The report The Block don’t want you to see

Huge reportLate last year, BMA Management Consulting produced a hefty 517-page report called Municipal Study 2017* that examines a wide variety of socio-economic indicators in more than 100 Ontario municipalities: taxes, user fees, population, average home value, water/sewer, economic development programs and more. As Owen Sound notes on its website:

The study identifies both key quantifiable indicators and selective environmental factors that should be considered part of a comprehensive evaluation of a local municipality’s financial condition. Use of the study over a number of years provides trends to allow decision-makers to monitor selected indicators over time. Trend analysis helps to provide interpretive context. In addition, context can be provided by comparing a municipality’s own experience with the experience of other municipalities. In 2016, 105 Ontario municipalities participated in the Study.

Sudbury also notes on its website (with links to studies from 2011-17):

In 2017, 102 municipalities participated in the study which provides comparisons of financial information, select user fees, tax policies and rates, sewer and water services, and taxes as a percentage of income.

Collingwood data is listed among those 100+ participating municipalities (see pages 10 and 25 of the full report). But as far as I can tell, we were not presented with a copy – at least not for public consumption.
Did we even participate? If so, why hasn’t the report been released to the public? Are The Block hiding it from us? (I know what you’re going to say: because The Block encourages the culture of secrecy in town hall, they don’t ever like to release ANYTHING). A search for it on the town’s website turns up as much as you’d find in our Blockheads’ grey matter: no results.

Or was the data merely lifted from an earlier study BMA did of the town? By my count, we have used BMA for at least four such reports (Jan. and Dec. 2014, Nov. 2015, and Nov. 2016). I cannot find any record that these were actually put out to tender, but given The Block’s and the administration’s eagerness to sole-source everything and hand out contracts like party favours, I doubt it.

Maybe the town declined to buy it because some folks in town hall didn’t want it to be made public because it might reflect badly on their policies and practices.

Continue reading “The report The Block don’t want you to see”

Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.

PerplexedOver on BBFFWS (Brian’s BFF’s Web Site) is a sort-of-a story about Collingwood’s 2018 budget. It’s really just some comments about a document this council won’t even get a peek at until sometime in late January, and won’t get through the approval stage until late spring or even early summer. Even though all of our municipal neighbours, the county and indeed most of Ontario, have already approved their 2018 budgets, Collingwood continues to slog along, months behind the process curve. And nary a word of complaint from The Block. Well, to be fair, nary a word they even noticed was uttered.

But apparently the news that there is actually a process involved in budget approval surprised The Block, who had in the past three years merely raised their hands to hike taxes at staff’s request (while, of course, granting themselves a pay hike at the same time). I suspect the idea that there may be something deeper, something more complex, something that involved reading, bemused them. Maybe even shocked them.

Who knew budgets could be so difficult? Well, everyone except our Blockheads.

This week the treasurer told council that there is already a surplus of $1.75 million. That over-taxation represents about a 6% tax increase. In other words, had anyone on The Block been paying attention, they could have held taxes at zero percent these past three years, or even (gasp) lowered them. But paying attention isn’t their forte. Like actually reading the full budget isn’t a practice they have adopted. Or ever will.

Of course, a lot of that surplus will be used in paying off the excessive costs the town shouldered when it broke the shared services agreement, created a new IT department, bought tons of new hardware, hired three new staff persons and then still had to contract out some of the services we got from Collus IT staff for a third the cost. Oh and then there’s the pesky costs of the sole-sourced layers and consultants the administration hired to justify selling our publicly-owned electrical utility to a private for-profit corporation (without any public discussion, or course). Plus the costs of paying the former interim CAO a consultant’s fee after he “retired.” And hiring new staff in the treasury department (yet which department still can’t produce the budget on time). Plus there are hundreds of thousands more in legal bills to come to go through the legal application process to sell our utility. And then there’s the promised $700,000-plus savings from taking the water utility away from its partnership with the electrical utility – which instead seems to have become an expense to taxpayers, not a savings.

So will we really have a surplus for 2018? Not likely. If that were true why would the treasurer have asked council to approve an automatic 1.7% cost-of-living increase on our taxes this fall, months before the budget was even discussed? And that, by the way, was ON TOP of the automatic annual 0.75% levy The Block approved previously.

Continue reading “Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.”

Taking credit for the work of others

PlanningA short while ago, I received an unsolicited email from the interim (and soon to be departing) CAO, John Brown, with the subject, “Ideas. Observations. Musings  . Opinions  . Facts ?” (yes, written just like that…). Although he says he never reads my blog, it inspired me to write this post.

