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…

Continue reading “EPCOR’s rate hikes create unrest”

Monetizing our public assets

ConsequencesIn the town’s disingenuous press release (really just a sales pitch for EPOCR) about its obsessive drive to privatize our utility services, it has this paragraph:

The Town’s RFP process solicited proposals from a wide range of potentially interested parties that could maximize the value of the Town’s remaining investment in Collingwood PowerStream Utility Services Corp. Given the terms of the existing Shareholder’s Agreement with PowerStream entered into by the previous Council, the Town has very limited options regarding how it may monetize its remaining 50% investment in the local electricity distribution company.

Monetize a public asset? Since when was that the policy? It wasn’t even raised during the election; it’s something The Block cooked up in one of their secret meetings. The very notion of “monetizing” a public asset is some American Ayn-Rand-libertarian wet dream, a wacky laissez-faire approach to enrich corporate interests that has nothing to do with standard business or professional practices of any Canadian municipality I know of.

Privatization of public assets was big in the USA, with poorly-run and inefficient municipalities thinking they could buy their way out of debt by selling everything they could. The result has not solved anything, but instead created an Orwellian nightmare where the residents are in thrall to profiteering private corporations that control their services, utilities, recreation and police while being told they are freed from the responsibility to run them.

(Let’s see… what poorly run, inefficient Canadian municipality with a myopic council comes to mind? Ah, I see…)

But what does monetize really mean? It sounds like something that makes a profit, an investment that gives us increasing dividends – but that isn’t true. It simply means selling what we own. You can’t hide that behind another word. We will be selling our water and wastewater services. And not even to the highest bidder: it will be sold to the already-anointed one. And once sold, it’s gone for good. And if we wanted dividends, The Block would have stayed with PowerStream rather than engage in its two-year witch hunt that killed the annual dividend from the utility.

(Just think of the public outcry that arose over privatizing Hydro One).

And yes, the town had “very limited options” because it’s a partnership. Clearly the author of that dreck doesn’t understand what a partnership means. You know: working together towards common goals, that sort of thing.

Fifty percent of the utility was sold to PowerStream. The goal of that sale was stated in public: to enhance customer service, create better efficiencies in billing and service but to maintain control over the service and rates. Selling more would meaning losing that control. No one who was interested in partnering submitted a bit for less than 50%. So of course you have “limited options.” That isn’t a bad thing: it’s GOOD because selling those controls is incredibly selfish, shortsighted and stupid.

But that’s The Block for you.
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Will the Block’s hypocrisy never cease?

HypocrisyLast term, when they were raising their pitchforks to storm the bureaucratic castle, the members of today’s Collingwood Council – those we disparagingly refer to as The Block – were loudly castigating the former council for having once done a sole-source deal with the company that was the only Canadian supplier of a product in the whole country. Some said we should have gone further afield, to American sources.

We were evil, they told their cadre of supporters, for not going to tender, or other process like an RFP. The Block’s leader and now Deputy Mayor, Brian Saunderson pledged his word in print to the public that, if he was elected, he would…

Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.

He promised everyone he would do it. NO EXCEPTIONS, he said. Just elect me and watch me fix things. Two years later… and we’re still waiting for him to keep his word.

Meanwhile, the very first contract The Block approved, February 2015, was a sole-source contract for taxi services to Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. And ever since then, it’s been one sole-sourced contract after another, handed out by this council like party favours.

Apparently the words “no exception” mean the rules can be changed when it suits The Block’s purposes. But they don’t call these “sole sourced” any more. To avoid the public shaming that might follow, they call them “non-standard” purchases. How devious.

Almost every consultant (there’s only one exception that I know of) the Town has hired these past two years to produce the Block’s self-serving (and frequently erroneous) reports has been sole-sourced. The $700-an-hour lawyer overseeing the sale of our utility (and the inevitable privatization of our water utility) was sole-sourced. The people doing the IT assessment for the town were sole-sourced.

On the agenda for Monday, January 30 are no less than THREE more sole-sourced items. One is a truck ( $172,175.00 plus HST). One is for a new membrane for the water treatment plant ($130,576.00 plus HST). The third is for two buses ($846,075.74 plus taxes). More than $1.14 million in sole-sourced purchases in a single evening.
Continue reading “Will the Block’s hypocrisy never cease?”

Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives

IneptitudeThe word initiative derives from the Latin word initiare “to begin.” Since 1600, it has meant “introduce to some practice or system,” “begin, set going.” While any sort of action or engagement, positive or negative, can be classified as an initiative, generally one refers only to positive enterprises when describing political or social initiatives.

I know, I know: you immediately want to interrupt and say, “but Ian, The Block don’t do anything positive, and you cannot talk about a council’s initiatives when none have occurred.” I agree, but bear with me.

It’s true that, when measuring the positive actions begun for the benefit of anyone but themselves, Collingwood council comes up woefully short: mene, mene, tekel upharsin so to speak. There simply have been none and likely won’t be any this term. This council is better described with one or more of the 44 antonyms for initiative: lethargy, indifference, indolence, apathy, diffidence, staleness, dreariness, lassitude, insipidness… they have no interest in your or my good, just their own.*

A short while ago, I wrote Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1, a post humorously (but truthfully) describing council’s sorry list of “accomplishments” for the first half of its term (forbidding you from throwing birdseed on your driveway is their main intellectual effort). Aside from my sarcastic poke at their rampant ineptitude, as you, dear reader know, there were no real accomplishments.

In that previous post I promised to present you with a list of “the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest.” And I started to. The list was long. So very long.

To be frank, after I began that post, I found myself unwilling continue. There were simply too many dreary, petty items, too many malicious actions, too much skullduggery and self-interest to expose again. I became depressed in the process of categorizing and explaining all the malevolence and evil. All that self-serving, nest-feathering, the witch hunts and vendettas … it could drive one to drink.
Dilbert, of course...
While I don’t mind writing another sententious “Malleus Politici” (and the Muse knows they deserve it) this became an extended, overly long and increasingly bitter rant even for someone given to near-hypergraphia. After some contemplation, I decided to take a different tack. I thought what I should do is to list some of the initiatives taken by other municipalities and compare those with what Collingwood has or has not done in that vein. See what positive approaches others have taken in dealing with the problems, issues and challenges in their municipality and measure ours against that.

Alas, we again fall woefully short. But if you have been reading this blog, you already know that. Still, the exercise is educational. The list as follows is neither complete nor in any order aside from what came to mind at the moment of writing.

Continue reading “Collingwood Council’s missed initiatives”

Council is privatizing our utilities

Water costs
Collingwood council and its administration are planning to privatize both our water and electricity utilities. All, of course, without consulting you, the public. Some members of council have even stated – with a straight face, mind you – they would ask for your input at a later date. A date long after it’s too late for public input to matter, of course.

They have already engaged in negotiations with outside companies to take over our utilities, all the while pretending they were just “kicking the tires.” They appointed their lawyer to oversee the sale. Consultants made reports painting the existing situation with faux negativity, from early 2015.

In 2012, the former council determined (after considerable public discussion and public consultation) to sell only 50% of its share in the electrical utility, not 100%, and not water, because that would mean a loss of control over services and rates, loss of accountability and openness, plus additional liabilities. This council is determined to give away those controls, reduce accountability and transparency. It will cost taxpayer millions. And they’re doing it all in secrecy.

“I will assure you, no decisions have been made, we are just exploring our options with any interested parties,” Councillor Madigan said last July – facetiously I assume, because by that time, more than 18 months of in camera discussions had been held. Surely he was awake through at least one of them.

Council has acted in bad faith and conned the public about this ever since it took office. No one expects them to be honest or open about it now. Their plan was made evident in 2015 when The Block fired the existing water utility board (a group of talented professionals with considerable experience in water) in violation of the town’s procedural bylaw, and replaced them with five members of their own group – none of whom have any experience in water or wastewater (and none of whom have any talent). That signalled their intentions.

A recent request for proposals (RFPs) for the sale of the town’s share of the electrical utility was sent to utility corps – including, people in the industry lead me to believe, EPCOR, in Alberta. These RFPs belie that pretense that this is just “kicking the tires.” It’s always been a full-blown conspiracy to privatize our utilities. You don’t send out RFPs to corporations just to see if they’re interested. You do it because you intend to sell. Once started, the process is irrevocable. And inevitably expensive.*

But electricity is only part of the plan. All along it’s been a bigger picture: to sell both electricity and water/wastewater services. And let the taxpayer pay for the fallout. As Food and Water Watch documented (in the USA):

Investor owned utilities typically charge 59 percent more for water service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled the water rates of the 500 largest community water systems in the country and found that private, for-profit companies charged households an average of $501 a year for 60,000 gallons of water — $185 more than what local governments charged for the same amount of water. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities. Food & Water Watch compiled sewer rates survey data from dozens of states and found that private ownership increased sewer bills by 7 percent in West Virginia to 154 percent in Texas.

