Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weiners and Farm Status

Sing along, to that famous tune   I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Weiner. 

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
'Coz that's what I truly want to be
Now that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Other people pay my taxes for me.

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Grateful for spare time on my hands
Land's always bare, but farmable they care
All throughout the community's lands

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Cows get a block to lick and muddy dirt
Tho' it's all so draining to me
Creating farm receipts is such hard work

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
No mowers and equipment in the yard to see
No barn or shop, or ladders needed
My buddy's here now, trading a farm receipt with me

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Condoned by politicians in the land
Friend's hay I've apparently bought
Tho' all his hay remains in his hand

I'm glad that I'm a rent-a-cow farmer
Jingling pockets heavy with my money
Readying the motorhome was tough
She said "let's go south for winter, honey"

And maybe more than 6 months we'll stay
Coz there's nothing to do around here anyway
Since I'm a rent-a-cow farmer


"...and I'm the shepherd," offers Kia.

MGM Hasn't Phoned?

Obviously still pining for lost tax dollars from the defunct Consumers Glass site in Lavington, Councillor Besso queried:  "I'd like to know what's been thought of, what's been done," reported in the Morning Star November 29th, 2013.

A blog story about two years ago, (October 11/11):  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. 

Well, those of us who remain here saw our taxes go up, and they continue to.

The site hasn't been sold, or subdivided, or leased and, presumably Owens-Illinois still owns the property, a Google aerial shows it at bottom right corner here:

View Larger Map

That wasn't the only location closed.  Here's a story on the Hamilton Glass Plant closure which saw some use as a movie set after its demise.
That's likely where councillor Besso's colleague, Mayor Garlick got the idea that the Lavington location could be used for movies, as he was decidedly against subdividing the 91.74-acre property into smaller--albeit useful--industrial lots, despite some apparent interest in that.

Coldstream's new director of development services, Mike Reiley, was quoted in the paper ever so diplomatically that prospective industrial land purchasers "...may not necessarily want 91 acres."

Ya think?
Now, six years after the plant closed, our Mayor stated there'd be more interest in the site "once environmental cleanup is done."
Does he think Owens-Illinois is going to come back, six years later, and pursue an environmental study, let alone clean-up?

Details (from realtor listing by Don Kassa):

9622 Hill Drive, Lavington
Presented at $9,700,000
Status: Unlisted

Near Vernon, B.C., the former glass plant. 91.7 acres zoned light industial on three titles, subdivision potential. The building is approximately ten acres in size including all levels with ceiling heights of twenty three to twenty nine feet clear in many areas. The building is adaptable to numerous uses. The warehouse itself is 6.3 acres with six covered loading bays. There is huge power and natural gas service, a railway spur and lots of water.
Property features
Lavington Glass Plant

Site Data
91.74 acres or approximately 3,993,145 square feet zoned I.2 General Industrial (zoning attached)

Approximately 1.169 feet along Springfield Road, 1.901 feet along Park Land Road and 2,400 feet along Learmouth Road

Services are as follows: Two sources of water, natural gas, and telephone. Two 25K Volt hydro services. On-site septic system. The disposal field is at the southwest corner of the property at Park Lane Road and Learmouth Road while the septic tanks are located directly south of the factory. Water is supplied to the main building from a line 10" line to Park Lane Road. Storm drainage is surface drainage and holding lagoon.

The fly-on-the-wall at the Owens-Illinois boardroom knows what its directors said:  "It's cheaper to simply continue paying vacant taxes on it."

Apparently "the owner...hasn't been really engaged," adds the mayor.
Translation:  Coldstream taxpayers will pay for the study and site clean-up.

"Getting an international company to come back for the clean up?" says Kia, adding "good luck with that."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quesnel Supports Downtown Businesses in Meaningful Way

No hand-wringing and walking in circles for this Council.
No lip service to downtown merchants' complaints of extremely difficult competition from big box stores.

Quesnel Council put their money where their mouths were.

Parking meters were REMOVED in the downtown core.
Yes, removed.
Not refurbished, not cheaper rates...
Meters were removed.

Fairness and equity so downtown merchants can begin to compete with the free parking offered by big box stores.
That's what results from a council that is responsive to their residents (versus being responsive to their bureaucrats).

In addition, a facade renewal grant program was offered to merchants, and will "spruce up" the downtown core, expected to renew interest in the area.

A friend visiting Quesnel this summer overheard a long-time resident say:  "This is the way downtown used to be, busy with shoppers, every parking space taken, with more people arriving to browse downtown shops."

Cause and effect.

And why not?
The alternative would've been:   For Sale, For Rent, For Lease...

