The towering heights of the SVJI

Mountain of paperworkFour hundred and twenty seven thousand, two hundred and sixty five. That’s how many documents have been submitted to the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI) to date, according to a story in Collingwood Today.*

There is no indication if more are expected after that, but it wasn’t ruled out, either.

More than 425,000 documents. The sheer volume is gobsmacking. Let’s take a look at what that might mean.

It isn’t specified if these are single or multiple page documents. We have to assume at least some are more than a single page. For the sake of easy calculations, let’s say 17% of them have two pages. That brings the number of pages up to 500,000. Now we need to do some calculations about just what the SVJI is doing to your tax dollars and the environment.

One typical ream of paper, and a cat (right).

Start with a base measurement: a standard ream of 20-lb paper is 500 sheets. It measures (in imperial) 8.5 x 11 x 2 inches and weighs 5 lb. Heavier weight paper (24 and 28 lb.) result in thicker and heavier reams. I’ll translate those numbers to metric below.**

Five hundred thousand pages is 1,000 reams of paper. That stacks up to 2,000 inches or 166.7 feet (almost as many as I have feet of books in my home). Just a little wider than an American football field. Laid end-to-end it would be 917 feet long. It would weigh two and a half tons  – about what a mid-size pickup truck or SUV weighs.

According to the Sierra Club, that much paper would take 25-50 full-grown trees (an average 8-inch diameter trunk and height of about 45 feet) to produce – not taking into account any other environmental, industrial or energy impacts from cutting trees to produce the paper. Other sites suggest about 16-17 reams per tree (or about 60 trees to make 1,000 reams)

Paper is sold by the box of 5,000 sheets and the SVJI has 100 cases worth of paper in those documents (printed one-sided). The least expensive paper on the Staples.ca website sells for $54 for a box of low-grade copier paper, but it can rise to $70 or more for better quality paper (heavier, brighter). Assuming the town buys in bulk from a wholesaler, they may pay as little as $40 a case.

The image on the left shows to scale 1,000 reams of paper  – 500,000 sheets – measured against the average male (174 cm or about 5’9″).

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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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