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Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1

The Gong ShowHas there ever been a more inept, ineffective group at the council table in Collingwood? Certainly not in the 26 years I’ve been here. Not in the dozen years I covered it for the media, not in the 11 years I served on council have I seen anything so comical.

Rogers TV really should put a laugh track on their broadcasts of council meetings. They could call it the Gong Show – had that name not already been taken by a more serious TV show.

But until then, you should watch the December 12, 2016 meeting. You’ll roar, you’ll chuckle, you’ll guffaw over the zany antics of our madcap councillors as they flail about trying to understand what they’re doing. It’s funnier than a Marx brothers’ skit. And it will take more than just this one post for me to cover this slapstick madness. So here’s part one…

Start at 53:14 into the show (I’ll deal with the pointless waste of tax dollars on a peer report about the hospital that says nothing at another time). This is about a letter on the consent agenda (A8) from Collus PowerStream about the final closure of the IT services provided to the town. It says:

We are hoping that we can agree to a very early discontinuation date. We understand, the Town has created specific IT job descriptions with the intention of recruiting for those positions in the very near future. In addition with your recent acquisition of an outside IT consulting firm we believe it is time to operate independently.

At 53:28 Deputy Mayor Saunderson reads the motion, saying, “Moved by myself…” (here’s your first big chuckle of the night: none of the Blockheads know that it should be “moved by me…“! Yuck, yuck, yuck… I guess they don’t teach English in law school…) and then says the town will utilize (why use the solid one-syllable “use” when three bloated syllables will do?) the IT services provided by Collus PowerStream “up to June 30, 2017… or until mutually agreed upon earlier.”

Yep: lotsa laughs already. The Blockheads gutted the shared services agreement and their interfering this term will cost taxpayers at least $1 million more a year starting in 2017. But now they’re in panic mode because they didn’t plan for this.

The agreement actually ended some time ago (end of 2014, I believe), but on the promise of an updated agreement coming, it was extended to January, 2017. So Collus-PowerStream has no obligation to provide ANY services (including billing for water) in 2017. And last Friday PowerStream put in a bid for the town’s share of the utility with a deadline of January 6. After that, there will be no Collus-PowerStream left, just PowerStream. With no obligation to the town whatsoever.

Not to mention that this council and administration have connived behind closed doors to sell our share of our utility without any public input. The administration sent out RFPs trying to find a buyer (ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal in the contract…). Hardly conducive for continued relations.

The town already sole-sourced the IT services this fall to a Barrie company (and again without public input). So who do they think is going to going to do the work to complete the transition? And after two years of harassment, bullying and a $500,000 morale-destroying witch hunt cooked up by The Blockheads, everyone at Collus wants to get free of any relationship with the town as soon as possible. January is late enough to be in this viper’s nest.

But The Blockheads press on, oblivious.

Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1”

Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention

Hidden costsWho sends out your water bills? Collus-PowerStream. It’s all part of the shared services agreement. Yes, that simple little agreement that for 15 productive, cooperative years linked our water and electrical utilities with mutual resources. That same agreement The Block dismantled and handed over to the interim CAO two years ago to rewrite and update. A 30-minute job that still hasn’t been completed. And never will be.

Who takes the data from the meters, calculates the charges, prints and folds the bills, inserts them into envelopes and puts them through the postage meter? Collus-PowerStream.

Who handles the automatic payments, the credit card and debit card payments, cashes the cheques and takes payment in person? Collus-PowerStream.

Who applies the payment it to your account and calculates any credit or debit? Collus-PowerStream.

Who answers the customer calls, explains the bills, makes changes of address or ownership to bills, opens new accounts, closes inactive accounts? Collus-PowerStream.

Who chases delinquent accounts and who works with customers in difficult situations? Collus-PowerStream.

Who banks the money and pays the town their share? Collus-PowerStream.

Our share of the electrical utility is about to be sold – YOUR utility – even though you never got even one chance to voice any say in the matter. It was all done in secret, connived behind closed doors with lawyers and consultants without any public discussion. 

