Saunderson shirks his responsibility to taxpayers

Saunderson playing during budget meeting
The town’s budget is by far the single most important thing elected officials have to manage. It’s complicated, affects everyone in town, reaches into every department, ranges through services, user fees, and ultimately determines the quality of life for everyone here. It is the one thing that demands the full attention, the full concentration,  the fullest effort of our councillors.

It demands active participation and open dialogue, full discussion from all of our elected members.

So what does our deputy mayor do when others are struggling through the budget? Brian Saunderson leaves the room to go play on the ski hills with his buddies.*

Showing his disdain for the people who elected him, Saunderson left the February 8 budget meeting long before it was finished, and joined his friends from work to party on the ski hills. 

It left The Block without its leader, headless, and in his absence, they floundered like landed fish without the ocean of his benevolent control to tell them how to vote or what to think. Well, okay, they flap and flounder by themselves most of the time even when he’s there, but at least they stayed in their seats and worked through the whole meeting.

You can see him in the photo from the Empty-prize Bulletin. Beaming after he shirked his responsibility in order to play on the slopes. Smiling while his cohorts are sitting indoors, hunched over their desks trying to wrestle with the town business they are paid to manage.

It was a daytime meeting, a Wednesday. Many at the table took time off from work to fulfill their civic duty. Staff had to suspend the pressing demands of their jobs to be in the meeting so they could present their department’s budget and answer questions. Members of the media had to leave their newsrooms, stop working on other stories, cancel meetings and photo shoots to sit in the council chamber to hear those presentations. One councillor postponed a previously-planned holiday trip to be sure to be at the meeting.

Saunderson, however, went skiing at a private resort while all the rest were making the effort to fulfill their duties. He left early, while the rest stayed until 4 p.m. Why work yourself when you have your minions to do it for you?

Remember his statement before the election that, “Council is elected to serve the residents of Collingwood and is accountable to the residents throughout its mandate.” Where is that accountability now?

He also promised to “Improve communications to ensure the residents of Collingwood are informed of all council initiatives and engage the residents regularly to get community feedback.” How can you inform residents of anything when you don’t even attend the meetings? What’s he going to communicate to us – the snow conditions?

What arrogance. What utter disregard and disrespect for the public.

Collingwood deserves a deputy mayor who takes his responsibility seriously and doesn’t shirk his civic duty for personal pleasure. He should resign – after he apologies to the community.

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Budget Bullshit

Greedy pigThe first question you have to ask after following Collingwood Council’s sloppy and inept budget process is “Where did the money go?”

Then the second question you have to ask, “Are they really that dense?” Yes, but let’s start with the first question.

Back when he promoted dismantling the water utility from its partnership with Collus-PowerStream (CPS) and taking the utility under town control – a process that has proven a disaster for the town – the interim CAO promised we’d see a savings of $750,000 a year. But now the town is trying to privatize those water services by selling them to a for-profit corporation from Alberta, that “savings” vanished from the recent budget. Where did it go?

In the 2017 budget, that promised “savings” wasn’t even raised by The Block, in part because they were all so bemused and befuddled by the parade of numbers they couldn’t keep up with any of the current stuff, let alone savings promised more than a year ago – promises they swallowed hook, line, and sinker.*

Where did it go? But that’s not all you should worry about in the budget.

There is a $280,000 “contingency” for running the IT services that used to be provided by CPS via the shared services agreement. That’s just the start of the IT expenses, by the way; it’s only the amount required to cover the remaining six months of 2017 after CPS stops providing the services (end of June). And it doesn’t count the costs of the administration hiring its sole-sourced consultant out of Barrie to manage the transition (and who may be given the management contract without an RFP). Nor does it include the cost of hiring the third person that will be required for the full transition, or the cost of all the necessary hardware and software.

Here’s what CPS charged the town for those IT services the past five years:
Year Supervision Technical    Annual Total
     /Oversight  Support
2016 $34,718.52  $114,090.02  $148,808.54
2015 $27,774.84  $101,435.87  $129,210.71
2014 $27,097.44  $108,129.66  $135,227.10
2013 $26,436.43  $110,554.53  $136,990.96
2012 $25,666.44  $119,700.42  $145,366.86

So a little basic math tells me that the town plans to spend almost double for half a year what CPS charged for a FULL year. And a full year of great service that went above and beyond any contractual agreement. How is that good fiscal management?

