Friday, October 28, 2011

Coldstream All Candidates' Meeting

The first of three scheduled meet-the-Coldstream-candidates Q&A sessions was held last night at Lavington School, leading up to the November 19th municipal election and corresponding Shop referendum.

There were some surprises--and I may have been alone in my feeling that they were positive--but they nevertheless occurred.  And, having not had time to speak to any audience acquaintances before--or following--the meeting, positive sentiments are likely mine alone.  Perhaps the results of the election and referendum will determine if that's the case.

In no particular order...
With the exception of one, all incumbents attended, joined by mayoralty candidate Dave Hrabchuk, and two of three councillor candidates Peter McClean and John Hegler.  Candidate Glen Taylor sent an email stating he was unable to attend.  Present Councillor Bill Firman did not attend as he withdrew his candidacy for this term last week, stating he was getting too old and that he had had enough of personal attacks.

Unknown to mayoralty candidate Hrabchuk, it's "a given" with the audience that he could not be expected to relay issues in an in-depth manner due to the very fact he hasn't been involved in the inner workings of the municipality.  Despite that, he tried hard to be "up" on all the issues, but I felt that his placing blame on this Council for pre-existing issues was misguided.  In particular, appearing to blame this council for the onerous environmental impact on a creek from the location of a 50-year old Shop was off the mark.

What the candidate for mayor should have blamed this council for, beginning with the Shop issue is for things that occurred during their term, not for things that society's evolution has taught us are now critically important on the environment.  So, on the Shop, what occurred on "their watch"?    
  • their decision, with the expensive work of Kelowna-based consultants Urban Systems, to erect a new shop.  Mitigating the environmental impact of stormwater runoff on the creek, including equipment oil and grease leaks--indeed the serious impact of an old buried fuel tank--should be the chief focus, not building a new Shop.  But wouldn't the old--and too small--Shop still affect the creek?  No.  At considerably lower cost, sloping berms could be constructed, leading to catch basins, from which contaminants could be recovered and disposed of properly.  Even the sloping-to-the-creek staff parking lot north of the recently-constructed municipal hall--which isn't being addressed in the plans, can and will in time contain oil/battery acid/anti-freeze contaminants.  Building a new ~$2 million Shop won't address that.  The projected cost of the new Shop does not include what might be discovered in the soil when the old fuel tank is dug up, so projected costs are conservative. 
So what should occur?
This is exactly what raised the ire of taxpayers last time with the referendum on the (now-built) new Municipal Hall.  The question on the referendum wasn't whether to build a new municipal hall, it was whether to borrow money for a new municipal hall.  And this referendum is no different.  The referendum does not pose the question:  "Should we construct a new Shop?"  No, its question is "Are you in favour of the Council of the District of Coldstream adopting Bylaw No. 1590, 2011 to authorize the borrowing of up to $1,335,320 to construct a new Mechanic Shop, address environmental concerns, WorkSafe BC standards, and works yard site improvements?"  There should be NO referendum on a new Shop!

After digging up and the (expected) soil remediation of the old buried fuel tank and construction of berms and catch basins on both sides of the creek, retrofit the existing shop for employee safety (a WCB requirement) by installing a new venting/heating system.  So where would the equipment go?  In the existing retrofitted shop PLUS the empty old two-bay Fire Hall for additional equipment storage.  And, frankly, during difficult economic times, employees don't NEED a new lunchroom!

Yes, there'd be space for the new mower (already accounted for as "new mower" in the drawings, appearing to predate this council's public announcement to leave the regional--Greater Vernon--parks and recreation function).  The word "function" was placed in italics because I'll never understand the incorrect use of a verb as a noun for something as important as this...why isn't it just called a "department"?  Could it be that many of our regional disagreements resulted from this misnomer? 