Who pays for the cost of billing and mailing once the deal is closed? YOU will. Oh dear, did the administration neglect to warn you about this?

Continue reading “Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention”

322 reasons why we’re better off with PowerStream

$322. More. Every year.

$322. That’s how much MORE the average consumer household using 750 kW/month pays a year when connected to Hydro One, compared to the same household connected to Collus PowerStream. That means YOU will pay that much more, thanks to Collingwood Council. The Block, in particular.

And it could be higher, if you have, say, electrical heat, air conditioning, electrical stove or dryer, or a family. A lot higher.*

This council has been in secret negotiations to sell our utility to Hydro One, knowing that your bills will skyrocket. Not only will it mean higher utility bills, but you have no input into the fate of the utility YOU own. Input is not being allowed by the Most Secretive Council Ever.

In fact, they have only ever discussed our utility and selling it behind closed doors this term. Dozens of times. Until last week, of course, when they publicly announced their plan to sell it. Anyone else see this as corruption and breach of public trust?

Last term, when half of our ownership in Collus was sold to PowerStream, it was all done in public, with public input. How quickly things changed under The Block.

If you’re a senior or otherwise living on a fixed income or with typically low wages, you’ll need to come up with at least $26.80 a month more, or you’ll have to cut it from somewhere else. Like your food. Medicine. Clothes. Or heating in winter.

Plus don’t forget to add in the entirely unnecessary but burdensome tax increases this council has already put through TWICE this term. All part of The Block’s war on seniors.

Continue reading “322 reasons why we’re better off with PowerStream”

The CAO’s expenses

Expense accountsEarlier this year, I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request to see the expense records of Collingwood’s Interim CAO for 2015 and 2016 to the end of March. You can read these records by clicking on the links above.

Let me start by saying a few things: first, the interim CAO is paid $225,000 a year – roughly $50,000-$75,000 more than his peers in similar and local municipalities – PLUS, as I understand it, he gets a car allowance paid by taxpayers. This council has twice extended his contract, after secretive backroom discussion among themselves.

Second, the town pays mileage of $0.55/km based on the cost of operating a vehicle: its wear and tear, not simply fuel costs. So when someone claims the full $0.55/km for travel using a vehicle already paid for by the taxpayers through a car allowance, is that double-dipping?

I question both the reason for some of these claims, and the ethics of others. I also question why our council refuses to assume its legislated responsibility to act in an oversight role.*

Unfortunately, most of the entries in these documents are only dry monetary facts, no explanations as to why the interim CAO – who rarely leaves his corner office when in town – has to drive to Hamilton, Toronto, Waterloo or Burlington for something that might have been more efficiently and economically handled by a phone call or email. They were not trips for conferences or workshops. So what were they for?

Who or what is in Burlington that needs the top town official to visit personally and spend a day away from the office? In Hamilton? Toronto? Waterloo? Did any of our councillors go with him (It has been suggested that at least on one occasion, one did… but if so, why? And why was it not made public?)

Effective delegation is a skill top leaders have and must have to be effective in their role. Top leaders don’t spend days driving themselves to meetings a long way out of town instead of dealing with the day-to-day activities they were hired to manage. Is this the best use of time for the top executive? What happens to the rest of staff or to town business on days when he is driving to Burlington or Waterloo?

Why are these meetings more important than attending to   the business of the municipality in. town hall?  Why can’t he delegate these tasks? What issue could not have been equally handled by a subordinate? Or is there no trust in the staff’s abilities or professional ethics?

Continue reading “The CAO’s expenses”

Fixing the shared services agreement

Way too long!First, some history: for 15 years, Collus – now Collus/Powerstream – had a beneficial, mutually-agreed-on and successful agreement with the town to provide services back to the town at reasonable rates. These were things the town did not or could not provide itself for reasons of cost, staffing, expertise, equipment or interest. It was mutually beneficial to have Collus provide them.

The list of potential services included:

Reconnect & Collection, Meter Reading, Billing & Collecting, Customer Service, Information Technology Management, Data Tracking, Accounting, Engineering, Planning & Necessary Maintenance, Contracting with Developers, Customers & Others, Subcontracting Services, After Hours Response, Normal Hours Response, Emergency Preparedness, Provision of Supervisory Services, HR, Policy Development, Regulatory Assistance, Reporting and Capital Construction Activities.

