Provincial Funding in British Columbia Linked to Viewing Watersheds through a “Sustainable Service Delivery” Lens


Note to Reader:

In October 2013, Asset Management BC and the Local Government Management Association of BC co-hosted a workshop in Richmond.  At the workshop, Glen Brown announced that the Province has formalized its policy for Sustainable Service Delivery. Going forward, opportunities for local governments to apply for provincial grants will be linked to viewing watersheds through a “Sustainable Service Delivery” lens.

Also at the workshop, a panel of three Chief Administrative Officers representing local governments from three geographic regions spoke to the topic of Sustainable Service Delivery. Emanuel Machado (speaking on behalf of the Town of Gibsons) provided a pragmatic perspective on the long-term benefits of viewing watersheds through an “asset management lens” and “designing with nature” in order to both reduce a community’s infrastructure liability and save money over time.

2011_Sustainable Service Delivery_Glen-Brown-summary

How Local Governments Can Tackle the Unfunded Infrastructure Liability

Local governments in British Columbia are faced with this financial challenge: the initial capital cost of infrastructure is about 20% of the life-cycle cost; the other 80% largely represents a future unfunded liability. Each year, the funding shortfall grows. As infrastructure ages and fails, local governments cannot keep up with renewal and/or replacement. This fiscal reality creates the incentive to prevent additional financial impacts.

The New Business As Usual

“Tackling the unfunded infrastructure liability has led to a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs, in particular how to pay for those needs over time. The Province’s branding for this holistic approach is Sustainable Service Delivery,” states Glen Brown, the Executive Director of the Province’s Local Government Infrastructure and Finance Division and the Deputy Inspector of Municipalities.

“Asset management usually commences after something is built. The challenge is to think about what asset management entails BEFORE the asset is built. Cost-avoidance is a driver for this ‘new business as usual’. This paradigm-shift starts with land use and watershed-based planning, to determine what services are affordable, both now and over time.”

“Yes, developers and new home purchasers typically pay the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure through development cost charges. But it is local government that assumes responsibility for the long-term cost associated with operation, maintenance and replacement of such infrastructure assets. Often this is not adequately funded through property taxation and utility charges, as various political priorities compete for limited tax dollars.”

Legislative Authority for Doing Business Differently

“The legislative authority for integration of land use planning and asset management, including financial management, already exists,” continues Glen Brown.

“Also, the provincial Living Water Smart and Green Communities initiatives are catalysts for ‘designing with nature’: Start with effective green infrastructure and protect environmental values. Get the watershed vision right. Then create a blueprint to implement green infrastructure.”

Design with Nature and Protect the Water Balance

“Local governments bear the entire financial burden to stabilize and restore watercourses impacted by increased rainwater runoff volume AFTER land is developed,” emphasizes Glen Brown.

“The costs and environmental impacts associated with ‘pipe-and-convey’ infrastructure contrast with the benefits of ‘green’ infrastructure at a watershed scale: natural landscape-based assets reduce runoff volumes, have lower life-cycle costs, decrease stresses applied to creeks, and enhance urban liveability.”

“Demonstrating Sustainable Service Delivery is a criteria within provincial funding programs; and this provides context for linking land use planning, watershed health and infrastructure liability,” concludes Glen Brown.

Town of Gibsons: Leading by Example

Emanuel Machado_2013-120p“The Town of Gibsons has recognized, formally and in practice, that nature, and the ecosystems services that it provides, are a fundamental and integral part of the Town’s infrastructure system. Gibsons is one of the first communities in North America to do so,” stated Emanuel Machado, Chief Administrative Officer, and a member of the CAO Panel.

“The policy change occurred with the adoption of the 2013/14 Strategic Plan. This hybrid document combines a sustainability framework with a more traditional Town-of-Gibsons_Strategic-Plan for 2013-2014_coverstrategic plan.”

“Natural assets are considered cheaper to operate; can last indefinitely, if properly managed; and are carbon neutral, and in some cases can be carbon positive.”

“Ultimately, the goal is to move from simply maintaining infrastructure to a service delivery model, where those services are delivered by the smallest number, the most natural, most energy energy-efficient, and the most reliable municipal assets, that cost the least to operate over the long term,” concludes Emanuel Machado.

To Learn More:

In its Winter 2011 newsletter, Asset Management BC published an article co-authored by Glen Brown that connects the dots between watershed-based planning and infrastructure asset management. To download a copy of the article, click on Integrated Rainwater Management: Move to a Levels-of-Service Approach to Sustainable Service Delivery.

To download a copy of the Town of Gibsons Strategic Plan, click here.

“Sustainable Service Delivery” introduced to Comox Valley local government audience in 2011

At the 2011 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series, the spotlight was on the unfunded ‘infrastructure liability’ confronting all local governments. This is a driver for a change in the way local governments plan, finance, implement and over time replace infrastructure.

2011 Comox Valley Series_Seminar #2

Links to YouTube Video Clips

At Seminar #1, Glen Brown provided the provincial big picture. He then explained the significance of the unfunded infrastructure liability and defined Sustainable Service Delivery. Finally, he  elaborated on the need for local governments to be nimble, collaborative and integrated. To view Glen Brown and learn more, click on these links to video clips posted on YouTube:

  1. Asset Management defined in terms of ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ (1:16 minutes)
  2. Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #1 – It’s All About Service(2:10 minutes)
  3. Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #2 – Define its Quality(1:26 minutes)
  4. Sustainable Service Delivery Principle #3 – Operation & Maintenance Requirements (2:01 minutes)
  5. So, What is Sustainable Service Delivery? (2:35 minutes)

To download a copy of his PowerPoint presentation, click on Sustainable Service Delivery: An Integrated Approach Links Land Use Planning, Watershed Health and Infrastructure Liability (1.3MB)