What else "on their watch"?
  •  Urban Systems.  Coldstream municipality apparently was billed close to $2 million by this Kelowna consulting company in the last year, culminating in the plans for the new Shop.  Two things rattle my nerves on this issue:  (1)  why do we hire a consulting firm from diversity-rich and thriving Kelowna to the south to formulate specs on and in Coldstream?   (2)  why are drawings for a Shop or plans for a street or a multi-use path not done in-house?  
Are there no consultants of merit in our own community? Seems to fly in the face of this council's dedication to "supporting local businesses", I'd say.  Coldstream has well-remunerated engineers on staff and, frankly, the drawing for the Shop referendum handout at last night's forum could've been designed by a drafting student at Okanagan College University located here in our own community.  Could it be because staff engineers' job descriptions don't include using their skills for our community's advantage?  (Same thing occurs at the water authority...Al Cotsworth, Arnold Badke, etc. are all professional engineers, yet they hire a consultant(s) who are also professional engineers to design water systems).  Why are bureaucrats, overseen by elected officials, not more business-savvy?  Unless their chief goal is to expand employment, which they certainly appear to be doing!  And the lack of business savvy among elected officials is increasingly evident.  All of which leads to increased costs for taxpayers!  This, in itself, leads taxpayers to believe cost saving isn't of paramount importance to either this Council or bureaucrats.

Another issue:
  • Antwerp Springs well(s) contamination of drinking water lawsuit launched by the provincial Ministry of Environment against the District of Coldstream and a private farmer (Palfrey) whose cows graze on adjacent pasture.   This was a once in one hundred years "rain on frozen ground event" and was anticipated, as the following excerpt will prove.  Can that be blamed on this council?  What can be blamed on this--and previous officials' terms--is that Antwerp Springs well(s) were not to be used for domestic water beyond a certain time.  But that hasn't been the case.
When bureaucrats move into different job responsibilities, there's often a loss of continuity.  No-one at the water authority seems to have provided necessary continuity.  Or they haven't read the file left by Mike Stamhuis, the architect of the Master Water Plan when three local irrigation districts were amalgamated, who is now chief administrative officer at the municipality.  And those elected officials who proudly state they're lifelong--indeed two and three-generational residents here--are implicit in this as well.  Perhaps it was easier to allow the residential water hook-ups to remain on Antwerp wells versus designing and implementing a system (yes, in-house!) that would keep these residents safe from contamination.  Whatever the reason, domestic use continued well beyond the phase-out recommended in the 10+ year old report from Associated Engineering (B.C.) Ltd. for the account of North Okanagan Water Authority (available on the internet): 

(bold type and underscoring for emphasis: this author)
In the upper portion of the valley, the Antwerp Springs groundwater wells have supplied
the Lavington water system for a number of years. This water, however, is very hard
(325 mg/L) and has necessitated the use of home water softeners. While the continued
use of this water source was contemplated in the early stages of the plan, the feedback
from water users was that the hardness made the long-term use of the water unacceptable,
particularly if a high-quality water was available from a regional treatment plant.
Evaluations carried out comparing hardness removal from the Antwerp Springs supply
versus supply from the Middleton Mountain water treatment plant concluded that the
latter was more cost effective. The decision was thus made to discontinue the Antwerp
Springs supply as a domestic water source, after the regional water treatment plant was
Groundwater in the Coldstream Valley will continue to play a role in irrigation water
supply. The existing Wells Nos. 1 and 2 in the western part of the valley will continue to
feed into the existing irrigation water system. The current Antwerp Springs wells could
be used for either local irrigation or will be tied into the regional irrigation grid. This
should be evaluated further in the preliminary engineering stage.
As the Antwerp Springs supply will continue to be used as a domestic source until 2008,
a well-head survey, conducted in 2002 or 2003, is recommended to confirm that the wells
are not influenced by surface runoff and the current method of disinfection provides an
adequate level of public health protection. (end of excerpt).

Now for the biggest bone of contention, the recent bylaw regarding subdivision servicing.  I'll "cut to the chase" here, since we all know what has recently been said by bureaucrats and elected officials.
Incumbent councillor Richard Enns--during the October 11th council meeting--queried the open meeting's audience "Do you want me to vote 'no', resulting in a Zero trigger point?"  And again at last night's meeting, the same councillor queried the audience "would you rather that ALL taxpayers are charged for the work (there)?"  

