Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.

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PerplexedOver on BBFFWS (Brian’s BFF’s Web Site) is a sort-of-a story about Collingwood’s 2018 budget. It’s really just some comments about a document this council won’t even get a peek at until sometime in late January, and won’t get through the approval stage until late spring or even early summer. Even though all of our municipal neighbours, the county and indeed most of Ontario, have already approved their 2018 budgets, Collingwood continues to slog along, months behind the process curve. And nary a word of complaint from The Block. Well, to be fair, nary a word they even noticed was uttered.

But apparently the news that there is actually a process involved in budget approval surprised The Block, who had in the past three years merely raised their hands to hike taxes at staff’s request (while, of course, granting themselves a pay hike at the same time). I suspect the idea that there may be something deeper, something more complex, something that involved reading, bemused them. Maybe even shocked them.

Who knew budgets could be so difficult? Well, everyone except our Blockheads.

This week the treasurer told council that there is already a surplus of $1.75 million. That over-taxation represents about a 6% tax increase. In other words, had anyone on The Block been paying attention, they could have held taxes at zero percent these past three years, or even (gasp) lowered them. But paying attention isn’t their forte. Like actually reading the full budget isn’t a practice they have adopted. Or ever will.

Of course, a lot of that surplus will be used in paying off the excessive costs the town shouldered when it broke the shared services agreement, created a new IT department, bought tons of new hardware, hired three new staff persons and then still had to contract out some of the services we got from Collus IT staff for a third the cost. Oh and then there’s the pesky costs of the sole-sourced layers and consultants the administration hired to justify selling our publicly-owned electrical utility to a private for-profit corporation (without any public discussion, or course). Plus the costs of paying the former interim CAO a consultant’s fee after he “retired.” And hiring new staff in the treasury department (yet which department still can’t produce the budget on time). Plus there are hundreds of thousands more in legal bills to come to go through the legal application process to sell our utility. And then there’s the promised $700,000-plus savings from taking the water utility away from its partnership with the electrical utility – which instead seems to have become an expense to taxpayers, not a savings.

So will we really have a surplus for 2018? Not likely. If that were true why would the treasurer have asked council to approve an automatic 1.7% cost-of-living increase on our taxes this fall, months before the budget was even discussed? And that, by the way, was ON TOP of the automatic annual 0.75% levy The Block approved previously.

On the BBFF site, the Block’s leader, Brian, is noted as saying,

…while at first glance the numbers look good, council needs to dig deeper to better understand the situation at hand.

Yes, yes, stop laughing. The Block don’t dig deeper into anything because that would require two things they don’t like to do: 1. reading and 2. paying attention. And for at least one somnambulant councillor, 3. staying awake during the discussions. But leave aside the excruciating clichéd nature of this statement, keep in mind that it is coming from the same guy who got up in the middle of a budget meeting – the most important issue any council can deal with – to go skiing (and get into a photo op). That’s right: left the council chamber, left town to party on the hills.

That speaks volumes (and wasn’t reported on the BBFFWS) about Saunderson’s priorities – as well as his utter disdain for the people of Collingwood.

Now I realize some people believe it’s perfectly acceptable to elect and pay a representative who then flips the bird at the electorate and put personal entertainment over the public good. After all, millions of people elected Donald Trump to golf and watch TV instead of govern. But I’m not one of those believers. I have this curiously anachronistic belief that public services means SERVICE to the public, not to your own sense of entitlement; that for elected representatives, the greater good comes first. Silly me.

Saunderson is also quoted as throwing another dreary cliché into the conversation:

Council will need to drill down and understand all the reasons for the surplus to be sure that our budgeting processes are tight and based on accurate numbers and assumptions moving forward.

Drill down? I suppose it was too unlawerly to simply say “examine” or “examine carefully” instead of “drill down” but does he really expect his minions to understand something that has, in the past three years, escaped their intellectual grasp? That they have avoided examining the full budget documents so as not to have to confront accurate information, and instead relied on a dumbed-down staff assessment that is to the full budget what a bowl of warm Pablum is to a full state dinner.

I suppose it might happen, but as my grandfather used to say, “Pigs might fly, but they make damned unlikely birds.” And one among an infinite number of monkeys pounding on typewriters could conceivably produce Hamlet.

I must end by a tip of the hat to Paul Richards, whose pro-Block website I lambasted recently (and probably will continue to snipe at). He took umbrage at my comments, which is fine because that’s how this stuff works, and flaccidly tried to justify his material. But he did close by agreeing with what I’ve been saying for years now: Collingwood deserves better. And for recognizing that, for acknowledging my contention that this town will not mend its reputation, its morale nor regain the ethical and moral high road to governance until this lot is turfed out and their political careers forever ended, then I have to salute him.

Yes, Paul: Collingwood deserves better. We all know that. And once you stopped your oleaginous shilling for The Block, it will help us achieve that goal.

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