Sunday, June 30, 2013

Former Vernon Councillor Speaks Out

...Yet another compelling Letter to the Editor of the Morning Star, published June 30, 2013:


When any large organization is examined by a qualified third party there is always the risk of hearing things that may not be comfortable.

"Vernon city council has missed an opportunity... It declined to even study the possibilities."
Shawn Lee

Such has been, I fear, the experience of our city council.  I am referring to the KPMG recommendation that the City of Vernon pursue the amalgamation of the members of the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee into a single municipality.  This recommendation came as a result of examining the various agreements and financial commitments that Vernon has with its immediate neighbours.

Vernon city council has missed an opportunity to look at this perennial issue of one municipal government for Greater Vernon.  It declined to even study the possibilities.

Why decline the opportunity to know and understand?

To this observer, council preferred to respond in the negative by relying on preconceived notions and emotion rather than clearly presented facts.  This to me is a most regrettable decision.

Council took so many good actions with regard to the core services review and yet stepped away from gaining a fuller understanding of the regional governance issue that has been the elephant in the room for so many years.

Alas, we will continue to observe the complicated dance at GVAC, remembering that these various performances are what may have moved KPMG to recommend a single municipality for Greater Vernon in the first place.

I don't believe that amalgamation should be pursued without a clear understanding of the benefits or pitfalls that would accrue to the effected taxpayers.

Without a very clear and honest case for one municipal government, it would require too great a leap of faith on the part of the voters to support such an initiative.  This would be too much to ask.

But I also believe that it is not too much to expect our elected officials to honestly examine the possibility of a single municipal government."
                                            Shawn Lee

"As a former councillor," offers Kia, "he'd know all about the 'dance'."

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Powerful Logic of Michael Tindall

Michael Tindall's letter to the editor today (Morning Star June 28/13) is compelling indeed:

So 91 individuals with the City of Vernon earned more than $75,000 in 2012.

What would that number be if we included Coldstream and RDNO employees in the count, perhaps 110 to 120, more?

At the lower number that's an annual and increasing payroll of $8.25 million.

Ask yourself how much of that is duplicated planners, chief administrative officers, fire chiefs, engineers, mayors and councils?  The list goes on.

And of course they all have expense accounts.

So let's address the elephant in the room, amalgamation.

If we draw a 30-kilometre diameter circle with Vernon in the middle, we'd have an area encompassing Vernon, Coldstream and most of Areas B and C in which we have three local governments and all of those expensive, duplicated senior staff we identified earlier.

The population is likely between 60,000 and 70,000 to be generous.

In contrast, Kamloops has a population of 85,000.
Nanaimo has a population of 83,700.
Prince George has a population of 88,000.
Chilliwack has a population of 80,000 (all numbers rounded).

And these jurisdictions get by very nicely with a single mayor and council, with a single complement of senior staff and, without the on-again, off-again interjurisdictional bickering that has shamed Greater Vernon politics for years.

Imagine the more efficient use of your tax dollars with a single mayor and council, a single set of planning regulations and a single set of senior employees.

Imagine actually beginning to replace the aging infrastructure instead of complaining about the size of the deficit.

Imagine moving ahead with planned growth throughout the area.

As a Greater Vernon taxpayer, I observe that the solution to a substantially more efficient use of our tax revenues is within each citizen's grasp.

Demand a referendum on amalgamation be included with the 2014 municipal elections and let's move on from there."
                                Michael Tindall

"Even sometime-minister Ida Chong--after calling for a governance review years ago--waffled and let the ball drop."

Repairing their "reporting imbalance", the Morning Star today provided three segments on Greater Vernon's water plan.

First, Rolke's story "Water Plan Moving Ahead":

A multi-million-dollar, 24-year upgrade to Greater Vernon's water system has overcome a major hurdle.
Regional District of North Okanagan directors approved the master water plan Wednesday, meeting an Interior Health Authority deadline to have a document submitted by today.

"This has been a lot of work," said Patrick Nicol, board chair.

The process began in March 2011 when IHA issued an official order for a master water plan to be developed.

"We analyzed every aspect of the water system and we looked at a number of options," said Dale McTaggard, RDNO's engineering general manager.

The preferred option calls for partial separation for irrigation and domestic uses, with treatment at the Duteau Creek and Mission Hill plants.  Total capital costs would be about $111 million between 2013 and 2037.