Big box store parking is free.
Imagine the small downtown business owner trying to compete with the "buying power" and "free parking" that national firms possess.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map 

Quesnel's taxpayers have made some important decisions lately.
The recent referendum on a "Multi-Centre" has been tabulated, with the referendum failing to gain the required votes.

Records show that the Multi-Centre would have required a $30 million investment for the 1,600 seat arena, a 450 seat performing arts theatre and accompanying event and assembly space.  A 2008 referendum had approved borrowing up to $15 million.  After a further $5.5 million in funding is raised (because the project costs increased since the design's inception) the balance would be paid by taxation.

The City has, through Translink, added later service to transit based on requests from residents.

The City of Quesnel, Caribooo Regional District and Library share this facility.

"Sounds as though their Council has a good mix of councillors from all walks of life," offers Kia. 

A responsive Council is alive for taxpayers.

Who Knew?

Eric Foster, MLA for Vernon Monashee could've mentioned it to the media.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.
Maybe he's mentioned it only to elected officials.

But local taxpayers--deeply worried about who could be objective enough to do a pros/cons study on restructuring/unification--have a right to know that the B.C. government actually has a department for local government restructuring!

"...that is [Victoria's] preferred path of service delivery - download, download, download."
Anonymous comment 

Who knew?
It's a sure bet the public doesn't know.
Apparently the poster to our blog story November 24th, 2013 entitled "Anti-unification Arguments Condone Unification" did, as their 3:55 pm anonymous comment included:  "The Province has an entire department dedicated to local government restructuring."

Well, flip my pancakes!
Guess most of us taxpayers are too busy running our lives to be aware of this stuff.
Guess the local newspaper folks are too.

Victoria's 24-page document "Managing Changes to Local Government Structure in British Columbia" is here.

From page 5: "Around the province, each community is unique, although there are often shared characteristics.  A key feature of the province's approach to local government restructuring is to ensure that the scope and process for a community to consider restructuring is the appropriate response to deal with the unique characteristics and issues in the community".

But Victoria is very heavily pro-regional districts; so it's no surprise our MLA toes that line.
As the anonymous poster also indicated:  "...that is their preferred path of service delivery - download, download, download."

From page 11, the report focuses on Municipal Amalgamation, apparently relatively rare in the province.
Must admit it's refreshing to read "the guts" of the topic, beginning with the following:

"There are strong arguments in favour of amalgamation.  Through amalgamation, municipalities may benefit from:
  • more effective government;
  • better ability to manage growth through integrated planning;
  • economies of scale or lower per capita service costs when providing some services to a larger population;
  • fairer cost sharing;
  • elimination of the "free rider" problem in which citizens bordering municipalities benefit from services they don't pay for;
  • better integration of infrastructure services like sewerage or solid waste management; and
  • more equitable access to resources; for example, an industrial tax base.
  Strong arguments can also be made against amalgamation.
  • small communities can achieve economies of scale through joint service provision agreements;
  • the regional district system can address many of the issues otherwise solved through amalgamation by creating service areas;
  • the regional district system allows for fairer distribution of service costs across an urban area;
  • the regional district system allows services, like sewerage and solid waste management, to be organized on a regional or sub-regional basis;
  • the regional district system can overcome the "free rider" problem if key services are provided on a regional or sub-regional basis;
  • economies of scale vary significantly by service and population level;
  • the growth management problems created by having many small communities can be reduced by using tools provided by the Growth Strategies Act;
  • local autonomy sometimes outweighs the efficiency values of amalgamation;
  • smaller community councils can be more accessible to their citizens and have stronger local identities; and,
  • smaller communities are better able to match the interests of local residents, their willingness to pay and the services provided."
Will have to read the entire report in depth to see if there's any mention of asset transfers and the like.

Will the regional district have the guts to recommend giving Cherryville to Lumby?
How about Spallumcheen to Armstrong or the City of Vernon?
Enderby to Armstrong or Salmon Arm?
Doubt it, but the larger community could sure use the tax dollars and, if the swallowed-up areas are designated to remain "rural", fears of streetlights and curbs (and the tax dollars that requires) would be virtually eliminated.

Kia sighs:   "...oh oh, there's that far-too-heavy focus on regional districts," adding "but I'll sleep better knowing that Ida Chong isn't in that department."

She's not, Kia.
She's now Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

Doesn't bode well for the aboriginals.
But they're used to that system not working.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Councillors Should Have to State 'WHY'

Coldstream Councillor Richard Enns was the only hold-out Monday night when Council voted to allow construction of the next phase at Coldstream Meadows,  The Terraces.