This shows a flagrant and ongoing disregard for the property rights of homeowners to NOT be designated developers as well as the fact that a multi-use "kids and pony" path is NOT infrastructure.   What the incumbent mayor and council--conveniently--seem to not understand is that we demand that homeowners are not to be classified as developers.  The City of Kelowna has verified "we don't do that (to homeowners)".  If this council desires revenue and the much-touted "smart growth", why on earth would they want residents, fearful of the horrendous costs of off-site works, employ a tactic that sends residential building permits plummeting?  Or, as many people have said, "sends renovations underground". 

Homeowners who apply for a building permit for, say, a new garage, or an additional bedroom, or for a larger kitchen place NO ADDITIONAL BURDENS on the municipality's infrastructure -- unlike Developers' construction of subdivisions of 60 homes, or Developers' four-storey apartment complexes housing 30 units.  And since NO ADDITIONAL BURDENS on the municipality's infrastructure are imposed by residential permit applications, NO triggering of off-site works should occur.   Many people have stated that election results could "hang" on this issue alone.

Since we're talking money, let's address Council's spending.  In a community of 10,000 residents where nearly three-quarters of the land is locked within the Agricultural Land Reserve, is it RIGHT to be $4 million in debt?  "The legislation limits debt to $19 million, but we just have to balance our budget, and it is", offered an incumbent. 

  • "We needed those two new fire halls," stated Councillor Doug Dirk last night.
 ...and ostensibly also the new municipal hall, and new shop, and new Town Centre plan.
Seemingly blind to everyday realities, this council is convinced that a doctor's query whether he could open an office in the proposed Town Centre is justification for having a Town Centre.  Proof was stated last night by a member of the audience when he reminded council that three-quarters of leasable space at the newly renovated Polson Shops--a stone's throw distant--remains unleased by merchants.  And the proposed Trintec shopping mall at the corner of Aberdeen and Hwy 6 has been searching for an anchor tenant for two years!  Which merchant--in their right mind--would ignore the number one tenet for justification of store location:  demographics/population/competition.  Of those who do, they soon learn the peril of retail...they're not in the phone book any more.  Just because an idea is on the wish list of this mayor and council doesn't mean it would fly. 

Sure it would be nice for residents to drive ( on a snowy cold January morning only 1 kilometre for a litre of milk.  But reality says it won't work because locating in a small, isolated community is not to a merchant's benefit, unless a property-tax-free deal (or no development cost charges deal) is negotiated.  And how would that benefit the municipality's coffers? 

That's what's sorely missed in this Council...retail experience, commonly referred to as "real world" experience.  With the exception of one councillor who has a mobile/service business that doesn't require a bricks-and-mortar location, nobody on this council has so much as owned a hot dog stand to earn a living.   They'd learn some valuable lessons about debt then.

It was said that the former Coldstream Market (across from the municipal hall) should not have closed.  That's all very well that people would like a store there but the owner chose to avail himself of what became application for a Rural Liquor Agency licence.  The proposal was not supported by Council because it would mean that alcohol would be sold next to an elementary school.   Yet today, numerous gas/grocery stores sell liquor in this municipality.  But not next to an elementary school, you say?  Not in Coldstream...yet down the road in the City of Vernon, there's East Side Liquor Store (with no groceries) right across the street from W.L. Seaton School...a secondary school.    This isn't the first time this Mayor and Council have tied the hands of a commercial enterprise.  No point in resurrecting that dead horse.

After the servicing bylaw, the next bone of contention:
  • Water Rates and the Interior Health Authority demand for filtration.  
The concrete foundation of the new Duteau Creek Water Treatment plant has barely cured and now we're told that "separation of irrigation water should have occurred first because the plant(s) cannot handle the volume of water without separation."  A bureaucratic faux pas?  Perhaps.  Pandering to residential complaints about "brown water"?  Likely.  Dealing with the brown water would reduce the volume--not of water--but of complaint phone calls to the water authority.   So that was done first "because grants supporting that work were available, whereas the B.C. government didn't support the separation of irrigation water from that of domestic."    Not surprising view from the B.C. government, considering they spend their lives in an urban environment.  Rather than spending time convincing the B.C. government of their need to expland their understanding, council and bureaucrats took the easy way out and accessed the treatment plant's grant, knowing full well that--not a year later--the treatment plant would not be able to cope with the health authority's demand.