"Option two gets maximum separation for the best cost," said McTaggart, adding that not treating irrigation water will reduce operating expenses.

McTaggart believes the option also meets domestic needs, particularly when weather disrupts water supply.

"Already two or three times we've had to switch water sources.  It shows how important it is to have two treatment plants and two sources," he said.

Up to 2017, about $2 million in capital costs can be funded through utility rates but there will be a need to borrow $68 million.

Public assent for borrowing will be required either through a petition or referendum, which could be held in the spring or fall of 2014.  It's anticipated that water rates could double over time.

But even if the referendum fails, the plan could still move ahead.

"If we do nothing, IHA will likely give us an order (to proceed)," said McTaggart."

"...maximum separation for the best cost," quotes Kia, adding "we'll remind them of that as water rates have already increased four-fold in 12 years."

Secondly, Jennifer Smith's story:  "Councillor proposes another option":

New ideas are coming down the pipeline to get better use of local water and taxpayers' dollars.

A $111 million master water plan has been identified, which could see taxpayers going to a petition process or referendum in November 2014.

The plan includes providing filtration at the Duteau Creek treatment plant for $26.5 million and at the Mission Hill plant for $30 million, among other improvements.

While the plan is already being submitted to Interior Health for approval, one local politician says it's not the best use of taxpayer's dollars.

Considering that the majority of domestic water use comes from Mission Hill, Coldstream Councillor Maria Besso suggests the funds be directed solely to that plant.

"Instead of building the plant at Duteau, do filtration at Mission Hill," said Besso, noting that 80 per cent of domestic use is from that station versus only 20 per cent at Duteau.

"It would end up costing us the same amount, we're just doing it in a different order."

Using water usage data from 2011 and 2012, Besso says that in the summer, on a peak day, of the 160 million litres being treated at Duteau it is estimated that only six million litres are for domestic.  The remaining 154 million litres are being sprayed on fields for irrigation.

"It would be a crime to put filtered water on fields," said Besso.

And in the winter, Besso adds, treatment of the average 225 million litres per month at Duteau costs $363 per million litres.  Whereas Mission Hill treatment costs $83 per million litres for the 522 million litres per month.

"I think we're going in the wrong direction," she said.

"Yes, it should be a crime to put filtered--and chlorinated--water on crops," avows Kia, "but where's the interview with the only councillor (G.Kiss) who was given permission to meet with the water consultants?"

Third, today's Editorial, entitled "Control Over Water Lacking":

"Nobody likes where water rates have gone in Great Vernon but it appears there's absolutely no choice.

The Regional District of North Okanagan board gave its blessing Wednesday to a master water plan that will cover 24 years and cost a staggering $111 million.

As a result, customers can likely expect utility rates to double in the immediate future.

But it should be pointed out that RDNO didn't initiate this process simply as a make-work project.

In March 2011, the regional district was issued an order from the Interior Health Authority to develop a master water plan.  The authority also dictated a strict deadline for completion--today.

Since 2011, Greater Vernon officials have worked hard to establish a document that will meet the requirements of the IHA, including filtration on the Duteau Creek source.

Now that the master water plan is completed, the next steps include IHA approval and gaining public approval to borrow $68 million.

Except that Greater Vernon's lack of control over the matter doesn't end there.

If, by chance, residents voted down adding to their debt load, IHA could still order the regional district to proceed with borrowing and implementation of the plan.  Public input would be cast aside.

In the end, RDNO has done a thorough investigation of options and has developed a plan that should meet our needs. 

Whether that plan becomes a reality eventually is anybody's guess at this stage of the game.

Stay tuned."

"Just like Coldstream's referendum on the new Municipal Hall--where people voted 'no' and they built it anyway--why don't we save the referendum cost since results 'can be cast aside'," asks Kia..."oh yes, it's Victoria's rules that demand a referendum take place for capital borrowing."

Heaven forbid that we'd save the referendum costs (~$100,000 of taxpayer money) and actually put it towards the master water plan!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Loss of Vernon's Mayor and Council

A compelling Letter to the Editor, from the Morning Star, June 26, 2013:

"I have lost faith in the mayor and council.  Why you say?

