10/11/14

Carrier’s Attack Ad


Former mayor Chris Carrier has a big, nasty attack ad in the Connection this weekend. He promises “facts” and attacks the current mayor’s “spin.” But any reader who has followed the debate over the real figures for the town debt knows it’s quite the opposite.

You weren’t fooled, were you, dear reader? I didn’t think so.

Why he would think a negative attack ad laden with insults and misinformation would win voters is unclear. Perhaps he thinks he can scare voters into picking him. I doubt it.

I think he really doesn’t understand municipal finance. Council received a very clear and indisputable amount for the town debt from our auditor. To say it’s wrong and to challenge her figures is to attack the credibility of our auditors. She wrote:

As per the 2010 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $45,507,356 and there was a bank demand loan in the amount of $664,013 for a total of $46,171,369. As per the 2013 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $36,860,776 and there was no bank demand loan debt.

Keep in mind who is the professional here. Who has the string of degrees and years of experience auditing municipal finances? Who has the credibility here? Not the former mayor!

Everywhere I went, knocking on doors, meeting and talking with residents, I was told people didn’t like the negativity this election. I don’t think they will like this ad, either. It’s misleading and angry. And it attacks staff, as well as the current mayor (and her council).

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10/11/14

Promising What Can’t be Done


There’s a wrap up in the Connection this weekend with candidates’ comments on “accountability” I want to address. One deputy-mayoral candidate, Brian Saunderson, wrote, he would,

“Strengthen the current council code of conduct to include dealing with siblings as a defined conflict and impose consequences for council members who breach the code.”

Council cannot make a law that supersedes provincial law, nor can council impose any penalty outside those specified in the Municipal Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. In fact, alleged breaches of those acts can only be dealt with through provincial authorities. The province does not give municipalities the authority to write their own laws that are above and beyond what the province decrees. And we can’t enforce penalties for arbitrary offences.

You’d think a lawyer would know this.

The candidate also called on council to

Create a lobbyist registry to ensure anyone lobbying council on behalf of any third party interest is registered and accountable for any and all lobbying activities.

I already dealt with this canard in my previous post on a lobbyist registry (already rejected by staff in 2008 as unnecessary and impractical). It’s simply a chest-beating exercise. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

He also promised to:

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

The procurement bylaw grants an exception only where staff determine the service or product is unique – i.e. there are no other suppliers of an equivalent product or service. Council doesn’t make this decision: staff do. This is an attack against the integrity of staff.

The candidate’s promise would force the town to waste time, money and effort trying to source something that staff had already identified as unique and therefore has no competition. Your tax dollars wasted – like a cat chasing its own tail, nothing will come out of enforcing  a search for non-existent suppliers.

This deputy-mayoral candidate 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.

Excuse my cynicism, but wasn’t council criticized by this candidate’s supporters for doing just that?

When this council sent out brochures about our accomplishments, plans and goals this term, this candidate’s supporters complained about it being “propaganda.” Trying to inform residents about our activities and progress was criticized. Yet all we were doing was following the recommendation in the Vision 2020 report.

Do I smell a little hypocrisy here? Council is being damned for doing what this candidate demands we do. This council has had a policy of open communication all term. In fact, we even hired a communications officer to ensure information goes out to media and on social media in a timely manner.

Some candidates didn’t like it. So they promise to create a policy to do what we already have done.

More promises:

Open public deputations to eliminate any prior approvals or vetting and allow people to address council on a first-come basis at the commencement of each council meeting

Perhaps had the candidate actually attended a public meeting (had he ever attended a council meeting, let alone made the journey to attend a county meeting!) he would have seen that public meetings are held and governed by both the Municipal Act and the Planning Act. This process is already done and has been done for years. To suggest otherwise is to criticize staff who maintain these laws and meetings.

And more:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

Already done, and been done for many years.

Again, actually attending council and paying attention to the process would help the candidate understand what the process is. All councils have many public meetings and engagements. An experienced candidate would know this.

And finally:

Ensure the division of labour between council members and staff is respected and eliminate micromanagement.

Been done for years. Council does not micromanage staff, except in the imagination of the candidate. Again, experience and attendance at town hall would have informed the candidate this was not an issue in real life.

It’s easy to criticize what you don’t understand. Maybe if Mr. Saunderson had attended any budget meetings, attended any council meetings or attended a single county council meeting, he would be more aware of the processes and procedures and not make empty promises.

10/10/14

A Swimmer Comments on the New Pool


Here are some comments from a pool user emailed to me this week, slightly edited. I asked for and received permission to post these.

Apparently some local people who don’t swim or use any of these pools – including our own – have been posting on social media that our facility can’t live up to the standards of other facilities. That bricks-and-mortar is superior.

Seems the swim community – the people who actually use our facility, the people who actually know the standards and features – disagrees.

I have not visited any of the places mentioned, so I cannot confirm the details. However, I can say everything I’ve heard from many users about Collingwood’s new Centennial Aquatic Centre has been positive. It’s nice to have it confirmed:

Did you know that there is not one YMCA competitive pool in Simcoe Muskoka? Competitive swimming is simply not within the Y’s mandate.