The town, of course, had to request most of the services, and if they weren’t asked for, they weren’t provided, so the town wasn’t billed for them. What was asked for and provided was billed quarterly. These figures appeared in publicly accessible financial updates and budgets presented to council. Nothing secret here.

True, not all services on that list were provided all the time. That’s because the town never asked for that service. And it wasn’t billed for what it didn’t receive. Got that? No provision = no billing.

The agreement was supposed to be restructured in 2012 when Powerstream took over the 50% share of Collus. But the person responsible for doing so didn’t accomplish it in time and left. But Collus/Powerstream continued in good faith to provide services, billing the town only for what it did.

In fact, Collus employees have always gone well above and beyond what the service agreement stipulated. After all, the employees of Collus are also residents who love and respect their home town and want it to be the best it can be – a level of dedication one doesn’t expect from interim employees.

In July, 2014, the former council called for a new agreement to bring the contract up to date and see if there were any services to add or delete. The interim CAO was tasked with the job of having the agreement examined and recommendations made for it to be updated. Should be a simple task, right?

Instead, it resulted in the now-infamous report by True North and Beacon 2020 that condemned the agreement and Collus, publicly presented to the new council in December, 2014.

Council rightfully rejected the report and asked the consultants to fix it and bring it back with the facts straight. But that’s not what happened. I wrote about this botched report back in February, 2015.

Continue reading “Fixing the shared services agreement”

The $1.2 Million Bird-Flip

Alfred E NeumanOnly 16 months into this term and I’m already worn out from saying “I told you so.” I warned you it would get worse just a few weeks ago. And look: IT DID.

But you’re not really surprised, are you? The whole thing was choreographed by the Bobblehead Block Five through months of secret meetings and emails without any public input. Secrecy, no openness, no accountability – the hallmarks of this term. And it will get worse. Much worse.

I’m going to be saying “I told you so” a lot more through the train wreck of this term. Get used to it.

$1.2 million is the approximate amount Collingwood will have paid its interim CAO by the end of this council term. That’s at $225,000 a year ($50-$100,000 more than what other local CAOs make) plus car, and expenses. And it doesn’t include the stratospheric costs for lawyers (at $900 an hour) and buddy-consultants that have been rung up in the past year. Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That’s your money. And it’s been used to promote the private agendas and personal vendettas of the Block Five. It could have been used to keep taxes low. It could have been used to pay down the debt. Remember the debt that this group screamed during the election was so out of control that it could only be solved by electing them? Guess what… their solution to fiscal management is spend, spend, spend.

The Block Five flipped the bird at Collingwood taxpayers.

Section 224 of the Municipal Act says council has an OBLIGATION to:

(a) to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality;
(b) to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality;
(c) to determine which services the municipality provides;
(d) to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures and controllership policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of council;
(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality;
(e) to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality

Council flipped the bird at the province, too. Openness and transparency only get in the way of doing whatever you want. Why obey the Municipal Act? Why practice financial integrity? Spend, spend, spend.

Continue reading “The $1.2 Million Bird-Flip”

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.

Continue reading “When is a tax increase not a tax increase?”

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.

Continue reading “Screw the Taxpayer”

Apps are making us criminals

Uber protestAlmost every week you read in the news about another taxi driver protest against Uber and its drivers. Taxi drivers go on strike, some rage against Uber and attack the drivers or damage their cars.

Similar protests – albeit not yet as violent or large – have been made against Airbnb for its effects on local property values and changing social conditions like the loss of rental properties.

These are just two of the apps whose effect on our society and culture are challenging laws and policies. There are others now that attempt to clone the success of their competitors with similar service (like Lyft and Homeaway – but I’ll concentrate on these two as examples of what can and does happen).

And in the process making criminals of its users.

That’s right: using these apps, both as a service provider for the companies and a user of those services often breaks existing laws, such as zoning or licensing. Renting your home for short-term rentals through Airbnb, for example, is illegal in many Ontario municipalities – including Collingwood – because zoning bylaws prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas.

Municipalities worldwide are increasingly challenged by these and similar programs that function counter to municipal bylaws, policies and operations. And they eventually cost taxpayers money.

It’s not a small deal. These can hurt our economy, kill jobs, and put people and property at risk. The corporations that operate them don’t give a shit. They’re too busy laughing all the way to the bank every time you use them.

Continue reading “Apps are making us criminals”

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.

Continue reading “Strat Plan Part 4: Economic Vitality”