First the core report, we were told at many public meetings that the report would be completely open and above board.  Well first off, we are not allowed to see the one item (staffing) that we wanted to and were never told we would not.  All we want to see is the basics.  Second we have people telling us that they are doing this and saving that but as the public, we never have seen the final report.  We should have a timelline report with all of the suggestions and if they have been completed, are in the process or not probable.  This should come from the council and mayor, not managers.

Then there's the sports complex.  It was pushed through because the plans were made and they had to get it through to bid on the Senior Games of 2015.

Well, you pushed it through, even if it should have been part of the core report and now they say they are not bidding on 2015 as they want it to be up and running first.  Second, we are sinking more money into it that I was not aware of like many taxpayers.

Now they are making up a committee to finalize the design?

I thought by what was said at the public meetings, that this was the design and now everyone wants to change it again.

The sports complex might have to share parking with transit.

How much more money is this going to cost?  I said that this was going to happen.

Maybe we should stand back and take another look at it if this is what we really want now.

Now we are putting aside 29th Street upgrades (sewers need replacing) but we went ahead with the upgrading of 30th Avenue.
This does not make sense.

Now we have another manager giving out a viewpoint.  Mr. Poole was so glad to say there has been an average of 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of new buildings downtown.

Most of this is in the Tolko building, and two new buildings.  But he neglects to say how many buildings the city had to buy and then tear down or leave vacant to achieve these two new buildings.  They are not even full yet and doubt they will ever be.

When he makes this report, it does not take into consideration all the empty space available downtown or in the city.

Now we have managers having interviews and making pronouncements regarding things that should be coming from the mayor or council as they are our elected representatives, not the paid managers.

A greater amount of taxpayers are getting fed up with how this mayor and council, minus a few councillors who are speaking up for us, are treating us as uneducated and unimportant people.

It is time to make them responsible.  Write to the auditor general and your member of the Legislature and lodge a complaint.  We should look into the prospect of having a recall campaign if possible for these officials."
Garry Haas

Monday, June 17, 2013

Invisible Reporter?

Richard Rolke, reporter with the Morning Star, wasn't even there.

Coldstream Councillor Kiss stated that NO media were present at the Thursday, June 13, 2013 Water meeting at the Regional District.
No newspaper, no radio.

So where'd this Morning Star story come from three days later?
Or, perhaps more to the point, who wrote it? 

Richard Rolke
"Greater Vernon residents will have a say on multi-million-dollar upgrades.

A petition process or referendum could be held in the spring or in November 2014 to determine if there is public support to borrow funds for the $111 million master water plan.

"It's important for the politicians to allow the public to weigh in on this," said director Jim Garlick.

The initial borrowing could be for $68 million and Garlick says there would be an awareness campaign leading up to any vote.

"The public needs an opportunity to understand the plan and the Interior Health Authority requirements."

A negative vote, though, may not mean borrowing or the project have stalled.

"If it's not supported, there is the opportunity for IHA to step in and order it to be done.  They could order us to borrow without (public) consent," said Garlick.

Option 2 provides for filtration to be provided at the Duteau Creek treatment plant for $26.5 million and at the Mission Hill plant for $30 million. 

There is also raising the height of the Aberdeen damn, an Okanagan Lake pump station, distribution improvements and separating irrigation water in Lavington from domestic use.

The scope of the plan covers until about 2037.

"The master water plan is being brought on us because of IHA requirements to have more safety built into the system," said director Bob Spiers.

"Water rates will definitely be impacted.  You will see a doubling of rates in eight to 10 years as they are calculated now."

The plan does include pursuing senior government grants to try and offset the cost.

"I hope the province and the feds will come in with their one-third, one-third (funding) as they have in other places, said Spiers.

The Greater Vernon Advisory Committee has recommended the master water plan (26 pages of VERY interesting reading) to the Regional District of North Okanagan board, which will consider approval June 26.  The document must also be ratified by the Interior Health Authority."

"Maybe it's ESP reporting," offers Kia. 

Whoever wrote the story, the fact remains that $111 million is going to be borrowed and spent on the water system upgrades.  Residents will have a say, but those results mean nothing, as the Interior Health Authority is demanding filtration of domestic water.  And since the recently constructed Duteau Creek Water Treatment plant (it's so new, they're still calling it NEW) today serves domestic and irrigation customers--without separated (twinned) lines--filtration will occur there as well as the Mission Hill Water Treatment plant.  