Even the new pool in Innisfil touted… as the “Dream” Rec Centre on Twitter is not competition ready. No viewing, not wide enough and no blocks.

The Owen Sound Pool is another … bricks/mortar project failure.

The pool is competition ready, but lacks deck space for teams. They failed to plan for viewing. The upper viewing consists of 16 permanent chairs adjacent to the running track. During meets, one must watch standing on the track in the exercise room above. There is no viewing on the lower level lobby area, because the viewing area overlooks the therapeutic pool. No permanent seating. They bring in chairs for meets and no one can see anything.

They built it once, but certainly not right.

The competitive swim community is thrilled with our new pool facility. Visiting teams have been very impressed as well.

Imagine building a hockey rink, soccer field, or ball diamond too short, without boards, or a net?

It took 28 years to realize the dream and finally have an amazing competitive pool.

Thanks to your Council for making that happen.

Seems only those who don’t use, and have likely never even been inside the facility, are negative and critical. And with approx. 1,000 people a week using it, I think the community response to our pool has been overwhelmingly positive.

Trust the people who know what they’re talking about, and use our pool, not those who judge everything from its outside appearance or by their own negative ideology.

10/9/14

The Real Facility Costs


Ribbon cuttingAnother misleading statement was made during one of the all-candidates’ meetings last week: that our new recreational facilities – the Central Park Arena and the Centennial Aquatic Centre – cost $20 million and that the pool was 30% over budget.

Neither is correct.

According to our treasurer, Marjory Leonard, who replied to my emails this week, here are the actual numbers:

The original quote for the building alone: $3,425,000.
Council later approved an increase of $1,300,441. This included the therapeutic pool approved October 15, 2012 in Staff Report PRC 2012-22 – $550,000. It included the pool tank enhancements approved February 11, 2013 – $583,000, and the unanticipated construction costs of $88,000 for asbestos, pipe rerouting and soil removal.
The total budgeted amount was thus $4,725,441.
As of Dec. 31, 2013, the total cost was $4,917,739. This was $192,298 over budget. However, subtracting the donation from the Clippers Swim Club of $158,000 for pool enhancements, the total amount over budget was $34,298, or approximately 0.7% over budget. Most of this was because of unexpected problems with the site.
Note that the building costs did not go over budget: increases in costs were due either to unanticipated site works costs or council’s addition of features (i.e. the therapeutic pool).

As for the Central Park arena and rink, the figures are similar:

The original quote was $8,292,000 – Staff Report EMC 2012-01 (August 27, 2012)
This budget was $7,476,000 for the building alone, $316,000 for accessories and $500,000 for site servicing.
The 2013 Budget increased this amount by $57,050 for a total of $8,349,050.
However, council later changed the Hamilton Street entrance, an unanticipated project in response to local residents’ concerns about traffic and at an extra cost.
The actual cost as of December 31, 2013 was $8,571,479.
Again, the overrun was due to unanticipated site works: $222,429, not the building costs. That represents about 2.7% of the amount as approved by council in 2013.
Not included in the figures is the value of the additional audience seating, increased from 250 to 390, donated by Sprung at no cost to the town.

The total budgeted for both facilities (and approved by council) was $13,074,491 (which was paid for from the proceeds of the sale of a portion of Collus to Powerstream, not paid for from going into debt or raising taxes). The total cost was $13,331,218.

Centennial Aquatic centreThe two projects, combined were $256,727 – or about 2%  – over budget.

That’s $7 million less than the amount claimed by the candidate and at 2% a helluva lot less than the 30% inaccurately reported by this candidate at the ACM.

Costs above and beyond the building costs were either due to unforeseen site conditions (which any construction would be subject to) or council-mandated upgrades such as the therapeutic pool (roughly 1,000 user are in the aquatic centre every week – vindication that the addition of the therapeutic pool was a good idea).

Compare the cost of our new facilities to the proposed $35 million multi-use facility: even with the upgrades to the Eddie Bush Memorial Arena added in, it is still less than half the proposed “Taj Mahal” facility. The same candidate said that the figure of $35 million was “spun” by others in the election, but again that’s not true: the figure comes straight from the report by the steering committee itself – the same committee the candidate himself sat on. See my earlier post on that proposal for the actual page.

Candidates have a responsibility to the public to present accurate and truthful information. If they cannot or will not, they should step out of the race.

I eagerly await the correction and apology from this candidate for presenting this misleading information to the public.

10/8/14

Your Election Choices


CartoonAs the ballots start to trickle in, the campaigns wind down. The Collingwood election is essentially over – we’re just waiting for the results now. But if you haven’t cast your ballot yet, here are some things to consider before you make your choices.

This municipal election has been polarized along several lines, but your basic choices are fairly simple: binary choices, if you will, about what sort of local government you want for next term. Choices between good and bad.

The primary axis has been:

Positive versus negative

Some candidates have had a positive attitude, refused to engage in personal attacks, and shown civility and respect to other candidates. Others have accused, made allegations, belittled, insulted and been generally disrespectful to their fellow candidates.

