Tuesday, November 29, 2011

. . .For they know not what they do

I wish the recycling debate would come to conclusion. It seemed that Council was in step to introduce mandatory recycling at $4.24 monthly, under a utility. Now a few Councillors are lukewarm on the idea as it may hurt the people who can least afford to pay - recycling being the first phase of the waste management plan.

The Mayor says the whole thing is predicated on a company being able to come in at $4.24 or below and if it is higher Council can still go back to the drawing board. Glass was not to be included, but now it will be.

Companies are getting ready to bid on collection and processing for a February due date before administration chooses a winning company (I thought that was Council's job) and enters negotiations. What's to negotiate? We could have recycling charges by June or as late as December. I'm betting on December (after the civic election.)

I would like one Councillor to stand up and ask for Environmental Services Manager Brenda Wallace's undated, signed letter of resignation if she can't bring the recycling project in at the costs stated in the reports that led Council to its vote.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Do it for the kids?

As much as I think having a children's centre (SP Nov. 28/11) incorporating the museum, theatre and festival is a nice concept, I doubt that it is financially viable on the long term without public funding. Children's museums across the country struggle to survive and they have a much larger market to draw from.

If we weren't so deep in debt already I might buy into having some portion of the project funded, but not a this point. Unless the business plan proves otherwise and they can reasonably project sufficient monies to maintain the services and renovate to suit their needs, I would be inclined to take a pass. Otherwise we will be paying to support the Mendel building and the new gallery.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A team player?

Councillor Ann Iwanchuk is a quick study. After a month on the job her contribution to the budget debate is "We have cut and cut and cut as much as we can and I don't think there's room to reduce the city portion of the budget." (SP Nov. 25/22.) She followed up with saying the police portion of the budget is the only area she can see with room to move down.

Ironic statements since her campaign platform included beefing up policing for her ward and roadway repair and maintenance. The roadway budget comes no way near to what an earlier administrative report indicated the city would need to rehabilitate our streets.

Perhaps she didn't get a chance to examine the capital expenditures.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Looking forward to October 2012

Dear God I don't even know where to start with the proposed civic budget for 2012 other than to say it is faint hope document to save this sorry council's butts next October. When you back out the police budget increase it doesn't even cover the cost of inflation, much less the proposed capital spending and subsequent operating/maintenance costs.

When they speak of taking money out of the land sales, I sincerely hope that doesn't mean pillaging the Land Bank , which was self-sustaining and intended for use of future land development as the city expanded.

The civic report that required a huge injection of cash for road repair and maintenance is not being dealt with - at least not for the 2012 taxation year. Where is the money for all the approved capital projects? What about the Traffic Bridge? A reserve for future operating costs of the Art Gallery and the new police station? Just how much toes Council project these costs to be and shouldn't operating costs be dealt with in the annual budget - the reserve won't last forever. How will we pay for the wind turbine capital cost? I expect our monthly levy on the light and water bill to go up.

We are building pricey leisure facilities and pricing public use out of the range of the average citizen. Previously we heard that reducing transit fares would increase ridership and now we have Council increasing discounted bus passes. Saskatoon has been known for its urban forest and beautiful parks - but park maintenance is being cut, although money is being poured into park renewal in the form of Kinsmen Park. Gordie Howe Bowl was approved, but no money is budgeted for the plan. This just goes on and on.

While I'm at it, how many homes in Saskatoon are assessed at $200,000? The entry level housing in Saskatoon is well above that sum, and assessment on newer housing will see far more than $70 hike in taxes. Add to this the new monthly recycling fee that is separate and apart from the tax bill. Then there is the plan for the new Library and I haven't heard about the Library budget and its increases.

I would like just one Councillor to stand up and come clean - we are in a financial mess. The only hope they have is that Brad Wall will come to their aid with a huge payola for cities in his budget and that still won't bail us out of this deep hole - it just may keep the hole from getting any deeper.

And remember we still have the issue of the pension liabilities that were flagged in the Standard & Poors credit report.

Worse yet, is Council got themselves an expanded term of office which means after 2012 we will not get the benefit of a "hold the line" budget every three years but rather every four years.