As to the horrendous rates, as one woman from the audience reported, Councillor Dirk's lengthy diatribe on the evolution of the water system pointed to other players being responsible, especially for today's rates.  He failed to mention that a councillor from each jurisdiction currently sits on the board as director.  Councillor Dirk also failed to mention that the directors were the ones who ratified the water authority's request a couple of years ago, in the interest of conservation of water, that rates would be doubled for the third quarter.  Councillor Dirk also failed to mention that this year, when reservoirs were full and we were assured that sufficient water was available for the entire winter, those same directors never thought to put forward a Board motion to rescind the doubling of water rates for Q3.  So, does that sound like a conservation focus?  Sounds like a revenue issue.  This is not unlike the B.C. hydro "conservation" tactic, where prejudicial Step 2 (higher) rates "kick in" at approximately 1350 kW hours usage per month.   Prejudicial?  Yes.  Someone at B.C. Hydro forgot to factor in that there are rural homes to whom natural gas lines are not available, yet those very homes were included in the averaging that determined at what point Step 2 would occur.

And, yes, like our water authority, there's the hydro revenue dilemma when people conserve too much electricity.  

Rather than going on ad nauseum about each incumbent's comments about the troubles that today affect Coldstream, I'll add two that no-one else has mentioned:  unelected committees and rent-a-cow "farmers".
  •  unelected committees.  We can't vote them in or out, much like bureaucrats, yet they either volunteer or are appointed--hopefully because they have something to offer other than available time--to many committees that today provide recommendations to the Mayor and Council, mostly unbeknownst to residents.  Is there a screening mechanism in place where council weeds out the NIMBY-ists?  In my view, there's an overabundance of committees making recommendations to Coldstream council.  Perhaps a sign of the times, the Okanagan Basin Water Board and many many other appointed, unelected committees now decide on many factors affecting residents everywhere.  From virtually a fledgling group doing water studies years ago, the OBWB now bestows grants from the Provincial government to absolutely meteoric rise to power.  Unelected power.
  • rent-a-cow farmers.  While a majority of locals are struggling to pay their property taxes and water bills, there is a minority of farm classifications that don't deserve support because they increase costs for the rest of us by not paying their fair share.   You don't need a calculator to figure out that a "farmer" whose sole farm income--not to mention activity and effort--is the difference between what he paid to rent a few cows for 3 or 4 months from a bona fide rancher and that of the cows' selling price does not give him $2,500 in "farm income".  Yet using this creative accounting for which dubious paperwork likely exists, he qualifies for the much lower farm property tax rate and the farm irrigation water rate.   You and I pay more for property taxes and water because, unlike these "farmers", we don't play the system.
So what were the positive surprises during last night's meeting?  It was the depth of discussion offered by incumbents.  While I haven't attended many of this council's meetings (for good reason), I have attended enough meetings during my  residency to wonder where these deep discussions actually occur because it's seldom evident in open council meetings.  The discussion period that is provided during council meetings on various agenda items seems to provide abbreviated results, and rarely gets into "the guts" of a topic, with each councillor expressing reservations or support.  So, are topics decided in-camera so no dissention is in the public eye?  During conference calls?  Via email among the councillors prior to public meetings?  In-person and privately?  Hmmm.  Almost seems so.  

From many, many residents:  Thanks to the new candidates who have let their names stand for the November 19th election:   Dave Hrabchuk as the new mayoralty candidate, John Hegler, Peter McClean and Glen Taylor for Council.  

Good luck! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Coldstream vs. Residential Homeowners

and I know who'll win.