Lucky seniors indeed who choose to age in these future Coldstream Meadows homes...

The Morning Star story on Coldstream Meadows stated that Enns declined to give a reason why he voted Nae on the development.

Why is it that councillors are not required to state a reason for their vote?

There's a 29-page publication by Staples, McDannold Stewart entitled "A Handbook for Municipal Councils under the Community Charter and the Local Government Act", November 2008.
Under "Voting Rules (123)", page 15, there is no requirement for a councillor to state a reason for their voting either YAE or NAE.  Even a non-vote by a councillor is deemed to have been a vote. 

So much for knowing whether a councillor shares a taxpayer's view on a topic.

A resident may have personally been against a topic, but without knowing WHY the councillor voted against it, how do you know if his reason would be considered by YOU to be valid?
i.e. logical in your opinion to warrant a check-mark beside his name on the ballot at the next municipal vote.

"But provincial legislation does declare local government a 'natural person', grins Kia. though that's important...

So much for transparency...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Circling the Wagons post-Petition and post-Core Services Review

Didn't find KPMG's core services review when it hit the streets...
But the 325-page report is indeed available to the public, here.

There is a whack of other links, including the administration report from the City of Vernon.  All links can be accessed from this page:

Conspicuous by its absence is an administration report from the District of Coldstream.
(Kia wagers 4 cups of kibbles such a [full] report will never be featured on Coldstream's website.)

Directors of Areas "B" and "C" have been relatively vocal against amalgamation via the local newspaper, and they've made some salient points that only the Province of British Columbia could really screw up (which they probably will, in an attempt to prevent a precedent being set in other areas of British Columbia regarding highway maintenance).

Oft-mentioned is how this governance configuration was created:  throwing an open box of push-pins into the air seems entirely plausible.  

Before Coldstream's chief administrative officer Michael Stamhuis retired, he likely did just such a report to Coldstream mayor and council, and it probably ended up not for public consumption.  Stamhuis' successor, Trevor Seibel, moved straight into his new duties but has remained mute on the topic.
Or hushed.

Wagon circling began at Coldstream Council's in-camera meeting on October 21, 2013

However, a rare visit to Coldstream's mayor and council was made by Vernon's mayor and council and chief administrative officer on October 21st, 2013.  
The "special meeting" convened at 3:30; two hours later it was over.

Again conspicuous by its absence was the local newspaper, despite the 3:30 p.m. start time.
Guessing that they were told 99% of the meeting would be held in-camera, i.e. "nothing to report here, folks, move along".

What could all these elected officials have been discussing?
Only a stray tourist would guess it wasn't amalgamation.

Discussions would have focused on the +2,900-name petition from the Greater Vernon Governance Society and whether elected officials will "take it to the province", as Eric Foster MLA indicated is "the process to be taken."

Even IF--and that's a mighty if--elected officials agree to do a study on the pros and cons of unification/amalgamation, the critical component is who will do the study...obviously employees of the City of Vernon, the Regional District and the District of Coldstream can't be expected to be objective on a topic that may affect their and their coworkers' job descriptions.
That'd be a recipe from hell.
But apparently there's no money for KPMG (the authors of the CS review) to do the in-depth plan.

No minutes are ever released from in-camera, but the special meeting's agenda did cover:
  • the security of the property of the municipality, and/or;
  • the acquisition, disposition, or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality, and/or
  • negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public.
Assisting Coldstream Mayor Garlick and council to circle his wagons were:  Vernon Mayor Sawatsky, Councillors Cunningham, Lord, Nicol, O'Keefe, and Spiers; Vernon's chief admin officer Will Pearce, Vernon's finance manager Kevin Bertles, Vernon's manager of public works James Rice, Vernon's recreation services manager Doug Ross, and regional directors:  "B", Bob Fleming, and "C" Mike McNabb.  Also present were RDNO's chief admin officer Trafford Hall and Ms. Mellott, electoral area admin manager, both of whom directed wagon traffic. 

"I'll put away the municipal hall's For Sale sign for now," offers Kia, "but I'm not going to dust it."

a note concerning a comment overheard today in Vernon:
A fellow said "the only reason people want into the city is to hook up to sewer."
His friend replied:  "why don't they simply have their septic system pumped every couple of years?"  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Anti-unification Arguments Condone Unification

Yup, they do, albeit inadvertently.
Time and again; with such frequency that we should have collected them here.

And today's letter to the editor from Messrs. Tassie and Kastelen of Coldstream, and Drennan of Vernon, didn't shatter that mold.
They provided successes where local governments (plural)--when combined into one decision-making group--provided efficiencies, if not cost savings.