I'm beginning to think the s... has finally hit the fan.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank you Joe and Georgie

Last night when reading the CBC online edition, and then in today's SP (Nov. 23/11) I read of the passing of Joe Kuchta, author of the Owls and Rooster blog. I didn't know Mr. Kuchta personally but read his blog periodically. Although I may not have always agreed with his position, I did admire his research abilities and tenacity when addressing issues of concern to him.

I hadn't realized his wife, Georgie Davis, had died in September as I was away from the city at that time. I remember her well and her work in improving the lives of people with disabilities. She not only influenced the powers that be, but brought awareness to the general public of the difficulties of everyday life in Saskatoon for people with disabilities.

Today I salute both of them for their good works - they will be missed.

May they rest in peace together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The gifting season

I believed if anyone could pull off a hotel/condo/retail complex on River Landing, it would be Kay Nasser - and the zoning changes made it a reality (SP Nov. 22/11.) My only question is, were was the Meewasin Valley Authority in all of this?

A half dozen years ago the MVA placed every obstacle possible to prevent this type of development. They have control over the riverbank and exercised that control at every turn. Now there is nary a peep. Have the Friends of the Gathercole, champions of the public access to the riverbank, died or just moved Nirvana to a new site?

Maybe its just the spirit of giving that moved Council, the MVA and the Friends to deliver the gifts of the Magi to these developers.

Does anyone know if the vote was unanimous?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Something old, something new

It was not a surprise that John Nilson was selected as interim leader of the NDP (SP Nov. 21/11.) Immediately following the election one former NDP MLA said to me that they should have gotten rid of Nilson too and allowed the party to renew itself with fresh, young people without baggage from bygone days.

With Nilson declaring that he will not seek the leadership, which of the remaining eight NDP MLAs is the favorite? If the leadership contender is not one of the recently elected, and the leader is selected from the outside, which of the MLAs steps down to allow the new leader to run? Is there a safe NDP seat left?

Saskatchewan is changing and those who are resistant to change will fall by the wayside. The NDP need more than a new leader, they need a policy and platform change. But I'm not sure they can let go of Tommy, Al and Roy and the greatness of what once was.

It brings to mind a quote by J.K. Galbraith: "Few things are as immutable as the addiction of political groups to the ideas by which they once won office."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Democracy in action - maybe

I have been wondering who the wackos were on the Corman Park Council. Today's item in the SP (Nov. 18/11) answered that question. To ask the minister to ignore the referendum recently voted on is an insult to the voters of that region.

Worse yet is to say the voters didn't understand the question and its repercussions. If they believe that, then they failed in their duty to inform the voters prior to the vote.

I going to guess the real reason is that three of them will lose their jobs after the restructuring.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hail to the Chief

Over a 12-year period a 130% increase in police funding gets you a 30% decrease in crime (SP Nov. 17/11.) I think those numbers are a bit misleading in that for years prior to 2000 the police service was greatly underfunded - think back to the Chief Dave Scott battle with a previous Council. There was some catching up to do. Having said that, we might be going overboard here. I would like to see the police statistics for the areas of Saskatoon before determining that new and sparsely populated areas need more policing. And what other cities spend on policing per capita.

What concerns me more is the cost of policing once the new station is built. Added on to the budget down the road will be the debt repayment and debt servicing costs, together with increased building operating costs.

Maybe that's why part of the requested increase includes another accounting position and a media relations officer to sell the spending.

I think our Police Chief is on a roll and getting what he can while he can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Greenbacks for green

I suspect the foundation is being laid for a cost overrun on the new art gallery. In today's SP (Nov. 16/11) project manager Sandy Schultz says under the current budget the "green roof" is in but as they work through the design details some items may have to be re-looked.

I can image that this "green" council will bypass the opportunity for the roof so I'm guessing that cost overrun number one is in the making.

The big shocker was the comment that the gallery team will present the design and and update on the costs in January. I thought the design was already established and the cost fixed at $84 million, parking included.

I feel foolish for thinking that just maybe this one time the city would work within a budget.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Giveth and taketh

IF you are going downtown you are so much better off parking in a parking lot than at a meter. The parking rates are the same and should you be ten minutes late getting back to your car you will only pay a buck or two for the delay rather than a $10 fine - soon to be a $20 fine (SP Nov. 15/11.). As for the complaints from businesses on employees parking at meters, I'd like to hear their reaction when they can't get part-time employees at minimum wage.

