You’re not invited. Again.

Another closed door meetingYou, the public, get shut out again. Less openness, less accountability, more secrecy, more Block. The annual general meeting (AGM) of Collus-PowerStream on October 6 – the local electrical utility that you ostensibly own 50% of – is not open to the public. It’s another closed door, secret meeting.


Council will send its representative and its (illegally-appointed) pet staff (as board members, one of whom doesn’t even live in town, let alone within the Collus service area). But the public isn’t allowed to attend to hear what the utility plans, what is said by its representatives and what the future holds for our utility. The public won’t get to hear about the finances, the rates, the changes that affect us.

You’re the owners but you’re not invited. How’s that for openness and transparency? Shut out again.

Everything about the relationship between the utility and the town has been done in secret by this council and the administration. Their closed-door conniving and manipulation has already cost taxpayers more than $350,000, wasted in legal and consulting fees. But we can’t learn what our tax dollars have been spent on because we’re not allowed to attend.

We have already had far too many secret meetings already this term. Why another? Because that’s the way The Block operates.

Collingwood deserves better.

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Your $350,000 wasted

Your taxes at workA Freedom of Information (FOI) request I filed recently shows a disturbing abuse of your tax dollars. Money was wasted that could have been spent on doing something good, something positive, something useful for Collingwood. Download the report here.

In the two-year period between mid-2014 and mid-2016, the town’s administration spent $340,000 of your tax dollars on its efforts to destroy the relationship with our utility partner, Collus-PowerStream. And given the billing trends shown in the document, that amount now tops $350,000 and probably much higher.

What’s equally troubling is that this effort appears to have started under the radar in July, 2014. To the best of my knowledge, this was not an initiative of the last council, but appears to be the work of staff. Why? Who authorized it?

In 2014, $13,355.48 was spent, all of it on Aird & Berlis (then the town’s legal firm). In 2015, that total escalated wildly to $250,006.65 for a variety of lawyers and consultants (see below). In just five months of 2016 up to May 31, $75,929.13 had already been spent (or more: not all invoices may have been submitted by the time I filed my FOI). Expenses for June and later were not provided to me, but you can bet they will come in: the town has kept its lawyers busy pursuing its destructive goal (see below).

In totals, here’s who was paid in that period:

  • Aird & Berlis: $58,123.50 ($13,355.48 in 2014).
  • True North Consulting: $34,350.00 (all in 2015)
  • Miller Thomson LLP (the town’s current legal firm): $87,538.45 ($77,228.95 in 2015)
  • BMA Management Consultants: $24,521.00 (all in 2015)
  • Henley International: $33,730.50 ($26,781 in 2015)
  • Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan: $3,000.00 (in 2015)
  • And the biggie, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP: $98,027.81. As far as I know, this paid entirely for the services of one lawyer: Mark Rodger. That’s almost $100,000 for one man in less than 10 months.

Total: $339,291.26

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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.

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From 7 to 29. Should I be worried? Or just keep monitoring?

Peaksaver PlusSeven cents per hour. That’s what the energy monitor was showing me a moment before I plugged in the kettle. Then it jumped to 29 cents. Wow! And this is mid-peak time, too, my new energy monitor warns. Should I be worried?

Better cut back on the tea if I want to conserve energy.

It did the same last night when we turned on the microwave at dinner time, but that was off-peak. Still, that’s pretty high, compared to seven cents. Those two devices seem to be the biggest energy hogs we have.

I need to do some calculating, however, to figure out real costs. What does five minutes’ worth of microwave heating translate to in terms of KWH used, and costs? I need a new app…

Energy monitorI’m reading the real-time display on my new energy monitoring toy tool and it’s telling me a lot about how I use electricity. It gives me that geeky satisfaction of watching data flow, just having it in front of me.

I got it when I signed up for the Peaksaver Plus program through Collus/Powerstream. Collingwood residents would have received a notice about the program in their last utility bill. If not, you can read about it here.*

The program (for homes with central air only, it seems), offers a free digital, touch-screen thermostat (Peaksaver Plus) and the wireless In-Home Energy Display. Free. For both. As in no charge, no additional billing, no hidden costs.

The stick behind this magnanimous carrot is simple: to reduce energy usage. The thermostat is connected wirelessly to the utility’s computers. If the power demand on the grid looks like it’s going to exceed capacity and cause a brownout, the utility can raise the temperature of your air conditioning by two degrees for 15 minutes to lighten the load. Does it all by itself.

Seems like a pretty good idea to me. After all, we don’t use the A/C a lot, and even when we do, the effect is a small change for a short time.

It won’t affect the winter heat (which is gas), so why not? Everyone has to do their part for our environment.

We’ve been using programmable digital thermostats for a couple of decades now. They really make a difference to your gas bill. Not least of all because, since it’s programmed, you never forget to turn the thermostat down when you leave the house. Or when you go to bed at night. Plus they are more accurate than the old manual, analog system. You get 68 degrees when you ask for it, not 70 or 72.Besides, the digital thermosat is cool, very programmable, and touch-screen. Not quite an iPad, but nonetheless, it’s pretty neat. And it runs off power from the furnace – not on batteries like the previous one (which always seemed to go dead on the coldest nights of the year…).

Our gas bill dropped significantly when we installed one.

Continue reading “From 7 to 29. Should I be worried? Or just keep monitoring?”

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