The City of Langford has been asked to pay an $50,000 fee for the right to construct a trail-connecting bike lane in a right-of-way along Atkins Avenue controlled by the Island Corridor Foundation.
This latest charge has Langford Mayor Stew Young saying enough is enough.
“Fees should be approved by municipal members. (The ICF) shouldn’t have that kind of autonomy,” Young said, noting the City is a member municipality of the Foundation through the Capital Regional District. “I believe the fees are too high.”
Graham Bruce, ICF chief executive officer, said the $50,000 is a land-use fee that was charged because Langford, for the first time, was the only ICF member municipality not to grant the Foundation a permissive tax exemption.
He explained that the fee helps protect the property from ever being sold for tax purposes and in essence, protecting the projects the ICF board of directors sign onto.
The City opted not to grant that tax exemption for mostly financial reasons, Young said.
Without a train running or even being close to becoming operational, Langford council wanted proof of how the Foundation is spending what the mayor called “taxpayer’s money” before it continued granting the tax exemption.
“My frustration is the train isn’t running and I know they are charging a bunch of municipalities fees, “ he said, calling the $50,000 fee arbitrary. “What are they doing with all of this money?”
As for other fees, Bruce said the ICF only charges one $2,000 fee “that looks after the administration of records.” He noted that underground utilities such as water lines and sewers need to be mapped and reviewed to make sure they aren’t interfered with and this fee helps cover those costs.
The City requested permission from the ICF to construct the bike lane, part of the regional Trans-Canada Trail project, last fall. Langford was told a $2,000 application fee had to be paid to the ICF, and a $3,500 engineering review fee paid to Southern Rail.
At the Foundation’s request, the City also hired a consultant to undertake a rail crossing assessment, according to a letter from Young to the ICF board of directors. After this assessment, the City submitted revised plans in early January and attended a meeting to discuss the project and review process. It was at the conclusion of this meeting that the City was informed that the $50,000 fee must be paid before approvals would be granted.
“This isn’t what the Island Corridor Foundation was supposed to be about,” Young said. “I’ve lost confidence in it, the public is losing confidence in it … Is the train going to run or not?”
The City is now asking the ICF board of directors to reduce and standardize fees charged to municipalities, as well as shortening response times to questions. Young and the City want to see is a more transparent public process, which would include a review of employee salaries and contractors costs, as well as an immediate audit of expenses and revenue.
The City is also requesting that First Nations and member municipalities with ownership of the ICF ask for a full disclosure of the ICF accounts, including all revenue and expenses on a monthly basis. “I just want a free flow of information on this,” Young said.
Bruce said, “all the books are open, they are on the website.”
He assured that the project has been approved by the board and once the fee is paid the project can proceed. “Hopefully they can progress with the project,” Bruce said.