Herewith a smattering of their quotes, beginning with a phrase from the middle of their letter:  "Beyond the financial argument..."

Where years ago, mayors and bureaucrats not getting along was reason enough for residents to support amalgamation, the financial argument takes top billing today with most residents and businesses.
Except some, obviously, from the letter. 

"Paying a quarter of a tab is better than paying half".
 CTF (Canadian Taxpayers Federation)

Taxpayers demand efficiencies AND cost savings.
Not one or the other.
Business owners need--more than merely desire--efficiencies AND cost savings.
But the fact remains that government -- whether bureaucrat or elected official -- at all levels appear incapable of providing both.

Lest mayors and councils feel targeted, they're asked to look at the bigger picture.
It's not just this area.
The efficiency/cost issue has been raised in many regions.

Even in Ontario, where 13.5 million of Canada's 35 million residents live, there's a "Sunshine List" created by the Canadian Taxpayer Federation that itemizes the rapid and unsustainable growth of the bureaucracy.  They "determined how many households paying the average property tax rate are required to pay the salary of the average Sunshine List (bureaucratic) employee."   This is based on their logical premise that "a larger number of households is more desirable because the individual tax burden per household is shared and therefore lower." Its undesirable opposite, therefore, is "a smaller number of households means the burden of paying for Sunshine List employees is higher per household," and concluding "Paying a quarter of a tab is better than paying half."  The report's 32 pages make for interesting reading.

Back to the recent letter to the editor.

The writers ask:  "What is the merit in having one municipality covering such a diverse area?...little benefit to having large rural holdings and viable farms, ranches and orchards included in a city designation?  where the differing conditions and aspirations of the residents of Vernon Coldstream and the electoral areas are each provided with different levels of service, different policies and different bylaws."  We know the answer to that.  Confusion reigns, and people routinely have to do six months' research to ascertain if they--or their business--are allowed to do this and that.  Across the fence, the resident or that business, may indeed be able to do this and that.

Condoning confusion, all in the interest of diversity.

Perhaps the threesome of letter writers was referring to Coldstream Mayor Garlick and council wishing to impose their decidedly urban dream with the planned RU10/RU30 rezoning of Coldstream acreages.
Seems to be what the letter writers decry.
Perhaps they weren't affected by the RU10/RU30 attempt, as were many Coldstream Acreage Owners' Association members.
"I'm all right, Jack" is maybe what the letter writers meant.

"In our urbanized society, the loudest voices tend to be the least informed, from backyard-chicken hipsters to...'drive-by environmentalists', who like to look out their car windows at green fields as they motor from their subdivisions to big-box stores."
Tom Fletcher, B.C. Views, November

Their phrase "Beyond the financial argument" can easily stick in one's craw.

The "differing conditions and aspirations...diversity" is justification for being inefficient and squandering taxpayer money, not to mention being ineligible for government grants because of an area's too-small population..."the fundamental role of local government as an institution for residents to resolve problems and provide solutions, to the greatest net benefit."

So, by extension, would the ludicrous concept of having a mayor for EVERY SQUARE KILOMETRE in the community then even more adequately resolve problems and provide solutions?
Anyone who has ever attended one of the multitude Public Hearings held in our communities year after year will readily recall that those who sidle up to the microphone are, with few exceptions, proponents of Not In My Backyard. 

Boy oh boy, does that ever ring a bell with the golf course construction, and then other public hearings (yes, plural) on the liquor license and its subsequent change (to the type of license other golf courses possessed).

Accept that the unification plan is a sign of the times, where fewer dollars (no matter in whose pocket they reside) are stretched this way and that in an attempt to cover as wide an array of public demands as possible.

But NOT "beyond the financial argument".
It's a result of the financial argument.

As Tax Freedom Day arrives later and later each year, ordinary everyday people are striving to do something.

The trio of letter writers conclude that "some issues ... would more properly be carried out on a regional level, as by their very nature they extend over municipal boundaries..."  The letter continues "There is now a mechanism available ... the regional growth strategy, a regional vision that commits the regional district and municipalities to meet common social, economic and environmental objectives through cooperation....

"The regional growth strategy was adopted in 2011 and is binding on the municipalities and electoral areas.(emphasis: blog)  Some of the issues -- parks and recreation, water supply -- have or are being dealt with at the regional district level."

Maybe the trio knows that residents will not accept the status quo any longer.
So, the trio appear to be throwing their support behind the regional district as the one future government of the area if unification proceeds. 

We should ask the letter writers if they're aware that "43 per cent of the $5.7 million payroll at the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) went to just 24 top managers and staff last year."

