Alectra says no: The Block screwed us again

ShameThe headline on the media release reads, “Alectra selling its shares in Collus PowerStream to Collingwood.” What it should add is that Collingwood residents and taxpayers were betrayed by members of their own council and administration. After a three-year campaign to screw us, The Block have won a major victory in abhorrent behaviour. They are privatizing our electrical utility and next year will do the same to our water/wastewater utility, to the same corporation.

Our publicly-owned utility will be sold to EPCOR, an out-of-province, for-profit corporation that pays a dividend to the city of Edmonton only, and that will raise our electricity rates as soon as they are allowed. Our utility will be privatized within a year, with no local control, no local representation, no local input. And it’s all been done to us behind closed doors.

What will Collingwood get from the sale? Basically nothing, once all the legal fees, consultant fees, taxes and kickbacks are paid. We will have lost everything just to satisfy some personal vendettas.

In fact, with the changes made to staff, to departments and the termination of the shared services agreement, and the skyrocketing legal and consulting costs approved by The Block and this administration, operating costs are already escalating. Your taxes will be raised significantly to pay for their vile acts.

It is a devastating blow to the hardworking staff in Collus-PowerStream. It will be devastating and extremely costly to residents once the deal is finalized. This is the lowest moment in our town’s history. It goes way beyond merely being unethical and immoral: it has the stench of corruption about it.

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The Block are privatizing our public assets

sneakySo Brian and his Block minions want to sell our airport. Our publicly-owned asset. And they’re doing it without even the pretence of the courtesy to tell us why. No public input, no public engagement, no open discussion over it. In the flaccid Connection story, it notes,

In November, 2016, deputy mayor Brian Saunderson asked Clearview Township Deputy Mayor Barry Burton if his municipality was interested in taking over operation of the airport.

As usual, the slavish local media drool over their buddy Brian, but cleverly neglect to point out that Saunderson is neither the spokesperson for the town (and has no authority to make such a request), nor does he even sit on the airport board. Any such request should be made officially by the town to Clearview Council, as a group. And yet the paper has no critical comment about how sneaky and underhanded this process has been. Ah well, local media gave up its credibility years ago.

Now, I know that egregious secrecy on The Block’s part doesn’t surprise my readers by now. In almost three years of their term, The Block have never once publicly divulged the reason for any of their destructive rampages through our community. They – who promised us openness and transparency during the election campaign – have rightfully earned the nickname The Most Secretive Council Ever. And several less printable but equally deserved nicknames, of course. But they just love secrecy and conniving in back rooms. They’re addicted to it, a habit they can’t break.

The Block have not told us why they want to sell our public utilities to a private, for-profit corporation out of Edmonton. They have never told us why they are in a libertarian frenzy to privatize our public assets and utilities without public input. They didn’t tell us why they created a new IT department in town hall, hired three new staffers and are spending two-three times the cost to operate it than we used to pay for in the shared services agreement. They didn’t tell us why they illegally fired the water utility board, or the electrical utility board and replaced them with their own secretly-chosen patsies (or put themselves on the board, instead). They didn’t tell us why they separated the water utility from the effective, efficient, 150-year-old working partnership with the electrical utility (and now the water utility is in chaos). And they didn’t tell us why they threw up roadblocks to stop the much-needed hospital redevelopment.

So no one really expected them to start acting all open and transparent now, over the airport. They are, after all, The Block. They live up to their name at every meeting.
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Utter contempt at council

Utter contempt for residents and taxpayersUtter contempt. That’s what The Block showed for process at council, on Monday night. And for ethics. And for you, the residents. Utter contempt.

But when they want to give benefits to their friends or themselves, boy do they rise to the occasion. Which of course they did, Monday. Anything for a buddy, no matter what negative effect it has on residents. No matter how it will exacerbate ill will in the community, or create bad feelings towards town hall. No matter what it will do to your insurance rates. As long as their friend gets his, who cares?

As I predicted last post, had proper policy and procedure been followed, what should have been a dead issue was returned to the council table by Councillor Jeffrey – she of the unlimited expense account and adipose sense of entitlement. If she or any of the Block had even the slightest regard for procedure and the standing committee system, the Fire Marque report would have died there. Should have died there. But The Block have so far failed to show any respect for anything that gets in their way, so of course she wouldn’t do as as a more ethical councillor would. Democracy be damned.

I told you so.

Besides, the salesman for Fire Marque is the former mayor: a close buddy to all of The Block. Doesn’t matter to The Block if the contract is bad for the 20,000-plus homeowners and renters here. Screw you is The Block’s attitude towards residents. If it’s good for their friends or their in-laws, it gets passed.

