Thursday, July 29, 2010

Corporations that care . . .

In today's SP (July 29/10) there is an article by Brian Weiner, head of interchange for Visa Canada. The gist of the article is basically that Visa, defender of students, will not let the university use Visa for payment of tuition fees because of the "administration" fee the university proposed to charge. Apparently Visa Canada will not allow merchants to "surcharge" a customer for using Visa. I say Visa Canada because I personally had the experience in other countries of being told that use of my Visa card would up the cost.

Mr. Weiner states Visa believes it is important that students, like all customers, have the choice to pay with their preferred method of payment without being penalized with additional fees. He knows Visa is already charging students an arm and leg for the privilege of using the card and doesn't want to share that turf with the U of S. If Visa cared about students it wouldn't charge the university a fee for collecting tuition on a Visa and wouldn't nail students with 18% interest on lingering tuition fee charges.

Perhaps the U of S should have given Visa a taste of its own medicine and charge them a bundle to establish their credit card sign-up stations on campus so they can lure every new student into debt.

I'm not anti credit card - I just get extremely annoyed with corporations like Visa who try and spin the "we care" about you theme when in fact the only thing Visa cares about in this instance is the loss business.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The sound of silence

There are certain sounds in the city that I relate to spring and summer. The sound of people, out and about, walking, biking, laughing and talking at festivals in raised voices, outdoor music concerts and city folk just exhibiting the joy of being. Add to the mix lawn mowers and kids noisily playing in parks. And dogs barking. And motorcycles.

I know the vroom vroom from a motorcycle late at night can be annoying and I wish bikers would not rev their machines - but its in their blood. It is music to their ears. Its part of the sounds of summer.

Within reason, I love the sounds of summer. The decibel level of silence should be reserved for the grave.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The rogues of industry

I am not sure why the cab companies are so opposed to a regulatory board (SP July 27/10.) Nor do I understand why the report recommends adding two more staff to City Hall on this issue. Existing staff already deal with the concerns on taxi services and rather than reporting to council the same staff would then report to the proposed board. Once the regulations are in place the board would then be responsible for monitoring the activity of the industry and enforcing the regulations. Break the regs, lose your ticket. This simple theory keeps everyone in line.

What the report recommends is what we would expect cab companies are already doing, or should be doing. The idea that a commission would ensure that cabs are regularly inspected for safety is a no brainer. Given the incidents of injury to drivers by unsavory users, the cameras seem like a good idea. Testing new drivers for language competency and knowledge of Saskatoon's street network appears to be a common sense recommendation. The city already controls the issuance of licenses and fares. And no one company should be allowed a monopoly anywhere. I'm not sure why a dress code or the age of a cab kept in good condition comes into play. And I take it for granted that gypsy cabs would be a no-no.

The position of the cab owners leave me smiling and thinking that the wide open wild west is still vibrant. Or maybe this is all to encourage transit's 'take a bus' program.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Show and tell

On first reading I was shocked and awed by the city auditor's report that we have the second lowest tax bill of the major prairie cities (SP July 22/10.) My next thought was if my husband and I only paid $650.00 each for property tax, I would be a happy camper. But I do understand per capita and its wide net. And I do understand politicial spin.

Before I sing kudos to the city, I would like to know whether all of these other cities add infrastructure charges on their utility bills. And whether or not they each have a separate tax line for library services as we do. I would also like to know what the accumulated and pending debt levels are to date. At some point the debt will have to be repaid and it is at that point we will face greater taxation or fewer services.

As for the spending on services, it came as no surprise that we spend less on road maintenance and snow removal. Of all the cities listed I would guess that Saskatoon wins on pot holes and crumbling sidewalks.

I suspect this report is simply setting the stage for the tax increases to come. Make your popcorn, put your feet up and wait for the show to begin.

Another EDO is coming my way. We'll chat Monday.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scary and wary

Its getting a little scary when I start agreeing with Councillor Lorje, but with respect to the cash incentives for vacant lot owners (SP July 21/10) I have to agree with her that we need a disincentive program to force absentee owners to do something with vacant lots. The city report said the use of fees or disincentives to spur development could unfairly penalize those who intend to develop the vacant sites. Are we, the taxpayers, being unfairly penalized having to pay increased taxes to support a cash grant to those property owners of derelict buildings and vacant land to encourage them to enhance their property? The people we are talking about, for the best part, are not little old grannies living off meagre pensions. Many are well-heeled business people and/or investors waiting to maximize on the investment.

