Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ironic, idiotic or both?

Recently transit proposed a employer subsidized transit pass and suggested the pilot program should be initiated with city hall employees. We, the taxpayers, would pay 40% of the annual pass and city hall employees would pay 60%.

Then I read the article in the SP (Apr.29/10) that reported that 350 free parking permits have been issued to city hall employees. This would be over and above the multitude that get underground or surface parking stalls allocated to them on site. Parking is the biggest expense incurred by downtown workers. The convenience factor is the main reason people drive to work.

Why would any of these employees buy a bus pass, queue up on the corner in the dead of winter to wait for a bus and give up the convenience of having their vehicles at work when the major cost of doing so is eliminated?

Why would transit want to pilot this program with city hall employees knowing so many of them have free parking, compliments of the taxpayer?

Is this a taxable benefit to civic employees?

The downtown BID gets a share of parking meter revenue to be used for downtown improvement. At $2.00 an hour, 8 hours a day, five day s a week, 11 months of the year, times 350 employees translates in excess of $300,000.00 a year. Is the BID compensated for their loss of this shared revenue?

And those of us who foot the bills will circle the downtown in search of a parking meter while scrounging for a toonie to pay the freight.

A day late. . .

and many dollars short. I returned to Saskatoon yesterday and started reading back issues of the SP and discovered my property taxes increased. The published article (SP Apr.27/10) did not indicate whether they vote was unanimous but clearly Councillor Wyant did not keep his election promise. I wasn't surprised as a result of earlier comments made by the infamous six. I would like to know how many of Wyant's constituents called him begging for a tax increase. Maybe we should create a registry and have residents indicate their willingness to support increases and where any increased taxation should be spent.

Did Councillor Hill support the increase? To date we have two councillors indicating a desire to leave the civic arena for greener pastures. As they progress in their campaigns we should be aware of how much weight to put on their elections promises. This reminds me of the cute quip: Are all fishermen liars, or do only liars fish?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ticket to ride

My travels have caused me to use public transportation, something I rarely do at home. I got thinking of the unsuccessful attempts to make Saskatoon Transit viable. We had the big study and public focus groups. All were convinced that bigger/better buses, Internet connections, dedicated lanes, expanded hours of service, bike racks, the U-Pass, would bring the riders in droves. The most recent idea, being employer subsidized passes, is the next proposed big fix. Interestingly enough the pilot program is proposed for city hall employees. Hmmm. That means as tax payers we subsidize transit with property tax and then we subsidize it again by paying a portion of city hall employee bus passes. Quite the fix. (I certainly hope this is considered a taxable benefit.)

In Guatemala and Belize, public transportation is the means of travel by the majority of residents. The various routes are run by private licensed contractors. On one leg of the journey the bus we took was the equivalent of a nine passenger van - and 21 people were squeezed into it. It was hot, humid and dusty but no one complained - with the possible exception of myself. The infrastructure is poor, the vehicles lack suspension and air conditioning and storage is restricted to the roof rack. The bus ran on time and was relatively cheap. And I discovered were all our old school buses go when nearing the time of expiration in North America. They are used here for the long haul trips. And people cheerfully get on and ride, visiting along the way with their fellow passengers and amusing themselves with the tourists. I thought poverty must be the reason people climbed aboard - but they all had cell phones and picked up snacks along the way no one seemed particularly hard done by - with the exception of myself.

I believe the difference is expectation. No one here expects luxury or comfort. There is no expectation of government subsidy. They just expect to get from A to B in reasonable time at a reasonable cost. Its an attitude thing and all the money invested in Saskatoon Transit is not going to change the attitude of our public. As long as they can afford to drive, Saskatoon residents will view "Ticket to Ride" as an old Beatles hit.

I'm back

I have power! We have arrived in Belize after a great tour in Guatemala. We stayed at a interesting place in a National Forest/Jungle Park, toured the jungle on horseback with a knowledgeable, 100% Mayan guide. They do practice conservation in the jungle area. You get 2 hours of power in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. And no Internet. These folks definitely know needs and wants. And they need little and want even less. Its time for a cool pina colada (sp) and to enjoy the surf. We'll chat later,.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hello all from Antigua, Guatemala.

