Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy Canada Day

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Canada Day weekend. With everything going on in the world let's hope we can sit back and enjoy a celebratory day for one of the greatest countries around and appreciate all that Canada offers.

Happy Canada Day!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The famous and the infamous

I expect my comments today will serve to bring out the division between gender and generations.

There was a time in this city when streets and civic amenities were named to recognize the contributions of citizens who contributed to growth and development of Saskatoon and they came from all walks of life and contributed in numerous ways.

Now we sell the names to our civic buildings and recognize celebrity.

Today's SP (June 29/11) reports that Shannon Tweed is having a street name in her honour. Becoming a Playboy Bunny and teaming up with old reprobates to further your career doesn't cut it with me.

I admit I'm not a fan of reality TV. I tried watching the Gene Simmons Family Jewels program once and couldn't make it through the end.

I don't see Hugh Heffner or Gene Simmons as being role models that I would want young men to emulate. I do not see Tweed as a role model for young women. Each have achieved fame and fortune but that does not necessarily equate to honourable actions or contributions.

I don't think it will promote tourism in Saskatoon.

However, Dallas, Texas, named a street for Simmons and gave him a key to the city. Is the next step presenting Tweed with a key to our city? Is she of a Terry Fox or Katrina LeMay calibre?

This is an insult to the long list of people on the naming roster who deserve recognition for acts of selfless dedication to Saskatoon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Win and lose

So I can get a $300.00 fine for watering my garden, planters or lawn. Hmm. Having spent a small fortune buying bedding plants and shrubs this year I am weighing the risks for getting caught. Then again, I can be thankful that I put seed out a couple of weeks ago thanks to the dead spots courtesy of the dog. Move the pots over by the lawn and wait until the neighbors go nighty-night. . .

The big PO will come when my water rates go up because usage is down.

As an aside, I suspect the problems at the water treatment plant relate more to the previous weeks mechanical breakdown than to river levels. What's a new water treatment plant cost? $200 million or more?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pocket change?

The Public School Board passed its $207.2 million dollar budget last week with absolutely no fanfare or apparently public interest. Simply a press release from the Board Chair. The tiny item in the SP (June 25/11) buried on a side bar in the paper disclosed little other than more full time kindergarten, which satisfies the need for day care. There will be more invested in English as a Second Language programs and a newcomer student centre downtown. Elementary student fees are eliminated, those being the fees that covered out-of-school excursions.

There is nothing reported with respect to classroom ratios, new or lapsed programs or teacher salaries.

I can only speculate that since the school boards lost access to the mill rate, no one really cares how they spend over $200 million.

So sad.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The people have spoken

The $700,000.00 Saskatoon Speaks report is in. It was interesting to read the comments of some Councillors in today's SP (June 23/11) as to the value of the report. In response to the sample size Councillor Neault said "four percent of the population doesn't really cut it for me." Councillor Hill said it was "a glass half-empty" take. Councillor Penner stated: "For us to just put this on the shelf somewhere doesn't do it justice."

So the Saskatoon Speaks report was put online where dust motes don't exist.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tommorow is another day

Apparently the "gut-wrenching" budget decisions have not yet started at City Hall.

In today's SP it is reported that a committee of Council approved a $6.7 million plan for a bike path link (SP June 22/11.) Administration has identified $1.650 in funding for phase one of the project, but the balance of $5 million has not yet been sourced. I expect that expenditure will not make it to the budget until after the 2012 civic election.

As this is a committee of Council making a recommendation to Council as a whole, it will be interesting to see what the commentary and vote will be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ya think?

What I liked best about the three-year term for civic government was that at least every third year we would enjoy a small tax increase. When Council, without "consultation" with the public joined in the request to change the legislation to a four-year term I lamented the fact that property taxation would only be a serious consideration every four years.

In today's SP (June 21/11) it is reported that council will take a 'gut-wrenching' review of services. Back to basics seems to be the coming theme for budget preparation for 2012, a civic election year. Would I rather have services necessary to my daily living over debt and debt repayment? Do I want my roads repaired? Street cleaning? Snow Removal? Or do I want pay to maintain River Landing, the Shaw Olympic Pool, Art Gallery of Saskatchewan . . . . .

Too little, too late.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quit beating this to death!

Foolish me. I thought Council had decided on a full-service replica bridge to replace the Traffic Bridge at a cost of $30 million and discarded the idea of incorporating heritage elements due to the cost. In Saturday's SP (June 18/11) the article suggests there are heritage elements to be incorporated and the cost could be up to $34 million.