Other options were considered by the same consultants (who recommended building the Duteau Creek Water Treatment plant), and the directors (politicians).

Several options would've resulted in water consultants and politicians being ridden out of town on a rail -- right after being tarred and feathered. 
You can add the Interior Health Authority to that rail trip, as they bring no money to the table regardless of which option is followed.

Why?  Because it would be proof that the Duteau Creek Water Treatment plant should never have been built.  Raw water should serve irrigation customers in Lavington.  Chlorinated and filtered water should serve domestic customers, the majority of whom live West of Coldstream/Lavington.

That would leave the Mission Hill Water treatment plant for domestic filtration, with the bulk of twinned lines occurring off the single-piped lines at West Coldstream.  The relatively (in volume comparison to irrigation usage) small number of domestic customers in Lavington?  Probably cheaper to buy 'em all a reverse osmosis unit!  Maybe a combination of filtration and sand filters

Whatever happens, three things are certain:
  • Residents will pay, pay, pay, pay.  And pay!
So what're the second and third things?
  • We'll wish Al Horning of the Black Mountain Irrigation District in Kelowna had resided in Vernon.  He was instrumental in many aspects of their state-of-the-art system.  He not only got grants from government, he and his group enlarged their water source and kept rates half what ours are today.  Today their water system even produces electricity for the hydro grid!  
No such luck here.

"No such people here," muses Kia, "but we do have invisible reporters."

Walt and Cicero

Walt Lesyk, a Vernon resident for 20 years, finally has his say in this Letter to the Editor June 14th, 2013:

City council proposes a gas tax.  Are they kidding me?  That's the most stupid idea I have heard.

This letter is long overdue.  I have been gritting my teeth for some time over the lack of any management out of this current mayor and councillors.

Actually this has been true for several councils in the past years.

I would like to be proud of the town that I chose for my home some 20 years ago, but I find it difficult to do.  This town is dying, mainly because we have no one to properly lead and develop the economy for the well being of this place.

Observe the number of residents leaving town, businesses moving to other towns, the number of empty store and businesses.  Last person out, turn out the lights.

Has anyone noticed that we no longer have any provincial offices here?

They have all been moved to Kelowna.  And that without a peep or whimper from our so-called leaders.  If a town does not grow, it dies.

Instead of encouraging core development, our councils waste our money on social items such as libraries, bicycle paths, esthetic street rebuilding, museums, art galleries, etc.

These type of buildings are ideal but intelligent leaders would reserve them for better economic times.

Instead of gas taxes, wouldn't it be more prudent to use the money wasted on borrowing interest to build that stupid sports track that no-one will use?  Who is going to drive three miles out of town to use it?

I guess this is what we get for electing non-development politicians in city hall for the past many years.  Decline.

Mr. Mayor and councillors, you are doing a poor job of leading this little town. "
Walt Lesyk what does the title reference "Cicero" refer?

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome will become bankrupt.  People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance".                                                                                                Cicero, 55 BC

Monday, June 10, 2013

Stop the Spending

The letter was headed -- Stop the Roundabout.

It's telling the District of Coldstream to stop the spending.

A letter to the editor of the Morning Star, published June 9, 2013, was to the point:

"Coldstream council, are you listening?  Just in case you are for once, stop wasting my money.

Leave the Kidston Road/Kalamalka Road intersection the way it is.

Why is Coldstream always willing to bend over for just a select few?  Speed bumps on West Kal and Postill for example.  What about some speed bumps for Kalamalka Road or how about Highway 6?  Lots of people are speeding on those roads.

Just joking.  Please don't apply for another grant.

Is it really necessary to interrupt traffic 24 hours a day for everyone just to avoid a five-minute wait during school and sports traffic?

There isn't anywhere left to develop in the Kidston area so future traffic flow will not be increasing.

People are free to take Kalavista Drive or Postill Drive (even with speed bumps I believe they are still open to the less fortunate).

There is no problem with the Kidston/Kal intersection.  Stop creating one.  Stop wasting my money."
Terry Nerling

"Terry Nerling took the words right out of residents' mouths," offers Kia, "we've been 'bending over' for the municipality for years with this bunch."

Thanks for making your point, Terry.
Or should we say, our point.