Although late on my comments regarding the sale of Parcel Y, I do want to state that I concur with city manager Totland's earlier statement that the land is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. And I do question how the values were arrived at given the limitations put on the land as a result of the DCDs. Council has put out requests for proposals in past with very limited response. They obviously liked the Lake Placid proposal as they approved it. This may be one of those times that the adage a "bird in hand. . . " applies. For every year this land sits dormant it will cost us, the tax payers, about a million dollars a year in new taxes to maintain what currently exists at RL. The original intent of the mixed development (private and public) was to have taxes generated from the private developments pay for the public elements.

The concern I have is using this land value to establish new SAMA assessments for property downtown. Too many of the small business owners in the downtown core are taxed to the hilt and with the increase in parking fees for limited parking they may find themselves in distress. I think this situation is such an oddity that council should ensure that whatever the value placed on this land it should be exempted from the assessment formula. And no, I don't own property downtown.

We just finished our hike to the last active volcano in Antigua and will be taking a "chicken" bus west to the Mayan ruins in Tikal. This a good country. The people are friendly and the living is easy. I will report in tomorrow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The one trick pony

It would appear that council only knows one solution to budget problems - raise taxes. I guess the concept of reducing spending hasn't flitted across any brain being drained.

If given the choice of preserving our trees and mosquito control or putting off a capital project, I'll opt for the trees and mosquitos. And I do know the difference between capital and operating budgets. But if you reduce capital spending and increase operating, you can still come up with the same total amount of dollars being spent annually.

But the annual finger pointing ritual has begun, with the province bearing the brunt. Its not like council wasn't given warning that provincial funding was in jeopardy. And as council shamelessly hits at the province for off-loading they should remember they too have already off-loaded costs to tax payers with increased service and utility fees.

As for some homeowners that will receive the whopping extra cost on their tax bill for water line replacement, I am unclear as to whether that cost will be spread over several years, or whether the hit comes this year. If the full cost comes in one year, I expect some of these homeowners will find themselves unable to pay their taxes in full this year. Then they will get charged exorbitant interest for late payment of taxes or face losing their homes under tax enforcement. And why do we pay monthly infrastructure levies on our water bills? I would think every 50 to 100 years we should expect upgrades to old infrastructure and the levies should cover those upgrades.

Then again, these comments may all be for naught. We have six honourable councillors that committed to not raising taxes beyond the rate of inflation. Will they keep their promise? If not, will we remember the broken promises come the next civic election? Maybe we should be holding our elections in spring rather than in fall.

The one thing we can be certain of is that when the bills come in we will pony up the cash.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Break the mould

I am stymied by the public obsession with Tiger Woods, his family problems and the need for atonement. I don't think Woods set out to make himself a demi-god/role model, although he did capitalize on it after we, the public, through the press, made him one. I think he just wanted to be a great golfer and make a lot of money.

On the other hand Bill Clinton, who held the most powerful position in the world and when on the quest for the office knew it was a universal role model position, committed the same or greater indiscretions and sins, and the consensus in the end was that his matrimonial and personal issues should be a private matter between him and his family. JFK's philandering did not prevent him from becoming an icon. And the list of greats goes on.

Closer to home, we don't drag into the public forum the sometimes known, but unspoken, personal, financial or family and/or matrimonial problems of some of our public officials. If in fact we believe their conduct in their personal lives is indicative of their character and integrity then why not hang out their dirty laundry for all to see? Perhaps we think them not worthy of being worshipped.

The problem with moulding mortals into gods is that eventually they do something that we deem is ungodly and they must pay the price for our disappointment.

Tiger Woods is an athlete. He has no ability to impact my quality of life. I personally am more interested in whether those who do have the ability to affect my standard of living are playing up to par.

What's left to say? Fore!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


In the recent provincial budget, to save a comparatively minuscule sum of money, the government cut funding to the Dutch Elm Disease program (SP Apr. 8/10.) It was so small it didn't make the media radar screen at the time of budget analysis. Yet it is a decision that will impact greatly on the masses, unless of course, the city picks up the slack.