But what comes in must go out. According to the news report the new revenue generated from increased parking fines will go to pay for security to protect shoppers from the downtown panhandlers. Frankly, these folks don't bother me that much - or at least not as much as the parking charges. But these two issues alone beg the question - why does anyone bother to go downtown?

Councillor Paulsen states she doesn't have a problem increasing the fine because it only applies to those who breach the bylaw. But the Occupy Saskatoon group were breaching a city bylaw for weeks without penalty from the city. Will the Commissionaires be as generous with those felons using expired meters?

For me, the irony is recalling a complaint I received, while sitting on council, about a certain City Councillor that parked daily in front of his/her place of business using his/her free city parking pass.

People in glass houses . . . .

Monday, November 14, 2011

Notice to Quit

I am thankful that the city is finally do to take action on the Occupy Saskatoon group and the camping in city parks (SP Nov. 14/11.) I walked by the Dumont Park campsite the other day and had the sense this is no longer a protest group but a squatters' camp. It is nicely tucked away from the eye of the general public so as not to draw attention from anyone save a handful of daily walkers and joggers on the MVA trail and, of course, the odd media article on a slow news day.

If you want public attention to the cause, set up camp in front of City Hall. Then again, you would have been evicted on Day 1.

Although not ideal, there are homeless shelters available to those in need. I was a little taken aback by the comment of one camper who stated in today's paper: "At the Salvation Army, you're only really allowed a week or two, then you're left scrambling to go on welfare or to find a job."

Does that mean camping in a park when it is -30, with no toileting facilities, a better option than welfare?

It is important to keep the issue of affordable housing in the forefront for governments. But creating and encouraging long-term camps in parks is not effectively addressing the issue.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Economy of scale?

I noted in today's SP (Nov. 9/11) that the city has increased rates for use of civic leisure facilities. The goal is to recapture 65% of the cost, starting Jan. 1/12 with daily rate of $8.30 and increasing annually by $.50 to 2015 at which time the daily rate will be $10.30.

The Leisure Services Manager states this cost is still at the lower end of the market rates. Not so if you add on the 35% the city taxpayer is contributing. Drop-in rates a private fitness centres seem to range between $7 to $15 and with that fee structure these private centres make a profit.

I know both the public and private sectors have monthly/yearly rates that are cheaper, but the city report is only dealing with the daily rate.

This poses two questions: 1) why wouldn't the city charge full recovery rates and 2) how can the private sector make a profit when their rates would be the same as the city's rates if the city charged full recovery?

I suspect the answer is the swimming pool component to the city facilities and I'm not aware any private centres that have this element. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

As for the taxpayer subsidizing the facilities, taxpayers have already done that through the capital contribution. Perhaps the operating costs of these facilities should be borne by the users through the rate structure.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I need a new shirt!

I lost my shirt last night - albeit a cheap T-shirt.

In fact the only bet I won is that Red Square would stay red, although for a wee bit I thought I would lose that one too.

My bet was 43-15 in seat count. I didn't anticipate that Mr. Roto-Rooter would be that busy in Regina, and I thought that Link's promise to First Nations on resource revenue sharing would make the last election's close seats of Meadow Lake, Battleford and Prince Albert possible wins for him. I also bet that the NDP would have 37% of the popular vote, being their traditional 30% core and extra vote from students and seniors on the rent control issue.

As for Link, although Mandryk flagged in his column last Friday that he could possibly lose it, I just couldn't imagine that a solid NDP seat would defeat its leader.

I'm chalking it all up to the fact that Brad Wall is an unusually popular leader and Lingfelter was an unusually unpopular leader.

Yesterday someone commented on my election night mix. In truth I have long-term friends from various political backgrounds. Good friendships are not one-dimensional - they are built on mutual respect for the opinions of others. Constructive criticism/analysis and friendly jibes are fine, but mean-spirited monologues are not acceptable in my circles. We all know that the benefit of dialogue with people with differing political views is that you can actually learn something if you are willing to listen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Will the people speak?

I have officially "exercised my franchise" in spite of Mother Nature's untimely snow dump. And I am hoping Saskatchewan residents will buck the national trend of low voter turnout.