It’s up to you, the voters, to decide which attitude you would rather have prevail in your next council. Do you want four years of continual negativity? Or a positive, healthy, respectful one?

I hope you consider me among the positive candidates.

Informed versus misinformed

A lot of misinformation has been flying around about the debt, about taxes, about the new recreational facilities, staff and other issues, most of it coming from the negative candidates. Figures from our treasurer and our auditor have been questioned. Actual facility and building costs have been ignored and wildly inaccurate figures tossed about as a scare tactic.

Do you want to elect people who are either misinformed or have actually lied about factual information? Will you be able to trust what they say once elected? Or do you want a council you can trust?

I hope you consider me among the informed candidates.

Visionary versus critical

Some candidates have a vision. Positive candidates offer solutions, alternatives, directions, talk about projects and growth, plan for the future and identify opportunities. Some just criticize and complain; eagerly denigrate what others propose, downplay council’s achievements and demand things already accomplished – without offering any positive, beneficial solutions.

Which will best lead us forward next term: visionaries or their critics?

I hope you consider me among the visionary candidates.

You have some clear choices. You can elect a council that works well together, people who have shared vision, people who can work with and respect one another. You can elect a mayor and deputy mayor with experience, with passion for their role, and who believe in an inclusive council that engages all of its members to be their most effective.

Or you can elect a divisive, exclusionary, negative and critical group, fronted by angry leaders, hobbled by an inexperienced deputy mayor – knowing that the result of this choice will be turbulence and chaos through four years of ineffective governance and squabbling.

It’s up to you. it’s your future council.

PS. You don’t need to vote for ALL seven members of council. You can vote for fewer. Vote only for those who you think would be the best choices and if that is less than seven, don’t waste votes on anyone you’re not absolutely sure of. I hope I have your support and your vote.

10/8/14

Clarifying Municipal Taxes


CartoonSome candidates seem confused about municipal taxes this election. I thought I’d clear up a few facts about property taxes for your (and their) benefit.

Property taxes are made up of three components: the municipal portion (roughly 60%), the county portion (24%) and the education portion (16%). The rate (also called the mill rate) for each portion is set independently by its own body (the province sets the education levy).

The total rate is called the blended rate. The town’s portion is the town-own rate. Usually the blended rate is used because that reflects best what homeowners see. The rate depends on the type of property you own: residential, commercial, industrial all have different rates. Single-family and multi-residential are also different.

Let’s look at how taxes were calculated in 2014 for a single-family house valued at $200,000:

Total taxes payable will be $2,526.31, broken down as follows:

  • Education levy $406.00
  • County levy $608.00
  • Town levy $1,512.32

The value of your home – of every home in Ontario – is set by MPAC, the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. This is an independent provincial agency headquartered in Pickering. It sets the value of your home through a computer model that looks at the value of properties around you and at real estate sales in your neighbourhood.

This model means your home value can increase whether you do anything to it or not.

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10/7/14

The Myth of Block Voting


I was amused by a recent comment I had voted “95%” the same as others on council. This was followed by the inevitable accusation of “block voting.” The complainer apparently wants everyone to vote in some helter-skelter manner. God forbid we should all agree on anything.

It’s a tired old campaign tactic: to accuse your opponents of being a “voting bloc” simply because they can agree on things. Oooh, scary: people voting alike. Don’t vote for those people: they agree instead of fighting and arguing. Damning politicians for getting along.

The vast majority of things that arise for votes at a municipal council table are procedural, administrative or bureaucratic. We vote to approve staff recommendations and reports, to receive items for information, to accept tenders for previously-approved budget items, to accept committee minutes, to approve agendas and minutes. We even vote to adjourn. Scary!

There’s seldom more than a sliver of a reason to vote against these issues. When big or contentious issues arise – and they are seldom – at the table, we vote as our conscience dictates. Our municipal council is not a partisan body. Party politics do not play an overt role (despite the efforts of some former politicians to force them upon us).

Think about it: there are only TWO ways to vote: yes or no. For or against. Not nine: not a different way for every council member. Just two. There will ALWAYS be at least five people voting the same way on EVERY issue. Is that a block? If you think so, you really don’t have a clue about politics.

Many of us at the table campaigned on common issues: finance, budget, taxes, growth, the harbour, openness, and so on. Of course we will vote similarly when these issues arise because that’s what we stood for on the hustings. It would be hypocritical to vote against something you advocated for or campaigned in favour of.

Who wouldn’t vote yes to control municipal spending, reduce the debt, lower taxes, or improve our accountability? Does that make it a voting bloc? Of course not. It simply makes it common sense.

Maybe what the records show is that councillors often voted the same way because we generally agreed with one another. That we share a common vision for the greater good. That our strategic planning sessions helped outline our common priorities and we pursued them. That the votes reflect this council’s cooperation, effectiveness, and team spirit.

Now is that a bad thing? Of course not.

Voting blocs? Piffle. Just the opposition trying to deflect your attention from what matters this election.

So what kind of council do you want next term? A positive, cooperative and effective one – or an ineffective group, beset by the bitterness, bickering and divisions that fragmented the previous council? It’s easy to see which candidates to vote for if you choose the positive.