Formal growth strategy leaves council divided

Langford ultimately reject the idea of leaving a written strategy for future councils

The topic of a growth strategy for the City of Langford sparked debate at Monday’s council meeting as councillors sat divided on the subject.

“We’ve done a magnificent job, I think, of transforming our community and now we’re at the point where we want to take care of what we have,” said Coun. Lillian Szpak. “We want to have kind of a map for looking forward; we have to say this council may not be here forever … I think it is something we want to do that assures our future.”

She nodded to the walkways around Langford’s lakes and noted this plan could be used for future maintenance on those projects and many others. But, she reiterated, “it’s a guideline. It’s not going to be a rigid document that binds anyone.”

However, In the end, Szpak and Coun. Denise Blackwell were the only two in support of a formal growth strategy for the City and the motion to include one in 2017 budget talks was killed after a lengthy discussion.

Coun. Roger Wade was the first to voice concerns over implementing a formal written strategic plan, noting the price tag of roughly $50,000 to $70,000 that would accompany it.

Coun. Denise Blackwell noted the cost would be discussed in next year’s budget talks and if it was too much, it could be adjusted.

Mayor Stew Young was quick to add his voice to the discussion, cautioning that whether it does so intentionally or not, a strategic plan could tie the hands of the next council.

“If you have a strategic plan, it’s not going to help you make decisions based on, at the time, what people want … This will be another document that sits on the shelf.”

He mentioned Langford’s Official Community Plan, which he said cost the City roughly $150,000 and asked councillors how often they looked at.

“I’m proud of it,” Szpak said, noting she regularly references it.

Blackwell added that the Capital Regional District’s regional growth strategy is also referenced at least annually by the board.

Young continued to question the need for a new strategic plan and pointed to the systems and committee structures the City already has in place. “You have to have that ability to change. Every year we do basically what’s in a strategic plan when we talk about the budget,” he said.

He asked Langford chief administrative officer Jim Bowden what benefits could come from putting that process into this type of document.

Bowden said it would give the public more information on how and why decisions are made, adding that it had notable communication value.

Szpak noted the other council members made valid points but reiterated the need for a formal guideline for the future of the City. “We don’t want to just let it happen,” Szpak said. “It helps us set our direction and I think we would save more money than we’d ever lose.”

Young was unconvinced of the value of formalizing a process he said council already does. “Save that money and put it towards some of the big tax increases we’re going to be seeing in the next little bit … This community works really well.”