Small town rules

Small Town RulesIn their book, Small Town Rules (Pearson Education Inc., USA, 2012), authors Barry Moltz and Becky McCray explain seven rules for businesses that use the model of a small town to offer advice on growing and maintaining a business n the “connected economy.” And while most of their rules are aimed at businesses, I suggest some are equally applicable to small towns like Collingwood.

Don’t get me wrong: a municipality is not a business and despite some common functions and shared accounting techniques, a municipality cannot be run in the same manner as a for-profit business. For a start, we have split roles between management (politicians and administration), and the political role – even of the head of council – is only part-time in the vast majority of Ontario municipalities. Plus no single member of council has more authority or power than any other (one vote per person), unlike a corporate president or CEO.

Municipalities, unlike corporations, cannot run deficits. And they are responsible for a large array of services that are not, nor ever will be profitable (parks, for example, but also social housing, public transit, sidewalks, garbage pickup, libraries, museums and so on). But all of these services contribute to the quality of life than makes living here so wonderful, and on which we have come to depend.

And more than depend: municipalities that have lesser service levels or lack services entirely don’t have the economic advantages that those with those services have. That’s important when trying to attract new businesses to your town, or to retain existing businesses. Those services help create the municipal brand that people come to associate with your community.

Corporations are responsible to their shareholders and pay dividends only them, where municipalities are responsible to the entire community, and serve the greater good (or should do so, this term notwithstanding).
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Ten points on affordable housing

I was invited, along with the other candidates for this municipal election, to address residents at Rupert’s Landing this week. Each candidate was provided a list of ten questions and given three minutes to respond to one of them. I will comment on the other nine in a future post, but for now, I wanted to talk about question two, which I chose to answer:

There is insufficient affordable housing in Collingwood. What are your plans for increasing affordable housing for low-income adults?

Three minutes is a very short time in which to address a complex, challenging issue. I had made a list of ten points but only managed to get into point three or four before my time ran out. Below are some of the notes I made on the issue and my thoughts about housing. This is by no means a comprehensive post on housing and raises more questions that it provides answers; most of these are simply the points I wanted to raise at the event, and some are simply bullets.

I chose this topic because I felt is was the most important one on the list and that it had so far received little attention this election. I served on Collingwood’s Affordable Housing Task Force a few terms back, where I learned a lot about the needs and the politics. Housing should not be just a campaign topic- it should be on council’s radar all the time.

  1. “Affordable” housing isn’t just an issue about subsidized housing. It’s also about rental unit and rooming house availability, but it’s also an issue that affects development charges, property taxes and home prices. It’s really about housing in general. And it affects every municipality in Ontario.
  2. The term affordable is imprecise – the word means different things to different people. As the CMHC website notes: In Canada, housing is considered “affordable” if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. Many people think the term “affordable housing” refers only to rental housing that is subsidized by the government. In reality, it’s a very broad term that can include housing provided by the private, public and non-profit sectors. It also includes all forms of housing tenure: rental, ownership and co-operative ownership, as well as temporary and permanent housing.
    For a couple earning minimum wage working 35 hours a week, their take-home pay will be about $19,500 a year each or $39,000 total. Thirty percent of that is $11,700 or $975 a month. A quick search on Kijiji and other sites showed most local apartments were $1,200-$1,700. That’s between 36% and 52% of their income. And a lot of people working in the regional hospitality and retail industries don’t get the full 35 hours a week.
    A mortgage on a house will be much more. On $375,000 it is more than $2,000 a month. And that’s not considering the downpayment required – hard to save for when all your money is spent on just getting by.
  3. Housing is a regional issue. Too many people who work in Collingwood can’t find a place here – or afford it if they find one – so they have to live in Stayner, Wasaga Beach or even further away. Their transportation costs to and from these communities makes affordability an even bigger challenge. We need to have a regional approach to housing because our neighbours are involved in it, too.
  4. Simcoe County has jurisdiction over subsidize and social housing. They fund it, build it and manage it. The county has other housing initiatives like support for home ownership, housing retention and rent supplements. The role of the deputy mayor and mayor at county is to advocate for funds and projects in Collingwood and to bring opportunities back to council. Having good regional relationships for a stronger united voice makes it much easier to get support for local initiatives.

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My answers to residents: 5

This is a somewhat edited response to a resident who asked about a splash pad. The resident also commented that, “As nice as Collingwood is, we feel that this town is falling behind the times compared to other towns close by and the advancements they have achieved.”  Here’s in part my reply:

Yes, we need a splash pad here. The WaterFront Master Plan has a proposal for one at Harbourview Park (along with a winter skating trail) for about $3.6 million. See here:

http://www.collingwood.ca/files/2016-11-09%20Collingwood%20Waterfront%20Master%20Plan%20Final%20Report.pdf

I have not had the opportunity to discuss this plan with the current PRC director, Dean Collver, or discuss any potential alternatives or phased solutions or even a less expensive option (staff are forbidden to talk to candidates until after the election). Until then, I can only reiterate my support for a splash pad located in one of our two major waterfront parks.