This is but a snapshot of how inefficient and expensive this mess has been so far. It’s going to get a lot messier and more expensive next year. But these extra costs weren’t raised during the discussions because of The Block’s slavish kowtowing to the administration.

Add that $280K to the mysteriously missing $750K and you have MORE THAN $1 MILLION of your taxes wasted or missing in this year alone. Imagine how much MORE it will cost us when the town takes over the billing and the mailing services at the end of 2017 (currently provided by CPS). We’ll need MORE staff, more hardware, more software… more unnecessary expenses sloughed onto the taxpayers.

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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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Explaining Council Expenses

Australian council expensesTip of the hat to Ian Adams for clearing up any misrepresentation of council’s expenses and clarifying some information, in his most recent blog post.

The total council expense allotment is well under budget this year. It usually is; we are very cautious in how we use our rather limited allotment. However, Scoop doesn’t explain a couple of things about how the allotment affects us individually.

We don’t generally have enough in our council expense accounts to attend more than one event a year – the amount ($4,000 each) alloted has remained the same since at least 2003, although hotel, transportation, booking, events, food, and other costs have all gone up since then.

The conferences we attend are very valuable – there are many workshops, seminars, discussion groups, plus vendor areas where we get to see other types of product and services. It was at Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference that many of us first encountered fabric buildings as alternate structures for recreation and other uses. In fact, we provided sales material about them to staff at least as far back as 2010.

I’ve attended workshops at these conventions on communications, social media, asset management, the Municipal Act, QR codes, online security, budgeting, sustainability, waste management, library collection management, staffing, libel and slander, infrastructure life cycles, planning issues, building codes… and many other topics.

At some of these conferences, there are so many interesting or useful seminars that it’s difficult to select the few we can schedule. AMO is usually a very busy three days.

Plus there is a lot of networking at these events – talking with other councillors, staff or board members from other municipalities, discussing contemporary issues, hearing how they resolved problems, what they’re dealing with, and so on. 

At AMO, we can also meet with provincial ministers and their representatives, to discuss specific topics of local interest such as funding opportunities. Because we’re in Ottawa for AMO, we also have the opportunity to meet with federal politicians and departments.

Adams notes:

Ian Chadwick’s expenses in 2012 are $5,100 (he’s gone a little overbudget this year). I can only assume he was using the money to feed his ukelele addiction, as there can be no other explanation for it.

Sorry, Ian (and conspiracy theorists). I have a less nefarious explanation.

This year I attended two conferences, AMO (which I usually attend rather than FCM which is most often out of province – I’ve only ever been to FCM when it was held in Toronto at which time I didn’t get to AMO), and the Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto. First time in my 20 years on the board I’ve attended the OLA conference, and first time I’ve attended two conferences in a year.

The OLA event used to be paid for from the library budget, but because council reduced the library’s budget after the event was booked and paid for, the money had to be added to my council expenses, not the library’s. So my expenses ran over – it’s the first time in the last decade that it has done so. Mea culpa, but not going would have cost the registration fee anyway.

Not a single ukulele was added to my collection as a result of my attendance (not even at my own expense…). However, some books from the vendor area at OLA were added to the library’s collection, and the library has purchased a new digital newsreader for its customers. That comes from spending a couple of hours in the vendor area talking to publishers, service providers and manufacturers about what they had on display.

Council cell phone/data charges are billed to our expenses, too, as are per-diem payments for day-long events. These total roughly $1,000 a year per councillor, or about a quarter of our allotment. That doesn’t leave a lot for professional development. AMO alone costs each of us between $2,000 and-$2,500 – registration, hotel, transportation to and from Ottawa, meals, etc.

This is a challenge because there are several other events – regional AMO workshops, governance seminars or board-related conventions – many of us would also like to attend to help build our knowledge and understanding. Our budgets generally don’t allow us to do that much more professional development without doing over the established limit. Certainly we don’t have enough for two major conferences in a year.

I’ve asked staff to look at our expenses at budget time to see what options we have for improved professional development.

Anyway, the point of all this is that council is very parsimonious with its expenses (not like those characters shown in the photos, above). We face challenges in trying to achieve a reasonable level of professional development within that budget, and to effectively make ourselves, better, more knowledgeable and better-connected council members. Thanks to Adams for raising this, so I could explain. Merry Christmas.