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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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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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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