The Master Plan is ambitious and has a lot of amenities and enhancements in it, but they come at a cost – and that means tax increases. We have to be careful about how we spend our money – it’s a balancing act. But I don’t see why a splash pad couldn’t be installed as the first phase of a larger project that gets built over several years.

I currently work with the Ontario Municipal Water Association and am aware of how other municipalities are working to create similar water facilities and features. I am also aware of the combination of challenges for health and safety and how such splash pads must be both hygienic and monitored.

NB: I should have added that we could have had the splash pad and the skating trail and more for what the cost of Saunderson’s self-serving Judicial Inquiry is likely to end up costing taxpayers.

My answers to SOS

Answers to SOSThe following questions were sent to all candidates by the local citizen’s group, Save Our Shoreline (SOS). These are my answers, below. I have formatted my response for better online reading. The questions are in italics.

1.) In order of priority how would you rank the top five (5) priorities for the Town of Collingwood over the next 4 years?

  1. Financial sustainability. We cannot build, we cannot create, we cannot start new projects if we cannot afford them – and we have to keep the impact on the taxpayers at a minimum and reduce town spending (but not to lower our quality of life here)
  2. Restore public trust in council and rebuild our regional relationships. We must return to an open, ethical council and partner with our regional neighbours for cooperative initiatives.
  3. Restore our community’s support for local healthcare services with unquestioning support for the hospital’s plans for redevelopment.
  4. Our environment. We need to protect our greenspaces, and our urban forest and develop some strong, coherent environmental policies that look further ahead. As a municipality on the Great Lakes, we need to be in forefront of discussions about the Great Lakes, water diversion, microplastics and water protection. We should also work with community groups and businesses to develop responses to climate change. Collingwood has the talent and the incentives to be a leader in this movement, not a follower.
  5. Economic development. Collingwood needs more low-impact/green businesses. We should be supportive of our excellent economic development and marketing team and allow them to be more aggressive in pursuing potential businesses and industries to come here. We also need to make a decision about cannabis sales here – but only after public consultation.

2.) Much has been said recently about the need for greater “Transparency” in how the Town conducts its affairs. What changes do you think are necessary to improve transparency in how Council, and Town staff, make decisions?

First, elect new people who are committed to openness and accountability, not merely give it lip service.
Second, curtail the number of closed-door (in camera) meetings and go back to fully informing the public as to what council’s intentions are and why decisions are made.
Third: hold public consultation meetings for all major decisions, especially when selling public assets.
Fourth: restore public advisory committees (such as recreation, culture, economic development, sustainability, and utility boards). Residents should be able to participate in our government, not simply observe it.
Fifth: council must go back to communicating regularly with the public and keeping residents fully informed and engaged.
And sixth: we should consider implementing a ward system for voting; we are large and mature enough to leave the at-large system behind. Ward systems make it more difficult for cliques to be elected.
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Doherty’s Magic Money Fairy

the money fairyAt 3:55:20 in the video of Monday’s Collingwood Council meeting, Councillor Deb Doherty utters the self-congratulatory claim that she is “glad” the costs of the upcoming judicial inquiry to pursue the Block’s maniacal conspiracy theories are not coming out of “taxpayer funds on an annual basis.”

I can hear your head shaking. Where does she think money comes from? And since taxes are calculated yearly, is there any other sort of taxation aside from an “annual basis”? Well, read on…

This bit of financial wisdom comes from the same councillor who last year expressed bafflement over what dividends are and complained that the town wasn’t getting one from the utility to which it had caused excessive operating costs. This from a person charged with helping manage the town’s financial well-being.  Maybe she has other talents.

The costs of this inquiry were estimated at $1.4-$1.6 million in a staff report presented to council April 30. That estimate was vague because it didn’t include the costs of staff time to prepare reports, gather documents and appear at hearings, and possibly other expenses. A similar inquiry held in Mississauga was also estimated around $1.2 million ended up costing the municipality $6.2 million instead!

Doherty made her comment during a discussion on how to pay for the judicial inquiry that Deputy Mayor Saunderson demanded – without anyone (including him) bothering to figure out how to pay for it or even include it in the current year’s budget (Saunderson himself wasn’t at the meeting to answer questions, and my sources tell me he didn’t bother to inform anyone he wouldn’t be there!). So the costs get passed on to the next council (one that will, mercifully, be shorn of Blockheads).

Well, we all know finance has never been The Block’s strong suit. Or ethics, responsibility, openness, public consultation, fairness – but they are huge in conspiracy theories. Yuge, as Trump would say.