Remuneration and expenses for district directors and committee members also rose, from $273,479 in 2011 to $313,622 in 2012.

Where will it stop?

How much debt is being carried by Coldstream?  By the City of Vernon?

Coldstream's 2012 Annual Report is found at:
Coldstream's Financial Statement is here:

Vernon's 2012 Annual Report is found at:
Vernon's Financial Statement is here:

"Once mayors reject the uber-urban ideas of senior bureaucrats at the annual UBCM meetings," begins Kia, adding "we'll become the communities we want to become...not cookie cutter versions of their ideas."

Even the UBCM website talks about taking a united position.

Government shouldn't be surprised when taxpayers want the same unity.

A business isn't in business long
when wage costs regularly exceed 10 or 12 per cent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Guess Who Said It...

"It's time for governments to work toward a change in the way we conduct business."

Vernon Mayor Sawatzky?  Nope
Coldstream Mayor Garlick?  Nope

A hint...

"At the City, we're in the midst of changing the corporate culture, with the goal of being a high-performing, customer-focused organization.  Part of that process is an aggressive assessment of the services we provide, our business processes, our fees and charges, the way we consult with the community and our customer service initiatives."

Vernon Mayor Sawatzky?  Nope
Coldstream Mayor Garlick?  Nope

Okay, a last hint.
And frankly, ask yourself if Vernon or Coldstream have said/would say these words.

"Looking ahead, we've probably experienced the last prolonged building boom we're likely to see for a while.  With the baby boomers retiring, sensitivity to tax increases becomes more acute and every level of government is facing a prolonged period of financial restraint."

Give up?

All quotes are from Kelowna City Manager, Ron Mattiussi.
And he does have something to brag about in that city.
Because they've worked hard to create it.

Some Kelowna stats:  
Population 119,000
Bike Lanes 428 km
Housing Starts 559
Parkland Hectares 1,055
Business Licenses 9,144
Airport Passengers 1.44 Million annually 
Tourists 1.5 Million
Transit Riders 4.97 M
Protective Services 39 Million
Building Permits $287 Million
Non-profit Tax Exemptions $960,000
Development permit applications 508
Professional Arts Grants $340,000
Hours of Recreation Programming 45,000
Bike-to-Work Week Participants 1,412
Graffiti Removals 7,000 
Council's vision is to focus on the big picture, as stated in their annual report.  Page 7 of 78 is particularly enlightening--especially to a resident of Vernon--as the goals and vision of Kelowna seem multiples of miles distant from those of our near-and-dear administrations.

Just think...9,144 business licenses.
Nine thousand, one hundred and forty-four, and all the tax dollars they contribute.
Because they wanted to set up shop in Kelowna.

And residents--while not all were extremely satisfied with services or taxation policies as outlined in Kelowna's Citizen Survey, were at least engaged and interested.  Extremely so, with 97% respondents participating in the survey.

Even during an economic slowdown, Kelowna has an enviable atmosphere and positive "vibe".

"But we don't want to be a Kelowna," sneered Coldstream Mayor Garlick on several occasions during the last election campaign.

"No danger of that," offers Kia, adding "unfortunately."
Miles behind, our administrations are still averse to acting on the core review... (sigh) afterthought...unable to confirm this, but we've heard Kelowna's Roads Manager (a fellow named Joe) is also manager of Parks and several other departments.  One guy.  And here?  The corresponding management responsibility here is, we believe, handled by two--maybe three--managers.  And our roads management people don't oversee parks.  That's another boss.   Or two. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Empire Strikes Back

All this kerfuffle over whether to HOLD a referendum so voters can decide whether Coldstream, Vernon and the electoral areas should unite.

It's not whether to amalgamate.
It's just whether to have a referendum on it.

Vernon mayor Sawatzky says of the Society's petition results that a study into amalgamation would determine whether the benefits of merging four jurisdictions would outweigh any possible negatives, as reported in the Morning Star.

Waxing negative because he doesn't want the empire risked during his watch, Coldstream mayor Jim Garlick was yesterday quoted in the Morning Star:   "They fell short of their 4,000 names and this is just six per cent of the total voters."  (Some time ago, Garlick said that the Society needed 10 per cent of the voters in each area--"if any one area has less than 10 per cent of registered voters, it fails."  But Eric Foster, MLA told me "no, that's not true.")

Of the 2,930 people who signed the petition, 2032 are in the City (31,693 registered voters, 31% voted in the last election), 611 in the District (7,424 registered voters, with 33% voter turnout in the last election in 2011), with 287 in the two electoral areas (5,550 registered voters, no electoral area election in 2011).