Tonight's open Council meeting should--in itself--be viewed as an indication of the failure of Mayor Garlick and his Council's term in office.   One after another, attendees addressed the Mayor from the podium indicating their abject disgust at how this Council is handling a bylaw that sees homeowners as Developers, which automatically triggers a requirement for off-site works, similar to the process with Commercial and large developments.

Back-peddling by saying the bylaw has been in place since 2008, Mayor Garlick agreed--when questioned--that the bylaw has been idle until recently, when Judy Paterson's building permit application mysteriously resurrected it.

Quickly switching the municipality into reverse gear, Mayor and Council now wish to be seen as heroes, advising that District of Coldstream Subdivison, Development and Servicing Bylaw No. 1535, 2008, Amendment Bylaw No. 1595, 2011, Amendment No. 1--which is slated for third reading (and passing) tonight--would exempt off-site works and service requirements for development with a construction value less than or equal to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) cumulatively over any given five year period.

No matter, it seems, that real estate representatives stated they could not in all honesty recommend to their prospective purchasers that a planned renovation might incur a set dollar cost--with a factual formula.  There is no formula, as each case is "judged" on its own (dollars-to-the-community) merit.  "So can I recommend to a purchaser that they buy a 'reno house' in Coldstream...I think not," concluded the rep.

No matter that a building contractor stated he could not in all honesty hope to gain work for his employees doing renovations in Coldstream, as a $50,000 renovation budget would--to quote Councillor Firman--"not build you a shithouse" (This candor from the same councillor who was overheard to say at Fisher's Hardware two weeks ago, "I'm only drunk half the time now.")   Contractor Dahlen indicated that renovations would "go underground", or stop entirely. 

And a Mr. Hegler indicated that in the Council's next newsletter--instead of promoting their "works"--that the publication informs the public that residents are now considered Developers, and are subjec to off-site development costs.

No matter that several residents stated they would not choose to renovate in Coldstream and trigger the off-site works and services bylaw... for drainage...or perhaps for sidewalks and curbs...or for a bike path.  One resident said that a prospective building permit for a renovation in Coldstream Estates might trigger a sidewalk development cost.  He reminded the Mayor and Council that "there isn't another piece of sidewalk or curb for miles on either side of that property."

Dave Paterson took the microphone to indicate that for any bylaw to be legal, it must be transparent and must know what will be incurred if you apply for a permit.  Judy Paterson's research quoted text after text which indicated the District of Coldstream's bylaw borders on a travesty as it teeters precariously on the legal fence.

So, are Garlick et al heroes for "upping" the building permit application trigger to $50,000 from the previous Zero Dollars?  That's what they'd like you to believe.

Councillor Enns put it in his most patronizingly superior attitude, "so, let me get this'd like me to vote tonight to turn down the bylaw amendment (and return it to Zero Dollars trigger)."  He and Mayor Garlick reminded attendees that the "Zero" bylaw in 2008 (which had never been enacted) was "put in place by a previous Council"...(yes, Mayor Garlick was a Councillor on that previous council).

...and earlier, amateur councillor Mario Besso tried to make a point by reminding attendees--only a little less condescendingly than Enns--"that Coldstream is bestowed with broad powers...", trailing off, as though that were sufficient to quell the unrest from the public, ultimately making no point at all.  This the same councillor who--as one resident reported--"attends every bloody meeting there is for 100 miles around, and claims her dollar "attendance fee" even if she's not on the bloody committee."

And all through the hour-long "delegation" process, Councillor Dirk--the longest serving councillor in Coldstream--made no effort to hide what has become his trademark when things aren't going well for council...a smirk.  A smirk so permanent for the hour-long to-and-fro that I squinted to more easily see if tape on each corner held his mouth upturned at the ends.  No tape was evident on Councillor Smirk.

CHBC-TV recorded what I've missed reporting here, and the link to their news broadcast will be added here tomorrow.  

