The Not-My-Fault Dance


There’s a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection about the PUC board meeting this week. The board confirmed that council’s dumping unexpected costs on the utility will mean an unplanned increase in the cost of your water this year. One of our council representatives tried to dance around it as if he wasn’t among the causes of that increase.

This hurtful rate increase happened because council unwisely moved the budgeted cost of hydrant maintenance from the town’s fire service budget – where it had had been for years with no additional impact on taxes – and stuck it on the PUC (without consulting the PUC board), where it will cause rates to rise. That’s in part due to the unplanned $400,000 cost of repairing frozen pipes this past winter, which ate up any of the utility’s spare funds.

I wrote about that budget debacle in early April. This particular move was done to satisfy some hidden political agenda promoted by town hall, not for any real budgeting reason or at the request of the PUC. Some of those at the table did a 180-degree shift when it came back, approving what they initially opposed.

Obviously some more backroom lobbying went on to get that change.

Council still put your taxes up, so nothing was saved. But to make sure those at the table weren’t affected by the rising water costs or taxes, council voted themselves a raise. Plus they threw $40,000 of your taxes at Coun. Jeffrey’s expense account so she could wine and dine herself around the country in pursuit of her own glorious political career.

This rate increase will hurt local businesses, seniors, renters, low-income earners, industry… but not councillors. So much for accountability. L’etat c’est moi.

But then, as the story continues, came a flight-of-fancy comment that must have hung over the PUC meeting like a fart in a crowded elevator:

Board member Tim Fryer, one of two council representatives on the board, suggested that it be a one-time increase, and the municipality could consider taking the cost back next year.

Uh… Earth to Councillor Fryer…. weren’t you an accountant? For Collus? And didn’t you you deal with the PUC and its finances – including water rates – when you were there? Shouldn’t you know better? And the consequences of your vote?

Surely accountants know that no one – and certainly not a government agency or department – can do effective budgeting based on the transient whims of a council. The PUC isn’t some contestant on the town’s Let’s-Make-A-Deal game show trying to guess which user-fee-du-jour is hiding behind door number one… or two… or three….

Which is just what the board was told, albeit in a more politic manner:

Collus Powerstream CFO Cindy Shuttleworth recommended that it be a permanent adjustment.
“It’s difficult to plan based on a town decision that we have no input into,” she said.

Councillor, why would you even suggest such a whimsical – and unsustainable – approach to finances? Is this indicative of budgets to come? What wacky, resident-hostile notion will council spring upon us in future? Will council decide our taxes based on the phase of the moon? On the daily horoscope? Or the entrails of pigeons?

What department could ever plan for such random acts of taxation?

It’s pretty telling that this council ignored the warning that its decision would cause rates to rise and now some seem surprised by the result. Coun. Fryer is doing the political two-step trying to mitigate the disaster he voted for. Oh, sure, maybe council will fix the problem it created next year. Just bear the pain until we get to it. And maybe pigs will fly then, too.

Won’t work, Tim, no matter how much you try to shimmy around the mess you helped make. No one is fooled by false contrition. Council screwed this up: council has to wear it.

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Ian Chadwick
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