Thinking of the recent referendum on the sports facility, where only 18% of registered voters marked a ballot, 47.65 per cent said No, with 52.35 per cent saying Yes to borrowing $7.5 million.  Neither mayor saw the significance of the thin-win margin.  And neither mayor made reference to the number of registered voters.

The Society has gauged interest based on voter turnout, not the numbers registered to vote.
Considerable interest was shown:  25.3% Coldstream, 22.9% Vernon, 23.7 in the electoral areas.

But since a high turnout is generally seen as legitimacy of the current system, we'll go with Garlick's number.  Six per cent it is then.

High or low voter turnout each can mean something significant depending on whether you're a mayor or a taxpayer.  Especially when mayors have a heavy hand in writing referendum questions (where they reverse-engineer their vision so that it produces the desired result.)

So if a study is the focus of any new referendum, many folks are leery of  "local government" (in conjunction with the province) doing the study.   A reliable source said there is no money for KPMG--who conducted the core services review--to do the study. 

But it has to be an "arms-length" group doing the study!
Without objectivity, there's no point.

"Otherwise it's akin to asking the wolf if the fence around the chicken house should be taller," says Kia.

The poor chickens!

Friday, November 15, 2013

One Angry Ontario Citizen

A welcome diversion from local politics, verbatim from an email.

Jeff Smith, a Senator from Quebec calls senior citizens the Greediest Generation as he compared "Social Security" to a Milk Cow with over a million teats.

Here's the response in a letter from Patty Johnstone in Ontario...she's a little ticked off, and tells it like it is.

"Hey Jeff, let's get a few things straight!!!!!

As a career politician, you have been on the public dole (tit) for FIFTY YEARS.

I have been paying CPP & OHIP for 48 years (since I was 15 years old, I'm now 63).

My Canada Pension payments, and those of millions of other Canadians, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud.

Recently, just like Lucy & Charlie Brown, you and "your ilk" pulled the proverbial football away from millions of Canadian seniors nearing retirement and moved the goalpost for full retirement from age 65 to age 67.  NOW, you and your "shill commission" are proposing to move the goalposts YET AGAIN.

I, and millions of other Canadians, have been paying into OHIP and CPP from Day One, and now "you morons" propose to change the rules of the game.  Why?  Because "you idiots" mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal our money from OHIP & CCP to pay the bills.

I, and millions of other Canadians, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again.  Why?  Because you "incompetent bastards" spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money.  Now, you come to the Canadian taxpayers and say you need more to pay off YOUR debt.

To add insult to injury, you label us "greedy" for calling "bullshit" to your incompetence.
Well, Captain Bullshit, I have a few questions for you:
  1. How much money have you earned from the Canadian taxpayers during your pathetic 50-year political career?
  2. At what age did you retire from your pathetic political career? And how much are you receiving in annual retirement benefits from the Canadian taxpayers?
  3. How much do you pay for YOUR government provided health insurance?
  4. What cuts in YOUR retirement and healthcare benefits are you proposing in your disgusting deficit reduction proposal, or as usual, have you exempted yourself and your political cronies?
It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Parliament who are the "greedy" ones.  It is you and your fellow nutcase thieves who have bankrupted the Canadian Pension, OHIP and stolen the Canadian dream from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers.

And for what?  Votes and your job and retirement security at our expense, you lunk-headed leech.

That's right, sir.  You and yours have bankrupted our benefits for the sole purpose of advancing your pathetic political careers.  You know it, we know it, and now you know that we know it.

And you can take that to the bank, you arrogant son of a bitch.  And NO, I didn't "stutter"!

PS-- And stop calling CPP and OHIP "entitlements".  WHAT AN INSULT!!!! 
I have been paying into the CPP system for years.  It's my money, give it back to me the way the system was designed and stop patting yourself on the back like you are being generous by doling out these monthly checks."

"Ah....senators," muses Kia, adding "their day has arrived."

A recent Maclean's magazine story on Senate reform is here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cause and Effect

Blaming property tax increases on annexation is like blaming your neighbour that your garbage wasn't picked up from the curb.

Annexation may lead to higher costs for residents (more on that later).
It's a chicken-or-egg question...what came first?

Annexation and higher property taxes aren't mutually inclusive; they remain independent.

A letter to the editor of the Morning Star yesterday, entitled Annexation comes with a cost, detailed a family's long-term residency and how their property taxes have steadily increased, naming the culprit the City of Vernon, which annexed the Okanagan Landing area back in 1993.

