An increase in staffing to handle applications and improve response time also came with a new fee schedule
SUMMERLAND, B.C. — British Columbia’s Agriculture Land Commission says it has eliminated its application backlog and greatly improved response times, thanks in part to a $1.1 million budget boost.
The announcement from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture said the commission eliminated a backlog of 185 applications during the last year.
It was also able to process more than 90 percent of all the new applications it received since April 1 within 90 business days.
“Historically, the ALC hasn’t had a lot of staffing resources and travel budgets for commissioners,” said Kim Grout, the commission’s chief executive officer.
The agriculture ministry increased the commission’s budget by 33 percent last March and set out performance standards.
Grout said it took the commission until September to reach full staffing levels, so it didn’t hit all the targets as often as it would have liked before then. However, she expects that will improve.
“Now that we have all the staff trained and everybody up to speed, we just see ourselves as improving as we move into the next fiscal,” she said.
A key performance measurement set out by the ministry includes a full refund for applicants who fail to receive a decision on their completed application within 90 business days.
Following the start of the new standards, the commission processed 144 applicants within the 90-day requirement out of 154 it received between April 1 and Dec. 31 last year.
The commission also posted improvements to a standard that requires a response within five business days, either acknowledging a complete application or identifying situations in which more information is required. It hit that target 92 percent of the time.
The agriculture ministry also reported that the commission reached a decision on completed applications within 60 days 80 percent of the time.
However, the changes come with a cost. Application fees that once cost $600 across the province now cost $1,500 in Zone 1, which includes Vancouver Island, the South Coast and the Okanagan, and $900 in Zone 2, which includes the North, the Central Interior and the Kootenays in southeastern B.C.
Local governments continue to receive $300 of the fee, as they did before the change.
Despite the fee increase, Grout said she has heard no complaints other than from some local governments that think they should receive a greater proportion of the fee.
“Some people are prepared to pay if they get the answers they are looking for in a reasonable amount of time,” she said.
“People are looking for service delivery.”
As evidence for the muted reaction to the fee increase, Grout pointed to a consistency in the number of applications the commission has received since the increase.
“The number of applications we get is between 400 and 500,” she said.
“Actually, we’ve been seeing an escalation in some (areas).”
People are seeing more value in applying if they get a quick decision, she added.
As part of last year’s reforms, the commission also streamlined internal systems to help speed up the application process.
“We did a bunch of process reviews and kind of reorganized who does what,” Grout said.
The ALC is an independent body that protects agriculture land in the province.
Land classed as farmland must gain approval from the commission for any development or change in use.
It has an annual budget of $4.5 million.