When is a tax increase not a tax increase?

Shell gameWhen blockheads don’t get what a levy is. This month, Collingwood Council voted for a tax increase that, through the admin’s sleight of hand, the bobbleheads believed wasn’t a tax increase. It was just the old shell game.

According to a story in the Connection (which also didn’t get it), headlined “No tax hike, but assessment increase will add to Collingwood residents’ tax bills”:

(Council) have also agreed to add a 0.75-per-cent capital levy, which will generate about $210,000 for the capital asset management plan.

A levy IS a tax increase. That’s why it’s called a TAX LEVY. Trying to call it by another name doesn’t hide the fact that it all comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket. It IS a tax hike because that’s where it appears: on your TAX bill. We don’t have a separate “levy” bill. We don’t send levy collectors house to house. It’s all dumped on our municipal property taxes. A levy IS a tax!

And Collingwood was reported to be one of the most-overtaxed municipalities in the province according to two of the CAO’s many consultants’ reports in the past 18 months. Wasn’t council paying attention when they were presented?

But hey, money grows on trees, right? Taxes, schmaxes. It’s only money. Your money. But now it’s their money. And they gave themselves a raise out of it, too.

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Collingwood’s Finances: Great Shape!

Doom and gloom consultants

There’s been a lot of doom-and-gloom bandied about over Collingwood’s alleged dire financial picture this term. There have been the-sky-is-falling presentations and nightmare-inducing consultants’ reports that paint a bleak picture of the town’s debt and financial status. Hand-wringing and hair-pulling.

These jeremiads are enough to make a taxpayer wake up in the middle of the night and weep. If it were true.

Fortunately, it isn’t. I’d like to think that someone got his or her numbers wrong, read someone else’s information, added or subtracted when they should have been doing the opposite. Or maybe was just pulling our collective legs. A practical joke. Whatever the reason, it’s not true (and I sincerely hope someone didn’t do it deliberately!).

How do I know we’re in great shape? From reading an impeccable source for financial information: the province of Ontario’s own multi-year fiscal analysis, about which the province’s website explains….

The Multi-Year FIR Review (2009 On) – By Municipality provides selected FIR information by municipality for the years 2009 and greater.
In 2009, the Public Sector Accounting Board introduced new accounting and reporting standards which required municipalities to adopt full accrual accounting practices. As a result of these changes, municipalities must now account for and report their tangible capital assets in their Statement of Financial Position. The FIR also adopted these new reporting standards effective 2009…

The data runs from 2009 to 2014 for more than 500 municipalities, each one a separate file. It doesn’t encompass the previous year (2015), during which our council laboured under what seems to be false information about our debt and finances.

But you will be pleasantly surprised, I trust, to learn Collingwood is actually pretty well off in almost every category and performance indicator. Sure, we can always do better, but you won’t find any doom and gloom in this. So take heart and relax.

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Consultants Run Amok

Dilbert consultant cartoon

As the old saw says, a consultant is someone who comes in to solve a problem and stays around long enough to become part of it. So how many consultants’ reports does it take for council to figure out we’re spending too much money on consultants’ reports?

More than three, apparently.

Three is the number of consultants’ reports included in the preliminary budget alone (the one that recommends raising your taxes almost 4% and gives council another pay increase as a reward for doing so…!).

Three consultants’ reports… one would be an unprecedented number in a small town town budget. Three is, well, staggering. The inefficiency just screams aloud.

Taxpayers have to ask: why does this council need to spend our money on so many outside consultants? And why are the local media silent on this abuse of our tax dollars?

In its first year, this council has used more outside consultants to tell it what to think than most councils use in their entire terms. And most of what these consultants have produced is little more than shredder-ready claptrap designed to bolster staff agendas and decisions already made for council by staff.

It’s unlikely those at the council table even bothered to read these reports cover-to-cover. Certainly none at the table bothered to question their numbers or conclusions. That would require critical thinking and analysis, both of which run counter to the wishes of the admin staff and would make the consultants’ reports appear meaningless.

After all, why bother to hire consultants if all council is going to do is ask them difficult questions and think for themselves?

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Screw the Taxpayer

Greedy administrationSitting down? Good. You might want a drink, too. A strong one. Ready? Get a grip on your chair. Here goes:

Collingwood is looking at a 3.9% tax hike for 2016. And that’s just its own portion.

Let me help you up. No, that isn’t wrong. It’s the proposed budget hike this council is contemplating. It was presented to council at an all-day meeting last week. The Connection reported on it, Dec. 2, in case you missed it (nothing in the EB, though).*

That municipal tax raise will be coupled with an increase from the county, sending your taxes skyrocketing up another several points.