For those attending gatherings tonight - enjoy. I will be watching the outcome from the comfort of my home with a mix of politicos and either collecting or dispensing loonies - I'm talking dollars of course, not visitors!

My final election comment: Brad Wall has got to get rid of those short-sleeved, buttoned to the neck, nerdy shirts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Leading the flock from the promised land

I'm feeling a little empathy for the die-hard NDP supporters - its hard to watch everything you believe in get routed in an election. But Saskatchewan has always been "next year country" and they will live to fight another battle.

I was surprised to read in Mandryk's column (SP Nov. 4//) that Lingfelter might be in trouble in his own seat. His loss might be the best thing that could happen to the NDP as its appears, from polling, that his leadership is an impediment to his party in this election. Given the limited number of seats they may salvage come Nov. 7, having an elected candidate step aside to run a by-election for an unpopular leader would be folly. They would have to get a new leader for 2016.

I have $12 riding on the election result and my betting does not reflect the most recent poll. There are to many close seats and variables that can affect the outcome, particularly voter turnout. But I've set that cash aside an will pay my debts when the devils' call.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just what Saskatchewan needs . . .

. . . another political party (SP Nov. 3/11.) With the merge of the majority of Liberals and Conservatives to form the Sask Party we finally evolved into a two party system where the majority vote would form government. And yes I know there are candidates running under Conservative, Liberal and Green banners but they claim a insignificant portion of the vote and the race is essentially between the NDP and Sask Party.

If I thought for a moment that setting aside a portion of resource revenue would improve the quality of life for both on and off reserve First Nations people I might support it. The FSIN control the majority of Casinos in this province and I believe the intent was to use that revenue to the benefit of First Nations people. I don't believe that has happened. Only a handful of Chiefs and their minions live well.

Nor do I believe that they would be content to have the government administer any resource allocation to ensure that the money would be spent as intended - housing, reserve infrastructure, job creation, etc.

If the Chiefs want to tie themselves to the NDP, perhaps they should form a party and then merge with the NDP, along with the Greens, and form one viable party to become either official opposition or government.

Anyone got a snappy acronym for this?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quid Pro Quo

I was surprised to read in today's SP (Nov. 2/11) the comments of both Saskatoon and Regina's Mayors regarding the provincial election, although Fiacco was a little more subtle than Atchison.

The PCS royalty issue is the heart of Lingfelter's campaign. Without the increase in royalties his promises are for not. Nixing the idea of a review is akin campaigning against the NDP platform.

The past rule of thumb was that civic politicians stayed mum on provincial issues, and party politics did not enter into the fray of civic elections. But over the last several civic elections, party politics quietly infiltrated the civic arena.

I don't have a problem with this as long as it is done in the open. Should we look at having party nominations for wards and voting for civic candidates based on party affiliation? Those in tune with local politics know which candidates support which parties, but the average citizen may not.

I would like this crossover to be complete and consistency brought to the civic election level.

Many councillors, past and present, have already indirectly waved their party flags by running for a party nominations or as a candidate for a party. By example, Hill and Paulsen have run for the Liberals, former councillors Wyant and Alm were Sask Party candidates; Clark, Iwanchuk and Loewen have deep ties to the NDP. And you can still have candidates on the ballot that declare themselves as independents.

Your thoughts on this idea?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Stretching a nickel

I read PCS CEO Bill Doyle's epistle last week on potash royalties/taxes and then United Steelworkers union economist Erin Weir's response today (SP Nov. 1/11.) I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

My understanding of the royalty structure is that a previous NDP government negotiated the existing agreement with the potash companies so that they would expand operations and create new jobs - and that the agreement for this activity has a fixed time. It is apparently working when you hear of the money currently being invested in this sector.

My further understanding is that potash is a commodity that has fluctuating prices and thus, depending on the global market, the royalties are up and down from year-to-year.

But anyway you cut it, even if the royalties doubled, Lingfelter could not stretch that extra nickel to cover off the election promises being made. The result would have to be increased taxes or broken promises.

Perhaps we should change our election laws to state that any politician that makes promises and doesn't keep them in the time frame specified, must resign from office and is barred from running from public office.

Right now the biggest growth in this province is voter cynicism.