Our city has millions and millions of dollars invested in its urban forest. Should we lose 60,000 elm trees to Dutch Elm disease the cost of removing and disposing of these trees will be horrendous to the local tax payer. The emotional cost to Saskatoonians watching their city become a barren wasteland will be even greater. Our oldest parks will be denuded. Our historic areas will be blighted.

Although the city has only lost $22,500 in funding, it will cost more than that to maintain the program if areas surrounding the city are not participating in the program and the disease goes unchecked outside of the city boundaries.

I hope our city government will not suffer the myopia of our provincial leaders. Aside from being vigilant with the Dutch Elm program, I now think the city should be proactive and start replacing every second or third elm with a new planting so when the inevitable happens we will have, at the very least, a canopy of hope. Our trees can be treated and saved. Perhaps a shared cost program with homeowners can be viable option. If given the choice to spend money now to preserve our trees or spend money later to remove the dead debris, I'll spend now. Better yet, put a River Landing project on hold and make this a priority.

If you think this isn't important, next time you walk through a park or down a street, view it without trees.

I am reminded of the adage: In the land of the blind the man with one seeing eye is king.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No thank you and please don't call again

There is nothing that peeves me more than telephone solicitations. I used to try and politely decline whatever was being offered. Now I simply do not answer 800 or 888 incoming calls. If I do inadvertently answer, I simply, and rudely, hang up. In past I have asked to have my number removed from the list, to no avail. I go nuts when they fill up my voice mail with their canned messages. Not that long ago I was given a number to call to have my number removed from solicitation lists. Fortunately I misplaced the slip of paper with the contact information as I later heard that the "no contact" list was sold to a telephone solicitor.

Now the government is planning to release my personal contact information to health regions for the purpose of aiding foundations to solicit donations. News flash! I already get several requests a year from each of our hospital foundations. If roughly half of my taxes didn't already go to support medicare I might have a few dollars to throw at them.

I expect the last straw will be for Sask Tel to sell off cell phone number lists to telephone solicitors and then charge the customer for minutes used and voice mail retrieval.

In this age of communication, how do any of us communicate to the powers that be that we do not want to be plagued with unwanted, uninvited and annoying telephone solicitations?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Do as I say . . .

I don't know if its the water or some other negative environmental issue affecting Regina these days but it seems to be the home base for questionable behaviour.

There is chaos is the legislature. FNUC is spiralling into self-destruction. And now, according to a CBC report on today's Sheila Cole Show, a grad from the U of R is alleging plagiarism by a professor. According to the report the grad reported the incident to the university, they did an investigation but will not release the findings of the investigation or any action taken.

This is truly sad. Universities are the last bastion of truth, freedom and justice. They set standards and expectations for good conduct for all who attend and, hopefully, impress upon their students to honour those learnings during their careers. Students are amply warned of the repercussions of plagiarism. They can be expelled and/or have their degrees revoked. Careers have been ruined over this issue. Why the U of R would not publicly respond to the allegation is mind-numbing.

If this conduct is indicative the quality of the administration of the U of R we should question the wisdom of putting the fate of FNUC in these hands.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Believe it or not

Perhaps Brad Wall should considering proroguing the legislature since nothing constructive is being done by our elected members. When my kids misbehaved they got a time out to be served alone in their rooms and to think about their misconduct. It would appear that some of our MLAs could use a similar time out.

I was particularly appalled byLingenfelter's recent antic of "throw a lot of mud and hope some sticks" with his allegations against LeClerc (SP Apr.3/10). If LeClerc had made threatening remarks to Lingenfelter last November I can't believe that Link wouldn't have capitalized on it then. Link states "when he threatens me and says he knows where my family lives, I take issue with that." If I felt my family had been threatened I wouldn't have waited four or five months to deal with it. LeClerc is the perfect patsy as he has been open about his past and rehabilitation. He also has 25 years of good work to prove his rehab worked and to offset his misdeeds of past. There is no point to reform if we continually throw an individual's past at them whenever if behooves a cause.

The dangling questions is: Who is the thug?