If the elements they speak of are not the physical, but visual, wouldn't the "replica" concept cover that?

Just get on with the project and bring it in on budget.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thumbs up for CUPE 59

Every now and then people surprise you and serve as a reminder that there is good and bad in everyone and especially when we speak of organized groupings. So today I applaud CUPE Local 59, the city's largest union, and the city's negotiating team for settling their contract without sabre-rattling, threats or disruption of service to the public. From the newspaper report (June 17/11) the settlement was reasonable. They exemplify how labour and management should work.

I expect this settlement will set the bar for the many groups yet to come, although I expect it will not be the case with transit. This group is already pointing to transit wages in Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. The big difference is those named cities range in population from a half to one million people and they operate successful public transportation systems. Count on a transit strike for school opening in September.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shoe-strings with knots

Saskatchewan Children's Festival, Children's Discovery Museum, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, Wide Open Children's Theatre and the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association. Each one is a worthy organization. Each one operates on a shoe-string budget. Most do, or did, receive public funding in the form of city grants or support. I would agree that these small groups should consolidate in order to remain viable. But not in a publicly owned facility.

Didn't Council's decide to find a paying tenant so that the local taxpayer is not burdened with supporting another public facility?

The pending pitch for a Digital Arts Centre of Excellence could be viable if the U of S wants to create an off-campus site for this program. But I would expect the university to either buy the building or pay the freight for renovations and rent under a long-term lease. The renovations for this group would be so specific that should the program cease there wouldn't be another tenant that could use it without another massive renovation.

It will be hard for Council to resist the pleas of these groups when they fill the Chamber. But I hope some will hear the pleas of the majority of taxpayers when they say "enough" to the spending and taxing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rare and well done

Congratulations to the Station 20 group. It is a success story that is worthy of accolades.

Firstly, they took an $8 million project and will bring it in at $5 million. That is a rare feat.

Secondly, aside from raising the necessary construction money, the raised public awareness and support. They engaged the community. The future looks very bright for them in achieving all other goals. Had the government just cut a cheque only those in the community that will benefit from the objectives would appreciate the value of what they intend to do. Through their efforts, this group raised awareness and support from organizations that will probably be there for them down the road. This is the well done.

This is a lesson to us all of what can be achieved using personal initiatives rather than government handouts.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We need a pandering bylaw for Council

Well, what an interesting Council we have. There appears to be such a zest for a recycling program that it doesn't matter what kind of program we have, just as long as we can say we have one.

First up, Pat Lorje. "This is not how you run popcorn stand, let alone a city." News flash for Pat. Popcorn stands are better run. Before vendors go out to solicit prices on product they generally determine the quality of the product they seek. They test the market to ascertain the price threshold that the consumer will bear. She further states: 'We have to get back to basics." Define basics. A $50 million swimming pool? A $84 million art gallery?

Next up, Glen Penner. "We need to go with a RFP and we need to go with it now." Simply put, what can any contractor do for us for $4.24 a month. Anything will do just as long as it an be done for $4.24 monthly. Send Glen a subscription to Solid Waste & Management (a Canadian magazine that deals with collection, hauling, processing, disposal and recycling.)

Mayor Atch says "I can't believe we'd want to turn our backs on Cosmo after 30 years." Believe it. No contractor wants a contract that doesn't give it all the paper. Paper is were the money is. Single stream will reduce the quality of the paper, and shut down more that Cosmo. But who cares, we have a recycling program,. Aren't we cosmopolitan?

Too bad, so sad for the younguns who started Saskatoon Recycling a couple of years back. You're out of business, but thanks for pioneering the program. Lorje's argument of inconsistency in containers as a reasoning for rejecting zones in the city is bogus. The city could demand a type of container that all contractors must use. What she really means is that certain areas of the city will not fully participate and thus no contractor will bid on them.

My heart goes out to Cosmo. It is an organization that provides a dignity to people with intellectual disabilities, a place for them to socialize and participate in the Saskatoon community. When no one else cared or wanted our used papers, Cosmo took them and used the proceeds to support itself. They have just been given seven years notice to wind down. Clark's motion to create a task force to look for other opportunities for the Cosmo folks is a carrot to pacify Cosmo and its supporters.

As an aside, after we pay a contractor to collect our paper, will the city then buy back that paper for Cosmo's use and will the money spent on this buy-back be part of the $4.24 charge? Will Cosmo get the good quality paper, or the contaminated paper?