Its starting to look like the average homeowners who maintain and/or improve their property get penalized in the form of improved assessment and higher taxes. I am very wary of the direction this is heading.

And at least one city councillor is going to have to declare a conflict of interest and refrain from debate and decision on this matter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hnat's gnats

I'm back from a trip to beautiful Northern Saskatchewan where I visited with the black flies, horse flies and 'squites and discovered with I am more annoyed with the gnats of the social and justice systems that anything Mother Nature has to offer.

In today;s SP (July 20/10) it was reported that the teen convicted of a murder in 2003 is back in court for the sale of marijuana and breach of probation conditions. His identity is still protected, although he is now 22 years old. Compliments of the taxpayer, through the Youth Criminal Justice Act, he has his rent and basic living expenses paid and receives $350.00 a month for income, so clearly he was not selling weed out of necessity. He is entitled to fully funded counselling and rehab programs as well as travel expenses for family visits. His lawyer stated that he intended to attend university this fall and in all likelihood those costs will be covered as well. What lesson is being taught and learned via this program?

At the same time we have single parents trying to raise families on minimal substance either through poorly paid jobs or social service assistance. So I can't help but wonder if we would be better off spending this money at the front end, during their growing up years, rather than teaching them how to play the system after they have committed violent crimes.

At least I can swat Mother Nature's irksome gifts.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Amused and amazed

As I traverse the city streets under construction in an attempt to navigate access to my home I try to keep in mind that the repair season is short and that this too shall pass. I'm pretty much locked in and everyday is a new travel challenge.

At the intersection of 8th Street East and Lorne Avenue the city has set up shop and has been on the job for several weeks, and by the looks of things will be there for the duration of the summer. At this intersection there is only one way to go - a left turn access for local residents. What I find amusing is that the city has not turned off the full traffic signals and temporarily converted the intersection to a flashing yellow caution signal. What I find amazing is that people sit through the full set of signals, including turning arrows to closed streets.

I am curious as to whether the city vehicles sit through this traffic light and how much time is wasted if they do.

And I can hardly wait until the exhibition starts. The ride to and from the grounds, over increasingly large potholes, will rival anything the carnival folks have to offer.

Ah, summer in the city!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dunkin' in downtown

Didn't anyone tell the Tim Horton's people that the city is building a new Saskatoon City Police Station, and if memory serves me correct, at a new location?

My first reaction to the article in today's SP (July 14/10) on the likely opening of a Tim Horton's shop in the Saskatoon Square was the lack of parking or the ability to establish a drive-thru. But if downtown Saskatoon is destined to become a pedestrian /biking zone it won't matter.

Perhaps its a short term lease and when the city puts the naming rights up for the new Police Station, Tim and the gang will share more than a symbiotic identity with police.

All kidding aside, its great to see a thriving business move into the downtown.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who's up to bat?

I can't guess the reason the provincial government refused to accept the all-party Board of Internal Economy's recommendation for a Chief Electoral Officer (SP July 13/10), but the stalemate in the decision does not bode well for the next election. However, while they duke out that decision can they not proceed with the 120 recommendations for changes to the legislation? I was taken aback by Minister Morgan's laissez faire response when asked about the possible repercussions resulting on the delay in hiring for the position which was, summed up, a simple I don't know, maybe or maybe not.

This follows on lack of response to the Privacy Commissioner's recommendations to improve decades old legislation as a result of breech of confidentiality by health region employees wrongly accessing patient records.

These matters need to be addressed.

I know Minister Morgan. He is by nature a consensus builder. But when consensus can't be established its time to step up to the plate and do what you were elected to do - make decisions in the best interest of citizens.

Don's up to bat and I hope, for all our sakes, that he hits a home run.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pedi-ville Junction

I assume from the play Saskatoon is getting on CBC this morning regarding the downtown parking issue that we have reached a juncture on the direction downtown will go. We have spent tens of millions of dollars to revitalize downtown and make it a people place. It is actually looking pretty good. The next decision will determine whether or not downtown will survive.

Although it is great to point at other metropolitan centres, we have to consider our weather and demographics. If downtown parking becomes more difficult to attain, shoppers will leave and businesses will eventually close. Many businesses rely on the Christmas season to survive - it is then that they make margins essential to survival. No one is going Christmas shopping downtown and struggling to carry parcels home on a bus. When it is 30 below and the wind is whistling, no one is standing outside to wait for a bus. Past experience with the downtown bus terminal has left the public with a poor image and concerns for safety at a terminal. The bus service is still poor.