Doesn’t matter to The Block if the very idea of charging people for emergency response to accidents was rejected unanimously last term as an unethical practice. Doesn’t matter to The Block if you already pay for fire services through your taxes and the contract is unethical double dipping. Doesn’t even matter it if violates the province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act. It benefits their buddy, so it gets passed.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a sole source contract and their leader, Brian Saunderson, promised there would be no sole source contracts this term. “No exceptions,” he said. By my calculations, The Block have handed out more sole-sourced contracts than all of the previous councils for the past 25 years COMBINED. The word hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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The test of integrity

Got insurance?I’ve been complaining all this term that Collingwood’s standing committee system is broken. It is redundant, ineffective and expensive. It continues in use only because it was the brainchild of the interim CAO who The Block worship.

But it is about to come under a test: one that will determine the integrity and ethics of both the system and The Block.

On July 10, the Corporate and Community Services Standing Committee received a report on the services of Fire Marque, an insurance collection agency. The report was requested by Councillor Jeffrey, close friends (as are all of The Block) with one of the company’s salesmen: the former mayor.

What Fire Marque does is to bill insurance companies for the cost of fire department responses to emergencies – costs already paid for by your taxes. As explained on Elliott Insurance:

Fire Marque is basically a collection agency. They’ve enticed the municipalities to sign up with them to collect fire department coverages from the insurance companies’ policies. So after an individual has a fire, the fire department will send off information to Fire Marque about the situation and what it cost the fire department. Fire Marque will then contact the person who had the fire and ask who their insurance company is. Then they basically bill the insurance company for the fire department charges, up to the limit that is allowed under the [homeowners insurance] policy.

Fire Marque keeps 30%, and the rest goes to the municipality, essentially double-dipping. The homeowner or accident victim then faces a potential increase in his or her insurance policies as a result. So the homeowners get hit twice: through taxes and again through higher insurance rates. No, the municipality won’t lower your taxes because they double-dip. You’re still on the hook. Again from Elliott Insurance:

On the negative side, as insurance companies, our premiums are driven by our claims costs. So, if we are now paying for fire department charges that we were not paying for before, our claims are going to go up, and we will have to raise premiums to cover the extra costs. When you look at it from a community wide basis, financially it would be much better for the municipalities to just add a few dollars to our taxes because the same people who pay property taxes pay insurance.

Knowing it could raise insurance rates, homeowners may be reluctant to report a fire until too late.  They may try to put it out themselves rather than risk the rate hike. The very same effect happens with car accidents and home problems already. The new contract could end up putting more people’s lives and homes at risk because they hesitate to call for a service they know they will have to pay for.

Setting aside the ethics of this practice (read the full piece on the linked site and decide for yourself), the double-dipping, the harm to the taxpayer and whether the town should encourage ambulance-chasing tactics, let’s look at the standing committee system again.
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EPCOR’s rate hikes create unrest

Corporate takeoverIt seems EPCOR isn’t the most beloved utility service out there, despite the glowing comments the interim CAO made to staff recently. I was given a recording of his hour-long talk (aka sales pitch) for EPCOR and I can only say I hope no one listening fell for it (I’ll review his talk in another post).

Despite his stumbling blandishments, EPCOR’s management style isn’t all that popular. And if you do some searching for unflattering news stories about the corporation, you can find the following online:

Global News had this one on Feb. 2, 2017: Tabor took back their water from EPCOR after a 68% increase in water rates:

Taber Town Council has decided to end its 20-year utilities contract with EPCOR just nine years into the agreement.
EPCOR was under contract to provide Taber with its water and sewage services.
The move to end the working relationship comes after the company proposed to increase utility rates by 68 per cent. All 10 EPCOR employees will now work for the Town of Taber to ease the transition.

Sixty eight per cent increase in water rates in one year! There’s a customer-friendly business model for you. I have no doubt we can expect that sort of increase here once The Block privatizes our water to EPCOR. And yes, it will be privatization, not simply management and a disaster for the town.

Closer to home, Adjala-Tosorontio is also considering outside management for its water and wastewater services. According to a story on Simcoe.Com, dated Feb. 3, 2017,

Two companies, EPCOR and Clearford Water Systems, have submitted bids through a request for proposals (RFP) process to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system.
In one scenario, where no developer’s contributions are assumed, the wastewater user rate would cost about $2,800 a year if the project was financed by Clearford, or $3,350 a year if it were financed by EPCOR. The figures in the financial analysis were presented in 2019 dollars, which is assumed to be Year 1 of operation for the system. Council said the current rate is a flat charge of $1,313.

A little calculation reveals that under EPCOR’s management, residents’ water rates would go up annually by $2,037! That’s a 155% increase in a single year!

These are just two recent Canadian scenarios, but imagine how YOU, dear reader, will react when The Block sells our water services to EPCOR and YOUR bill jumps by 68% Or worse, 155%! Or more!

And you don’t think it will happen here? Well, read on…

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