What wasn't reported by anyone at the podium was this:
  • Mayor and Council have a duty to represent (act on behalf of--not against) their citizens.  Part of that duty is fiscal responsibility.  If at this juncture of their elected term they decided the municipality is short of funds for their precious Wish List that includes bike paths, they need to spend less money.  Plain and simple.  Just like families do.  Just like business does.
  • The bylaw at hand is a farce.  Had the Mayor and Council wished to be transparent in their dealings with residents, we would now be at third reading of the bylaw with its "trigger amount" at $500,000., not the paltry $50,000.  How could this Mayor and Council dare to be at third reading for the $50,000 trigger amount?  How stupid do they think residents are that we'll believe they're doing us a favour in enacting that!
But we should have seen this coming.  Remember when this Mayor and Council indicated that with the closure of the Owens-Illinois (Consumers Glass) plant in Lavington they were short the property tax dollars, and they'd have to raise taxes to make up the shortfall?

I remember it.  A business owner would've lowered their budget, as would a family if income dropped suddenly. 
They're even believing their own press...the loss of group conscience and responsibility to their taxpayers isn't a good sign.

Long before the meeting ended, I left, feeling disgusted with being over-governed and under-served.

Municipal elections are a month away.
Time to clean house.

I believe we now know the questions we'll put to candidates for mayor and council. 

"I'd love a $50,000 doghouse," offers Kia, adding "but streetlights would keep me awake."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Coldstream Municipality's Brow-Beating of Taxpayers

...and "selected" taxpayers, at that.

Crying "we're broke" is no excuse for Mayor Garlick and his council--spurred on to dizzying heights of sleaziness by the ever-protected bureaucrats at the municipal hall--to use tactics that place only a thin veil on what otherwise would be called extortion.
Extortion is a felony, but apparently only for vassals.

Since applying for a building permit to renovate her Kidston Road property,  Judy Paterson has been told that "the wealthy should give back to the community" by either gifting land, money or adopting the project of building a multi-use path (affectionately termed a kids-n-ponies path) along her roadfront to the tune of $~300,000.00, she's been told she is a Developer because she applied for a building permit to renovate her 80 year-old farmhouse.  By declaring Judy a developer, all alterations to buildings are now considered "development" and subject to off-site works and services - like road works, sewer, etc.

CHBC-TV interview with Judy Paterson is found here:

So are these Coldstream's scare tactics?  Likely.
But why, if funds for a kids-n-ponies path are available through the provincial Gas Tax Fund and the Healthy Communities Act  "to plan for, develop and operate environmentally sustainable infrastructure".  

Judy Paterson has an answer to that:  because communities need to own the land on which they wish to develop environmentally sustainable infrastructure.  "And I own these 5 acres," says Judy.   

Wait a minute.  A kids-n-ponies (multi-use) path is infrastructure?  (Eligible projects are listed on page 31 of 48 pages here).  

Not according to Wikipedia: 
The term infrastructure typically refers to ... roads, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications...facilitates the production of goods and services, and distribution of finished products to markets, as well as basic social services such as schools and hospitals, etc. 

So, a kids-n-ponies path is relegated to a community's Wish List, not infrastructure, especially when the path leads to nothing but a Provincial Park.  But since the municipality of Coldstream is broke, councillors fervently believe the end justifies the means.  They are complicit in this brow-beating of Judy Paterson.

One good thing the Union of B.C. Municipalities meetings have stressed:  Point 3.3, bottom of page 11 here:  public Annual Reporting and Annual Meetings to ensure transparency and accountability.

Transparency and accountability?
As transparency and accountability requirements have somehow been lost during this Mayor and Council's term in Coldstream, how about adding:   decency and respect for residents.

Speaking of transparency and accountability, imagine this scenario:

Wealthy Judy Paterson is no longer wealthy.
Judy has written a cheque to the District of Coldstream for $300,000.00., ostensibly to end this nightmare.
So, Coldstream Municipality:  where / how is Judy's gift recorded on your Financial Statement? 

Probably under "Lost and Found," offers Kia.

Look under Lost principles.
Or Natural Justice and Procedural Fairness.
Neither of which have been used by Mayor Garlick and this Council for some time.