Yes, he's likely correct that annexation in this case resulted in property tax increases.
Chiefly because the City of Vernon is just that...a city, with no rural land base until the annexation.
In that 20-year span, additional factors have come into play as well.
The city's administration imposed its urban wish-list and rules on the rural area...and its property tax classifications (business often pays anywhere from four to 10 times the residential tax base, but business generally depreciates the plant and equipment, which residential isn't allowed to do).     

Except for farmers, the fewer the voters in a property class,
the higher the tax rates.  (UBCM)

An interesting read is this 250-page document "Local Government, Province of B.C. 4th Edition, Union of B.C.Municipalities".  

 In the United States, virtually all state governments simply require that tax rates are the same for all kinds of properties.  

As that document states, it's not surprising that councils "seek to satisfy their voters, who are largely residential property owners or tenants, by keeping residential property taxes low at the expense of non-residential property owners.  The councils can then provide more services for their residents than the residents would be willing to pay because the tax burden can be shifted to non-residential properties who subsidize the services to the residents.  It is nice for residents to reside in such a system, but it's not so nice if the high taxes on non-residential properties discourage investment and ultimately undermine the tax base.

"It is nice for residents to reside in such a system...not so nice if the high taxes on non-residential properties discourage investment and ultimately undermine the tax base."

British Columbia municipalities have more discretion to set different property taxes for different classes than any other jurisdiction in Canada.  Other provincial governments set the ratios among property classes, have fewer business and industrial classes, and/or constrain tax ratio and rate setting.  Since 1984, when B.C. municipalities were no longer required to base their tax rates on ratios set by the province, they have gradually increased the rates on business, industry and utility classes relative to residential tax rates.  By 2003, some non-residential rates and associated tax ratios were the highest in North America.  At the same time, the median rates for residential rates in B.C. were the lowest in Canada.

But by 2006, this gouging of business led to disincentives to investment.
That hasn't changed in the interim.

Look at the City of Calgary's 9-year history of tax rates for business here:
Yes, it's actually decreased!
Because they're not scaring business away.

An undiversified tax base hits rural communities hardest which is why electoral area directors are against amalgamation.  There is little diversity and even fewer taxes.
It does hit residential ratepayers last.
But as business increasingly resists reinvestment--some even leaving the area--it eventually does hit the residentialrate class.

Director of Area "C", Mike McNabb, made a presentation to the Union of B.C. Municipalities in 2011 that  delineates the difficulties electoral areas experience with (willingness of involved parties) amalgamation / unification, or, (forced) annexation:   inability to plan land uses, loss of tax base (with a corresponding increase--for the same level of service--to those residents who remain) and various social impacts, not the least of which is "loss of community and identity".

Cause and effect?
Fifty per cent of what landowners pay in property taxes goes to wages and benefits for an ever-increasing slate of bureaucrats and administrative processes.  That money needs to return to infrastructure and community projects.

The present system, often called the downward spiral, is unsupportable and unsustainable.
Because we residents say it is!
In 10 to 15 minutes, one can easily drive through the area in which there are three administrations and two mayors and councils.

And, like the letter writer, I also mourn--albeit in advance--the results of amalgamation if not concluded  correctly.  By that I mean rural areas need to be distinguished as rural, and the new administration needs to resist imposing urban rules and regulations and hopefully, property taxes.  We acreage owners in Coldstream have already seen Mayor Garlick and Council's urban wish and effort to rezone East Coldstream's acreages to RU10/RU30.  Thankfully that failed, for the time being.

Let's hope the new, unified area's administration is able to resist the cookie-cutter control mechanisms of urban planners. 

"The effect must be less government," affirms Kia.

 Because we know what we value.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Politicians' Self-Sabotage

Area politicians have consistently and continuously expressed negative opinions regarding the Vernon area's push for amalgamation (recently rephrased as "unification").

"The very politicians against unification are featured in news articles that actually support the unification cause."  Blog

Never more so than with the latest impetus to unify three administrations by the Society for the Future Governance of Greater Vernon.

We called it fear-mongering.

Everything from "it'd cost a million dollars alone to look after Silver Star Road" from a regional district director, "taxes would go up" from a mayor, "we're rural; we don't want curbs and streetlights" from another director, and on and on.

Yet one need only look at the very topics covered by local Morning Star newspaper and an enigma presents itself::  The very politicians against unification are quoted in articles, and their comments actually support the unification cause.

"...there is a need for the jurisdictions to sit down and fix boundaries and if annexations do occur, there should be mitigation for lost tax revenue."  Mike McNabb, BX-Silver Star director

The irony isn't lost on residents.

