Village of Valemount updates Strategic Planning Concept

Dianne St. Jean
Village of Valemount updates Strategic Planning Concept

As a thorough revamp to the Village’s strategic plan initially discussed in 2015, the Village of Valemount has since revisited plans to meet current and future challenges, including anticipation of growth within the Village due to ongoing and future developments.

The document, prepared by CAO Adam Davey and reviewed by Council in September, consolidates the original 20 strategic priorities into six main categories or “Pillars”, these being: Public Health – WSA (Water, Sewer, Air); HR (Human Resources) Development; VGDR (Valemount Glacier Destination Resort) Support; Land Use/Planning; Budgeting (and taxation and reserves); and Safe & Clean Community, which includes Emergency Management planning.

Water-Sewer-Air
Sound water and sewer infrastructure remains a top priority for Council. According to CAO Davey, the new buzz word for water/sewer and infrastructure management across North America is Asset Management, which basically means a proactive forward-looking industry standard that accounts for potential hazards or mishaps ahead of time and budgets accordingly. 

According to Davey, replacement costs of old or failing infrastructure such as pipes or lift stations are considerable.

With the use of updated data analytics and geomatic software, relative predictions can be made as to the life expectancy of infrastructure, then planning and establishing a budget accordingly so that when there is an event, for example, a pipe bursting, the Village is not totally caught off-guard financially in repair or replacement costs. 

“That’s what the Village began to do when they set the 9.5% increase; the first two years will be just a break-even,” says Davey.

The Village has also applied for a $165,000 Asset Management grant from UBCM.

“Basically we look for a firm to come and do a six-month study time frame and analyze the current infrastructure, give a projection of needs and possible scenarios and probably replacement costs, then from that they can calculate probable costs to set in the budget,” explains Davey.

The Village has just replaced one lift station but there are eight others of varying age, nor can anyone predict for example when a pipe is going to burst, so the funds have to be there in case it does happen.

The other challenge in this sector is air quality. In his opinion and others, Davey says that the most successful clean air strategies or management plans generally begin at the grass roots level.

“There are basically local champions who start the process and then the province and municipality act as enablers to provide additional resources.”

The challenge of air quality, especially for Valemount, which has recently experienced some severe events, is a complex issue and not easily resolved; however, the Village does not see it as impossible. In fact, they are working toward a modest plan for the upcoming year that may include an interactive clean air demonstration, and educating the community on wood burning practices.

The biggest hurdle is that most people burn wood because of affordability. The closest strategy so far in terms of helping is the province’s wood stove exchange program; however, at the recent Air Quality discussion it was pointed out that people, who already have an affordability issue, are not going to be able to fork out the money up front for a new stove worth thousands of dollars, then mail in a rebate that will only give them a minor refund. 

Aside from that, Valemount’s transfer station does not take old wood stoves, so those would have to be transported to the Foothills station in Prince George.

“We are not going to put people in a position where they have to choose between survival from the cold, and air quality,” remarked Davey. “It’s a very challenging position.”

According to the Air Quality forum, poorly burning wood stoves contribute most to poor air quality, and it just takes one to affect a neighborhood.

Human Resources (HR)
To meet the challenges of anticipated growth, the Village will be implementing an HR plan – a first for the Village. HR is second in priority, at least in terms of budgeting (public health and safety is always first).

“If your HR isn’t solid, it’s hard to do any of the rest,” says Davey.

One of the main objectives is to close the gap between the stages of planning, engineering and development. Greater demands are put on staff, and especially Public Works, when there are large growth projections for things such as new subdivisions or hotels. 

VGDR Support
To meet the demands of expansion that will be created by the VGDR, the Village awarded a contract for a Boundary Expansion Study in the early summer of 2017, with an expected completion date of February or March. Also as part of accommodating the growth created by the flux of development directly related to the resort, plans are already underway for expansion of the Valemount airport, also an ongoing and incremental process.

Land/Use Planning
The Village will be outsourcing planning expertise to support planned and expected major developments. These will also result in a need to rewrite certain zoning bylaws in order to better support businesses and residences.

This will involve a rewrite in the DCC (Development Cost Charges) Bylaw, which is a standard fee charged by municipalities based on percentage or a calculation-based formula set for maintenance of impacted infrastructure that must be done by the Village. It is a one-time, additional fee to the developer that partially offsets the cost of monitoring, updating, and maintenance by the Village and is incorporated as part of the Development Permit Process.

Budgeting
According to the Strategic Plan, the current budget climate is described as “reactive” given the recent pace of change in terms of development projection. In order to switch from being reactive to proactive, the Village is formulating a five-year budget forecast in order to not only meet its mundane financial requirements but also to once again build a strong reserve base. Of course, the Budget outcome will affect the implementation of the other five Pillars.

Safe & Clean Community
A major issue for the Village is having a Safe & Clean Community that encompasses an Emergency Management Plan (EMP) and Bylaw enforcement.

The necessity of a strong EMP was realized especially this last summer with the effects of the wildfires. 

According to CAO Davey there will not be a lot of outwardly noticeable change; it will be internal.  “Increased training is the big one,” says Davey. 

As part of that plan, the Village is applying for Community Emergency Preparedness Funds for Emergency Social Services Training. The $25,000 grant will be used for training, supplies, and professional development through Emergency Management BC (EMBC), should it be awarded, in early 2018. 

Another focus will be on cleaning up unsightly properties and a community beautification plan. 

A clean, attractive community draws in potential investors and leaves a good impression of the community to outside visitors.

 The six pillars of the Strategic Plan, which contains approximately 12 to 18 objectives, are based on priority and will be set specifically to budget. 

“Of course we have to work within existing tax dollars,” says Davey. 

In order to continue to provide good services to taxpayers, the Village will use the Strategic Plan to identify and prioritize what they want to do and how to implement them, with a concerted effort for 2018.