When the city tried a free bus shuttle in the downtown core to aid downtown residents to access essential services and shoppers to park on the periphery and ride into the core, it was not used. Increasingparking restrictions downtown will encourage shoppers to migrate to the malls with acres of free parking.

Pedestrians and bike pedlers are not the only users of downtown.

Friday, July 9, 2010

New visions or myopia

I applaud city administration for examining alternate ways of doing business. I speak of the P3 potential for costly projects (SP July 9/10.) Given the limited information provided and the comments Professor Garcea and John Loxley, I hope if they pursue this that council will contract with a professional who well-experienced in this field to ensure they get it right.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Slip and slide under the radar

Buried in a side bar column in today's SP (July 8/10) is an article of the sale of River Landing property to a developer who is going to build the live/work project. The land was sold at less than half of the appraised value and no mention is made of the conditions attached to the sale other than the purchase price must be paid in full within a year. There is no mention of due diligence, financial stability or a time line for completion.

I find it rather interesting that neither the press or the groups opposed to any private development on RL raised any concerns on this sale of land or development itself. Was the property tendered? What happens if the developer can't complete the project? Does the land revert back to the city? So many questions, so few answers.

I never believed the appraisals that were put forth recently when council was dealing with Lake Placcid so I understand the sale price. What I don't understand is why one group is jumping through hoops and the another developer gets a green light.

Different strokes for different folks.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Liz et al

Today's Opinion column (SP July 7/10) raises the question of maintaining the monarchy. The polling suggests that 33% want to maintain the monarchy, 36% want an elected head of state and 32% don't give a damn. I personally fall into the 32% indifferent category. The Queen Bee neither offends or appeals to me. Her role for all intents is ceremonial and she adds a splash of color when she visits the colony. However my opinion may change with the coronation of her heir.

The interesting question raised is would our political system change if we didn't abide by the British Parliamentary system of government. I agree with the editorialists that this is a debate worth having in Canada. Interestingly the polling on the issue of the monarchy sounds much like the outcome of an election. I suspect Quebec would form the 36% against, Ontario would be the 33% in support and the rest of Canada would fill in the 32%. And every party would play to these numbers and the debate would be for not. No federal party is going to risk losing 33% of the vote on this issue.

Then again, the profile of Prince Chuck on our money vis-a-vis Sweet William may change the opinions of many.

I bow to your views on this matter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tapped out

I could tell you within the rage of $100.00 how much money I have in my bank account. However I still cruised the list printed in the SP in the article on dormant accounts hoping beyond hope that I would see my name, or that of a long lost relative, with gazillions of dollars beckoning to me.

I was taken aback by the number of dormant accounts, and size of deposits, reported. How could anyone forget they had substantial money on deposit in a bank. On death the lawyers for an estate send out a letter to the banks requesting a search of records for assets of the deceased. Apparently the response is not accurate. This will be a bit of a nightmare for estates that have long since closed and filed taxes based on information at the time.

The banks say they need printed proof of ownership. Yet they quit sending statements on many accounts since the advent of online banking. The banks of course have use of this money and pay very little, if any, interest on the deposits. What a great scam.

Its time to start hiding money in your mattress. Your heirs have a better chance of finding it there than in a bank.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whose got attitude?

Every now and then the stars align themselves and the world seems right. I actually had three sunny days at the lake, which may be summer this year, and rather than lament those summer days lost I will take a page from the woman who resides in the flood prone area of Westview. I was taken aback at her comments in the SP (July 3/10) when, rather than complaining about the trauma caused to her neighbourhood which was suffered basement flooding more than once, she stated "We lose our furniture, we lose our stuff, but we have a house and a place to stay. There is no better place to be. We'd rather have the houses, great houses with great landlords....(flooding) is a usual thing that's part of what makes life interesting." What a good attitude.

Given her good attitude, I kind of lean towards Councillor Heidt's idea of relocating this housing project. The flooding problem in this neighbourhood is not going away and these families have been hit hard before. Most probably can't get insurance and I doubt that the Saskatoon Housing Authority has the resources to pay the freight.

Who I hope Heidt will question are the city planners and engineers who designed this area. They are the ones who should be called on the carpet and held to account for what appears to be a flaw in planning and engineering.

Then again, the best laid plans . . .