Examples of that irony are found in every issue of the newspaper...these from November 10th, 2013:
  • Annex policy sought:  "a formal process is being demanded when it comes to Vernon absorbing rural properties."
Seems that some disgruntled property owners in Coldstream have taken the initiative and contacted the City of Vernon with a request to annex their Coldstream property (out of Coldstream, and into Vernon).  Same with some properties in the BX area.  But Vernon "can't poach another municipality's territory," says a director.

Crying foul, one director is quoted: "there is a need for the jurisdictions to sit down and fix boundaries and if annexations do occur, there should be mitigation for lost tax revenue."  The same director states "Vernon accepting annexation applications from property owners is impacting the relationship with the electoral areas."

"We are good neighbours so stop doing this to us.
Show some respect."  Mike McNabb

  • Greater Vernon Advisory Committee:  "...spending $30,000 on an engineering assessment of Vernon's Civic Arena."  Yet another study commissioned by people we elect to make decisions on our behalf.  Elected officials simply turn everything over to consultants.
  • Kin Race Track changes hands:   "Ownership of a contentious piece of property is being streamlined," begins the story, justifying the change by saying that it's part of "parks restructuring".  Land titles for the track are being transferred to the City of Vernon from the Regional District of North Okanagan. 
  • Similar jostling a while ago where Coldstream now owns Kalamalka Beach, thanks to Vernon's bequest.  Turns out under Vernon's ownership, the beach was zoned R2 Residential.  (Gasp! says a resident).  So Coldstream, not one minute after receiving ownership of the beach, immediately rezoned the Beach to parks and open spaces.  And Coldstream now gets to look after its own parks, i.e. Lavington Park.  Whew!
Is the irony lost on some people?  Apparently so.
All the huffing and puffing and chest-pounding.

"From the outset, the Society believed that the minimum requirement, for a substantial and credible representation of the citizens of Greater Vernon, we required at least 10% of the voter turnout from the 2011 Municipal election. We are very pleased that we have surpassed 20% of that threshold in ALL jurisdictions. (and still counting)."  Society
It's not just residents, either, who want unification and a streamlined, smaller government.
The unification plan has also received the endorsement of the 650-plus businesses within the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.
No small feat.  If 650 business owners and ~3,000 residents actually "see" the unification benefit, why are bureaucrats and elected officials immune to that clarity?   

"Because they're not looking ahead," offers Kia.
 They're looking down at where they've shot themselves in the foot."

...from the internet


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Buying into Controversy

Coldstream Mayor Garlick and Council went shopping next door to the muni hall.
And bought the place.

Timing appears unimportant when they're spending taxpayers' money.
A prudent purchaser--using his own funds or borrowing from a bank--would purchase a property prior to it being rezoned as Commercial.
Not this bunch.

The place is the Coldstream Women's Institute Hall at 9909 Kalamalka Lake Road, just steps away from the Coldstream Municipal Hall.

View Larger Map

Rumors surfaced this year that the place wasn't as inclusive in their membership as they could have been.  Rumblings that somebody's membership application wasn't approved by the executive.

Chiefly a rental hall for meetings and private events, the Women's Institute Hall is also the venue for the weekly Farmer's Market in Coldstream.  Councillor Maria Besso frequently champions the market, and the orcharding family of Coldstream councillor Richard Enns are vendors at the event that continues well into Fall.

The Morning Star newspaper did a nice historical piece on the Institute's 81st anniversary in 2012 here.

A benefactor of the District of Coldstream's permissive tax exemption bylaw (1605, 2013), the Coldstream Women's Institute pays no annual tax on land and improvements as they are a not-for-profit registered society.

"The property wasn't listed as being for sale on the market," states a realtor who wishes to remain anonymous. We both wondered if the municipality paid too much as the building is old and needs work.
The realtor continues "the assessment for the Hall was considerably lower before the property was automatically included--by this administration--in the plan for Coldstream's Town Centre rezoning."

A lot lower.
No matter...they'll just do some short-term financing through the province's finance authority (short-term financing doesn't require voter assent), and/or plunder the DCC kitty.

So now, after the rezoning has been approved by Council, Mayor Garlick and Council paid $310,00 for the Hall (plus another $10,000 for conveyancing costs).

"Maybe Council will make membership more inclusive," offers Kia, adding "since at least one or two councillors are members."

Personally, I don't care about a membership issue.
That's for the executive to decide.
I'm concerned at what the renovation costs will be.
Because Coldstream residents will pay for that too.

"Council won't like being stewards of a hall that holds events with Special Occasion liquor licenses," grins Kia.

No worries...Councillors Enns and Besso will stand guard.
Or maybe Councillor Dirk, with his paranoia concerning all things liquor related.

...Wonder who'll now constitute the Executive for the Women's Institute Hall.

One controversy traded for another?