He wrote (copied in its original form and punctuation):

I  was wondering if you might  be interested in the towns (sic) recent building permits statistics  reflective of  highly positive growth  in the tax base during the recent past ?  As you are aware from your time on council our financial position has not been  robust in the past  however you will be glad to hear that  it is now showing clear signs of significant  improvement  .

Last  year the total construction value was   115,560 999 dollars – the highest ever I believe  .  I am advised that this year is tracking  , potentially  , higher  . A good  news ‘ economic development ‘  story about the high level of investment in the town based on confidence in the local economy  , based on facts  ,  might be of interest  ?  You can let me know  and I will have them forwarded to you.

(Yes, I too wince at his inability to communicate effectively in writing, but at least he seems to have learned how to use the shift key since his last emails to me, even if the apostrophe still eludes him. But proofreading and clarity are likely overrated… just assume it’s all labelled ‘sic’…)

Now, anyone who follows municipal politics at all knows that council has little if anything to do with private building or construction (unless you’re voting for your brother-in-law’s projects). It is the work of developers, it is not done overnight, but generally part of long-term planning and investment over several years, especially where subdivisions and large scale projects are concerned. So this council cannot take any credit for recent construction. Balmoral Village, just as a single example, was approved last term, although the fees are collected this term.

Plus the fact that none of The Block have ever advocated, championed or even suggested anything resembling the whisper of a ghost of a hint of an economic policy should be considered at any time this term. Not just growth-related: crafting ANY economic policy has so far escaped their attention and grasp. Not surprising, since the collective business and economic acumen of The Block is somewhat less than that of the average anteater.

So why try to pretend this growth is the result of anything The Block has accomplished? To date their greatest intellectual achievement is a bylaw that prohibits throwing birdseed on your driveway. Everything else they have done has been utterly negative, selfish and destructive.

What, then, was the interim CAO’s motive to inspire me to write about this? Surely he knew I’d present a factual counterpoint to his spin.

Continue reading “Taking credit for the work of others”

Saunderson announces another tax hike

Sneaky BrianAt Collingwood Council, Monday night, Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson revealed The Block’s plan to foist its third tax hike this term on residents. Despite the report on the town’s financial situation by the interim CAO’s pet consultant that warned Collingwood is already overtaxed, Saunderson and his Block plan to raise your taxes AGAIN this term.

At the end of the meeting, he made a notice of motion to “keep” the next tax hike at 2%. Well that simply means he’s giving staff the permission to raise it 2%*. Had he been serious about low taxes, about sustainable budgets and wise financial management, he could have simply said no increase. Zero per cent would have been the right answer. But he made it clear he supports another tax hike – the third this term. And wither Brian goes so follows his six minions.

Now lest you think this is just more of Saunderson’s lawerly, grandstanding moments – him pretending to be concerned about residents – it’s really the sort of political flimflammery we’ve become accustomed to from The Block. Consider that he made this notice before seeing the final budget documents, but long after council was presented its initial look at the upcoming budget. That was when staff proposed a hike of almost 5%.

Saunderson had weeks and weeks in which to comment and make his motion, but only made his preference known the week before the final budget is to be presented, Jan. 30. But the public didn’t know what he was planning because he announced his notice after the in camera meeting, when all the cameras were turned off and everyone in the audience had gone home. Even the media ignored him. What did it accomplish aside from forcing staff to rework everything they have prepared for presentation next week? Just a little slap in the face to staff, don’t you think?

It’s only two percent, some might say. Anyone can afford that. Not so: it will hurt our many residents working for minimum wages, and every senior struggling on a fixed income. These folk will have to figure out what to cut from their limited income – like food or hydro – to pay for the town’s latest increase. And also pay for the impending increases in user fees, and skyrocketing water and electricity rates – about to explode thanks to The Block selling our utilities to an Alberta corporation. Without public input, of course.

Two percent means more than $1 million in the town’s coffers – which will be entirely used up paying for the extra expenses incurred by breaking the shared services agreement with Collus PowerStream, and for the huge bill for creating our own IT department. Plus we’ll still have to pay for hiring all those extra staff – and of course pay for the costs of The Block’s vendettas and witch hunts – already well over $500,000 in lawyers and consultants so far. And the $100,000-$150,000 extra it has cost us by The Block renewing the interim CAO’s contract.

For astute financial management, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for inept bumbling, you’ve come to the right council. The Block are spending your money like drunken sailors who won a lottery while on leave; they’re ratcheting up your taxes to pay for their excesses. All part of The Block’s ongoing war against low-income earners and seniors.

Collingwood deserves better.
~~~~~
* Sure, he said “up to 2%” but that’s like telling a child it can only have “up to a quart” of ice cream… and then leaving them in the kitchen with the opened gallon container… plus the additional levy approved this term will make it closer to 3%… and yes, a levy IS a tax no matter how the Blockheads try to spin it.

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?”