If we are going to put in mandatory recycling, couldn't we just do it right from the get-go?

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Losing Battle

I live in Nutana, an area populated by numerous and massive elm trees. At this time of year the elms are shedding tons of seeds. Its like being showered by confetti. When they are done, the poplars will start bestowing fluff. I am resigned to waiting for a major yard clean until the end of June. I am as one with Mother Nature.

Last week I received my notice on street cleaning. The area was not posted as "no parking." As the day went on people working in the area or using the near-by park, parked on the street. The elms spewed seeds and the poplars are waiting their turn. When the cleaners finally came, the ran the machine around the parked cars and before they hit the end of the block, the street was filled with debris.

My question is why, when planning the street cleaning program, could the city not clean the areas that do not have large trees first and clean the older areas later in June?

The same thing will happen in Fall. The cleaners will come before the leaves are down. And then in Spring the City will send maintenance people to unplug the street drains that are clogged with wet leaves left from the Fall clean up.

I appreciate they are trying to clean the city. Its the timing that needs adjustment. Mother Nature is inflexible, but does city maintenance have to be as well?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The gift that keeps on giving

I'm almost getting tired reading about the Mendel insanity. When the Remai gift was announced, didn't the Mayor and the Chair of the fund raising committee imply that the Remai donation would encourage others to step forward to complete the goal?

From the article in today's SP (June 10/11) it appears that less than $100,000.00 was spent to garner $30 million. Now the Mendel Board was $390,000.00 to hire a philanthropic service to raise the balance of $5 million. It would have been a smarter play for the Board to make this ask prior to announcing the Remai gift. At the very least it would have then appeared that this expenditure was worthwhile. If this company does not reach the $5 million goal, do we still pay the same fee?

However, I do understand why they need this service. Fundraising is a hard business. The competition for donor dollars is ruthless. The volunteer group will be able to raise small gifts in the under fifty thousand range, but large donors generally are secured by fund-raising services. These services have a massive Rolodex and contacts within corporations that could be potential donors.

As for the $175,000.00 to brand and market the gallery, the Mendel has a reputation as an international gallery. Do we lose that reputation by changing the name?

And finally, is this $565.00 expenditure incorporated into the $84 million or are these the add-ons we can expect as the project progresses?

When all is said and done, it is we, the taxpayers, that will be the giver that keeps on giving.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gentlemen, start your engines

Straight up I say that I very much appreciate the men and women of the Saskatoon Police Service. I support the expenditures to ensure that they have the necessary training and equipment to do the job they have undertaken. Cops put their own lives at risk to protect the citizens they serve. They are honourable people in an honourable profession. But I do have a problem putting money into bricks and mortar and bells and whistles.

Whenever a presenter starts breaking down the total cost of a project it generally means they are trying to soften the blow to the recipients. The reality is we are spending $122 million on a new police station. That might seem like a bargain after the announcement of $130 million, but not when compared to the initial cost $91 million price.

When a presenter attempts to justify segmented expenditures, and I refer to the Chief's reasoning for underground parking (SP June 9/11) you can assume he is trying to limit the anticipated negative response. To state the savings because officers will not have to let vehicles idle for 15 minutes before they hit the road is inane. When the night shift comes in, and the day shift is heading out, are they using the same vehicles? I've seen police cars locked and running while officers are taking a lunch or coffee break. Why not leave them running for the short break shift change? How about investing in diesel engines? And why does my husband tell me a car doesn't need to run for more than five minutes to warm up the engine? Next winter when I want to run my car until its toasty, I'm going to whip the Chief's comments.

I hope that police officers keep themselves physically fit. It could save their lives. But could the Service not cut a deal with the private sector for memberships in facilities that already exist? I'd bet that the many workout facilities would tender for a reasonable membership cost based on volume. Officers could use facilities in their neighbourhoods.

I would better appreciate honesty by having the Chief say they are building a facility with all the trimmings because they want these things.

At this point I can only ask that the project will come in on budget. What are the chances?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Say it ain't so

Over the rainy weekend I flipped on the television to check the programming. Normally I tape any program I wish to watch and then fast forward through the commercials. On this particular day I was simply cruising the guide when a commercial played. A man, looking like the generic version of everyone's granddad was speaking about his memories of taking this children to our provincial parks and in the background there was a young family visiting around a campfire. On this rainy day it was a very appealing picture. He spoke about how his children are now doing the same thing with their children. It was heart-warming and I thought it must be an organization promoting family values .

His tone quickly changed and he stated "Don't let the Wall government privatize our parks."