So how will the town pay for the inquiry? By taking the money from reserves. And how does money get into reserves in the first place? Yes, you’re going to tell me it gets funded from taxes which we, the taxpayer shell out every year. But clearly Councillor Doherty doesn’t understand that rather basic concept. I suggest she likely believes a Magic Money Fairy flies by at night and with a touch of her wand refills the coffers The Block have depleted.

As soon as she had uttered these words, Councillor Edwards corrected her, noting that “any money we spend comes from the taxpayers’ pocket.” *

True, but that apparently escaped Deb, who retorted that it wasn’t coming from taxpayers’ funds “this year.” So it seems no tax revenue went into reserves in 2018, at least in her mind. Need I tell you how utterly incorrect she is? Or that The Block initiated a fixed, extra 0.75% added to annual taxes to fund reserves? For which she voted? Which has been in the annual budget three times? For which she voted each time ? Okay, stop laughing.

It seems her Magic Money Fairy will simply fill up those reserves regularly so The Block can continue their spending-like-a-drunken-sailor-on-shore-leave-in-a-brothel tactic of financial management. While giving themselves a pay hike every year.

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Bullshit and hypocrisy again

You have to hand it to our Deputy Mayor: for all his many, many faults, he does do two things remarkably well: hypocrisy and bullshit. Neither does he do in halfway measures. No, when he dons their mantle, he wears the emperor’s new clothes with pride, head to toe.

At January 15’s council meeting, Brian took both bullshit and hypocrisy to stratospherically new levels. Astounding levels seldom seen outside today’s White House; truly breathtaking to see it here in our little town. More proof the kakistocracy is alive and well in  Collingwood.

At 2:23:04 Brian made a notice of motion for the town to give the hospital up to $150,000 to help cover their bills. I know: the arrogance of such an offer staggers the mind. After all, it was our very own Blockheads and the town administration who helped make the hospitals costs larger than anticipated. Had they not put up such resistance to the redevelopment, had they not erected so many roadblocks, had their resistance not forced the hospital to hire a consultant planner and lawyers to defend its plan, those bills would not have been so high.

I know, it made me throw up a little into my mouth when I watched the recent council video. Have a bucket beside you when you watch. The hypocrisy is jaw-dropping in its arrogance. Not that anyone will vote against it – but the slime trail this motion leaves is thick and gooey.

The result of the town’s fight against the redevelopment meant the hospital missed the funding window and stalled the creation of new, better health care services in this area by at least three years, if not a decade or more. If we ever get the chance, should a new government get elected. Patient care? Community health and well being? The Block never gave a damn about them.

My sources tell me the town’s refusal to support our hospital’s redevelopment plan cost the hospital more than $100,000 extra in legal and consulting fees. The town also hired a sole-sourced (of course), high-priced lawyer and a sole-sourced (of course), expensive consultant to defend their actions. This, as I understand, cost taxpayers more than $40,000. So far the cost as a direct result of the town’s bullying has cost local residents at least $150,000 – all unnecessarily. And now Brian wants us to double that, simply to pay for the Block’s bad behaviour twice.

Isn’t it great how easy and loose Brian plays with our money?  And he doesn’t even bother to stay within the ongoing budget process. It’s almost like he doesn’t give a damn about how he spends it. After all, these snollygosters have already raised our taxes three times this term and plan to raise it a fourth time. It doesn’t hurt them because every time they do so, they give themselves a pay raise to compensate. So why not try to bribe the hospital to forget their actions?

This is the same guy who only a few months ago demanded the Ministry of Health reveal what it reported to the hospital because he clearly didn’t believe them when the hospital posted the Ministry’s comments on its website. The same guy who publicly pretended there was no problem between the town and the hospital, even though he was the cause of much of the adversarial relationship. Ah, the hypocrisy runs deep in this man. Kind of like the Force in Star Wars, except on the dark side.

And yet neither he nor any of his Blockheads have told us why they opposed the move that all of our neighbouring municipalities, and all of the hospital medical staff and more than 95% of the local medical community have supported. Does it have something to do with the developer who has bought up all the property around the current hospital, and has a vested interest in the hospital staying in place? Or are the Blockheads just too inert to do anything but raise their hands and vote as told?

Here’s a suggestion: take the money from the pay of those who argued and voted and whined about the hospital redevelopment. That would pay for Brian’s largesse from their own pockets, not ours. Let them take responsibility just once this term. Make those who caused the problem pay for the solution. But of course, you well know, The Block always blame someone else: they never take responsibility. So they’ll spend OUR money to try to fix their own mess.

Don’t expect this bribe will make anyone forget Brian and his group’s actions against the hospital. Certainly no one at the hospital, on its board, or in the medical community is fooled; no one among the group of activist doctors who have committed to turfing out Brian and his bunch next election. The Block’s war against our hospital will be a central, critical issue this coming election.
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