Why, you ask, would council raise taxes when we have a surplus? Because it can. Because council is in thrall to the administration and does its bidding.

And you, dear reader, just have to grin and bear it. Have another stiff drink before you read the rest.

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Strat Plan Part 4: Economic Vitality

CartoonstockWhat, you may ask, is meant by the term “Economic Vitality” – the third objective in our town’s strategic-plan-in-the-works? Apparently it’s one of those motherhood statements people make on soapboxes and campaign platforms that have little grist in them to mill into actuality.

Sure, we all want a town that has a lively, thriving economy. but how do we achieve it? No one has an answer – not one-size-fits-all answer. certainly it isn’t found in the woo-hoo strategic plan. The economy’s health depends on creating a suitable, supportive environment that both attracts and sustains business and commerce.

Let’s start with an understanding that governments do not create private sector jobs. They can only create an environment where the private sector feels it worth the investment to do so. And the cost of doing business in a town plays a major role in that decision (i.e. low taxes and low utility fees).

Last term, council’s collective attitude towards business and keeping taxes low saw much growth and development: Goodall expanded, the glass plant expanded, Pilkington Glass added shifts. New restaurants and bars opened. Three microbreweries opened. The mall was revitalized with new stores and shopping opportunities. Cranberry Mews mall grew.  it was a boom time.

The previous council can’t take credit for private growth and expansions: what it can take credit for is being welcoming, supportive and keeping taxes and utility rates as low as possible. Last council also initiated the hiring of a new, dynamic marketing and economic development director, and created a new small business centre that brought together a wide range of community partners and NGOs to work together cooperatively and successfully for common goals.

Yet I hear you say that our current council went against this grain right off the bat by raising taxes and water rates while giving themselves a pay hike – making the town less attractive to business (and making themselves look avaricious and petty). That’s pretty anti-business!

So, you ask, how can they say they want economic vitality when council is deliberately undermining this goal? That’s a bit of a conundrum. The overtly anti-business attitude of this council is a hurdle that will not be easily overcome until the next election. They have created the reputation that Collingwood is closed for business. It will not easily be reversed.

Also, word on the street says this council is poised to divest itself of the airport – one of the few actual economic success stories in Collingwood. Council has already irrevocably damaged the once-good relationship with our municipal neighbours who are partners at the airport to the point Wasaga Beach is planning to pull its financial support. Instead of developing this as a regional success story and promoting it, council will destroy it like it did our utility service board.

So let’s examine the goals and proposed action items in the strategic plan that relate to economic vitality. Try not to guffaw too loudly.

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It’s Official: Collingwood is Closed for Business

Close for businessAs I predicted, Collingwood Council officially closed the town to business, growth and development, last Monday night. And just for good measure, council sprinkled the ground with the salt of malice, just to further deter a particular developer from building here. Which sends a message to everyone about how this town respects and values development.

Anyone who doesn’t think this is about ideology or doesn’t know this is a personal and petty vendetta hasn’t been paying attention to local politics this past decade.

The process of closing our municipal doors to business started earlier this year when council raised our taxes and our water rates while voting themselves a pay hike – knowing full well this would hurt our businesses and seniors. But hey, they got a raise, so what do they care? And they tossed $40,000 of your money to councillor Jeffrey so she could party hearty out of town. She deserves warm camembert and caviar while cavorting around the country, doesn’t she?

Then, the development and operations standing committee voted to defer the sale of the weed-infested, near-waterfront property known as Block 9 until the end of the Age of Mammals or thereabouts. After that, all but two members of our bobblehead council agreed to the deferral.

According to the story in the Connection:

“We defer selling the property or making the decisions with regards to selling the property until the completion of the waterfront master plan and the waterfront master plan will be started in accordance with the direction from council,” said planner Nancy Farrer. “We anticipate that it will be started as soon as the strategic plan is finished.”

That strategic plan is the one Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson promised sincerely he would have in the public’s hands within the first 90 days of this term (it’s been 209 days now and counting…). The plan has nothing to do with individual property sales or micromanaging town resources. The mandate for it didn’t even mention the waterfront master plan. And don’t expect to see anything from the committee until very late 2015 at the earliest.

Since council – rather cunningly – hasn’t even raised this nebulous “waterfront master plan” as a project for 2015, it won’t even get started until mid-2016 at the soonest. If the delays in the strategic plan are any example of council’s dithering, the waterfront plan will be delayed for many more months, if not years. If it ever arrives…

There is no logical reason to assume the fabled waterfront plan will get started immediately after the strategic plan is complete. It’s far more realistic to assume any development and growth in town will be delayed until the invisible pink unicorns arrive – because council can continue to use it as an excuse to avoid making decisions and hampering growth.

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