I was taken aback. Did I miss something? Has our government even suggested that they would be privatizing our parks? I remember the controversay when a previous government increased fees etc. But I hadn't heard anything about this government tampering with provincial parks.

It followed with the announcement that the ad was sponsored by SGEU.

Enough said.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If it stinks, its probably garbage

To date, our property taxes have covered the costs of waste management. Soon, over and above our property tax, we will be charged a monthly fee for recycling. This was not only to save the planet, but the costs associated with the landfill.

In today's SP (June 7/11) the city's environmental services manager, Brenda Wallace, submits her report to extend the landfills life by forty years at a mere cost of $54.6 million. But wait, isn't she the same person that submitted a report to council saying a cost of $4.50 to $5.50 per household for recycling - a fee which is out of whack with reality.

I haven't seen the plan for funding, but in responding to what is reported today, it appears she has a plan to cover the first $20 million. I'm going to guess this is the lead up to per bag or per pound charge for collected household garbage. This would be fine by me if there was to be a reduction in my current property tax which already covers waste management.

In today's Letters to the Editor, a submission by Al Roden asks this question: "Am I the only one in this city who thinks the people who run this institution should be in one?" No Al, you are not.

Monday, June 6, 2011

High flyers

I get why the Councillors and Mayor are at the conference in Halifax. I appreciate their efforts in bringing business to Saskatoon next year by hosting the FCM here next June (SP June 6/11).

What I don't get is why the Mayor flew back for the announcement of the art gallery donation and returned to the FCM after the announcement.

The FCM dates are established well in advance. When setting the date for the gallery donation announcement, could it not have been set for before or after the FCM conference? Hell, word of the donation was on the street weeks ago. Would a couple of days mattered? And shouldn't councillors been there as well to show their appreciation to Remai?

It is this sort of expense that galls taxpayers. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but the drops eventually fill the bucket.

If the Mayor keeps this up he may be kicking the political bucket sooner rather than later.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Who will care?

This morning on CBC the question was asked as to the impact a mail strike would have on each of us. My answer is: none.

A while back the threat of a mail strike sent shivers up the back of businesses. As a result of past strikes many businesses found new ways to operate. Courier services sprung up, drop box were instituted and 'runners' were hired.

With the advent of technology, bills now come and are paid on line. Pay and pension cheques are auto deposited. Email has become the norm for communication. As an urban dweller, my daily mail consists of flyers, periodicals and the occasional greeting card, all of which I can live without.

Added to the equation is the ever-increasing cost of stamps and the decline in service for first class mail.

I do understand why the impact may be greater in rural Saskatchewan. But the rural population has been on the decline for decades. We have just elected a majority federal government and the politicians won't be going back to the electors for years and this strike will be long gone and forgotten by then.

In short, strikes only work when the withdrawal of service has a huge impact on the masses. I think the postal union has not picked the best time for job action.

Closer to home, we have the teachers, health care and possibly cancer centre workers claiming the public attention - to a point that the public is becoming jaded. Will some be hurt by this strike? Yes. But I don't think the majority of the public will be up in arms.

I suspect in the near future the postal workers will be licking their wounds if they want the public to be slicking the stamps which pay for the postal services.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's cooking at City Hall?

I assume that "off-sheet financing" means "off balance sheet" financing wherein you do not list a debt on your books. I find this very off-setting. I speak of the financing idea floated by civic administration to council as a means to pay for the sound walls being constructed in Lakeview and Lakeridge neighbourhoods (SP June 1/11.) It was also described as a "mini P3" partnership. LOL

Option 1, being the pay as you go, is flagged as leading to inconsistent constructions schedules and higher costs compared to one large project. It also leaves the city without any funds for other wall projects until 2020.

Option 2, the "off-sheet" financing means the city would pay the contractor his due over a period of time using the $576,000 annual funding set aside in the budget for sound walls. But the contractor will have to be paid interest and I suspect no contractor is offering the city better interest rates that a bank. The project is stated to cost $4.5 million. Repayment at $576,000.00, plus interest, means their still won't be money available for wall project until well after 2020.

The city touts its AAA credit rating, which means it would receive good interest rates on its borrowing. So why wouldn't the city simply finance this project as it has all other projects?

Governments play by a different set of rules than do private business,. Why is that? Private business would not get away with not listing any debt it owed.

As I understand it, the Enron fiasco was a result of "off balance sheet" activities.

Methinks the city needs Sheila Fraser type outside audit done on the books.