid a double digit tax increase. Thanks to our Director of Finance, between Monday night’s meeting when the potential increase stood at 10.41% and our final budget meeting on Thursday night, the Director made a series of recommendations on options to reduce the tax increase of just over 10%. One of the suggestions was to reduce the proposed staffing increases for active transportation, from two new full time staff to one. It gave us time for sober second thought, if you like.

Active transportation remains a significant project and priority for us. We are also faced with other equally compelling staffing and programming needs in areas such as the Planning and Building department, to meet the requirements of new provincial housing legislation to increase, that has tight and non-negotiable timelines on a number of fronts.

A similar pressure exists in Public Works, where staffing capacity is key to addressing Oak Bay’s major capital infrastructure (above and below the ground), a priority that requires substantial upgrading (remember that Oak Bay faces approximately $283M in deferred infrastructure maintenance). A lot of our infrastructure and utilities are beginning to fail and are approaching end of life (three water main breaks over the past few months), requiring significant repairs and/or upgrading and replacement.

Finally, the key to active transportation is planning that takes us beyond a patchwork quilt approach, to one that is holistic and inclusive for all forms of transportation safety (pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility, disability and accessibility challenges). Connectivity is not just about routes and networks; it is also about planning and implementation.