Posted October 3, 2012
The city staff trots out a new proposal: Spend $4.4 million to upgrade the city’s ability to communicate better and faster. It comes on the heels of a staff recommendation that the 2013 property tax increase must be 8.5 per cent.
This proposal follows a textbook staff strategy of selling high and accepting low. This has been going on for a long time and has become tiresome and childish.
The senior staff who formulate this strategy on an annual basis, must believe that its political masters are gullible and the taxpayers incapable of understanding how city business is conducted.
The whole scheme usually works, as the majority of city council is dependent on the staff to make decisions. Unfortunately this has led to the corporation being run by a small group of ideologues led by Mayor Karen Farbridge. Not unlike U.S. President Harry Truman in the late forties, the buck stops with her. Perhaps given the Mayor’s political bent, it may be an odious comparison. Mayor Farbridge is no Harry Truman.
Recently, Ann Pappert, the Chief Administration Officer, informed council that its directive to have the staff come up with a three per cent increase in property taxes was a “regressive decision.” Her remarks also included that the order was not “palatable”.
Meanwhile Coun. Ian Findlay runs around like a rabbit complaining about a report carried in Coun. Cam Guthrie’s blog. Guthrie proposed at a public meeting that any surplus be distributed to taxpayers, but first used to top up the tax stabilization reserve that is currently underfunded. The majority of council defeated it.
That didn’t satisfy Findlay. He tabled a notice of motion that was predictably vague in requesting an investigation.
If the Mayor is as smart as she appears, she’ll sandbag that proposal. She can read the public’s distaste for calling in the Integrity Commissioner again.
The real problem is the distance that exists between what the staff proposes and what council can accept politically. The city’s ability to pay for the mega capital projects already approved has reached a limit. Adding to the capital projects list is a new downtown library ($63 Million); a new riverside park ($16 million); two sewage sludge storage tanks (estimated $20 million); a South end recreation centre ($37 million).
Then throw in the cost of the lawsuits and OMB hearings yet to be resolved: The $19 million suit against the city hall contractor; the Ministry of Labour suit regarding the collapse of a city owned washroom wall that killed a teenager; The OMB hearing regarding the private proposal to build two tower residences for student housing
Underlying all this is the lack of transparency practised by the city administration. They tell you want they want you to know, not what you need to know.
Latest in the city news follies is the report that the capital budget next year will be maxed out at 20 per cent of the total 2012 budget. The spending figure is $51.5 million. Doing some quick math, that means next year’s budget will be $257.5 million. City staff admits this will put upward pressure on property taxes and, more importantly, the 2013 budget, yet to be decided.
It is now growing clearer why the staff, led by CAO Ann Pappert, is pushing for an 8.5 per cent increase of property tax rates for 2013. What is unclear is how this 10-year “forecast” was decided and by whom?
Funding for the downtown library includes buying two more properties on Wyndham Street to accommodate the project, but not the project itself. Council has already spent more than $5 million of two Wyndham properties turning the vacant site into parking. You may recall the statement by the chief librarian that the new library would be open for business in 2017 … that’s not in the 10-year forecast.
The same forecast calls for funding of a “ feasibility study” for the South End recreation centre.
There they go again. Is it not clear that resident’s in the city’s growing South End want a rec centre? Are Ward Six councillors Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein not tuned into that situation? No? Okay we’ll bring in another consultant and do a “feasibility study”.
Let me tell you what most people in the city are ticked off about. The use of outside consultants when there is professional expertise within the ranks of staff; the endless planning that ties up staff in the name of strategy; the difficulty of doing business with the city, be it development, contracts or planning.
It all boils down to citizens wanting the truth, transparent communications, fewer council meetings held in private in and out of City Hall, and a regular, clearer picture of city finances.
If the 2012 operational budget of $174 million contains a surplus, and the staff costs represent $154 million where does the city figure next year it can spend $51.5 million on capital spending?
That friends, does not add up.