Comments on Budget at the Feb. 13 Council Meeting
Ron Bolin: Feb. 13, 2012
Mayor Ruttan and Councillors:
Before you pass three readings of the Financial Plan Bylaw tonight, thus filling that mold with cement which, though it may not be fully set until April, becomes harder to rework with each passing day, I would like to ask that you give more consideration to this plan and to the hardships which it may offer to many, if not most, citizens of Nanaimo.
For as long as memory serves me, Council has approved budget increases which have considerably exceeded the increase in the BC Consumer Price Index. This year that increase is currently set at 3.8% for residential taxpayers, compared to a BC cost of living increase of 1.7%.
Other than the brief discussion of adding an “Internal Auditor”, a position that frankly in the light of the imminent appointment of a Municipal Auditor by the Province, seemed a straw man or woman in any event, and was subsequently cut, I remember no serious discussion of the proposed $160 million dollar budget which is before you tonight. Neither do I remember hearing, prior to Staff’s introduction of this budget submission, that Council had provided any direction to Staff in its preparation.
This is unfortunate and is exacerbated by the fact that on at least two occasions at which I have been present, attempts by individuals on Council to discuss such matters were promptly quashed by other Council members who raised Points of Order, indicating that their venues were not the place for the discussion of such matters. Where is the place and the time at which these matters of vital public interest are discussed and what is the public’s right to be party to them?
Without getting into budgetary details I would like to request that you review some budget issues which have apparently been ignored. The first is the matter of the old city annex. For most of us, deciding to build a new home rather than renovating our old one involves prior planning on what we will do with the old one as this decision is vital to our financial statements needed to obtain a mortgage. While the new Annex rises and the old one is to be emptied by the end of this year, where is the financial plan for this depreciating asset which will, even if empty, consume at least heating and maintenance dollars? Nanaimo’s residential and business taxpayers are required to have an all-encompassing when we want a new home. Why does the City ignore the existing real estate in our five year plan?
We have also had considerable discussion about the need for some $65-75 million dollars for a new water supply to meet the demand of future growth. You have recently authorized the expenditure of up to $560,000 for a study of a possible new dam site at a location which is owned privately, additionally is apparently contested under the Douglas Treaty, and further is apparently not the preferred option in any event. This is a lot of high stakes taxpayer money to be spending in an environment which appears about as ambiguous as it can get. Statistics Canada’s 2011 population data for Nanaimo removes nearly 4000 people from the informal estimates which have been used by the City for that same period in discussing the need for a new water source. Perhaps we should use the time to reduce the risky ambiguities associated with growth before we charge ahead as we have sometimes done in the past.
An equally important consideration in the development of such a major project to serve the needs of the yet to come is how it should be funded. It has been repeatedly stated that the new water source is needed to accommodate anticipated growth and are not needed for our existing population plus another 16,000 or so newcomers. Let alone resolving the question of whether we can afford growth, why in the plan is there no discussion of the need to increase Development Cost Charges to recover the anticipated costs associated with that growth? Are present taxpayers expected to pay for new growth? Have you heard of any old established business which pays people to use its services and yet is not in ultimately dire straits?
And last but not least there is the question which looms over all… the cost of maintaining the infrastructure which we already have. The last estimate I heard for the City of Nanaimo’s assets was $1.8 billion (with a B) dollars. With New Annexes, Bowen Road Widening, the coming new water treatment plant, a possible dam, other gleams in Council’s eye such as tax exemptions, fast ferries, a multiplex, etc. which are still on hold –well maybe not the tax exemption which forms part of tonight’s vote on the Financial Plan- where do our assets stand now, and how do we propose to pay to maintain them all? I have heard estimates that we are deficient by about $12 million per year in meeting the maintenance demands of our infrastructure. When will the hammer fall on these expenses which are accumulating and compounding as time goes on.
This Financial Plan needs much more discussion and much more transparency and orientation to the problems which we know are coming our way. Please take time to do proper due diligence.
Excellent presentation at last nights meeting, http://www.nanaimo.ca/CouncilMeetings/VideoArchive.aspx?clip=C120213V, Ron. I get the distinct feeling that this council is not listening and though each and everyone of them professed to work towards transparency and communication with the public it is actually not high on the list.
Found George Anderson’s behaviour to the Occuppy presenters and questions at the end of the meeting to be a little on the agressive side.
Needless to say, the budget was given three readings last night and as a result, another requirement for allowing the hotel/motel tax exemption to go ahead was met. It remains to be seen whether the budget will be further questioned. Certainly Mr. Kenning made an impassioned speech pointing out that any changes might throw Staff and the Plan into disarray.
Mathew O’Donell presented a spirited discourse on the Occupy affair, raising questions about the cost presented of the occupation of Diana Krall Plaza. He made several good points concerning the meals served to those in need by the group and the shelter provided when it was needed. He also questioned the $19,000 charged against the group in legal fees. In his opinion it was not necessary. I have been informed that the $19,000 figure represents the minimum cost of approaching the BC Supreme Court and so was known prior to the action. It should be noted that this money would have been more than enough to provide space for them for a year. They were not adamant about staying in DK plaza and sought alternative locations. It is unfortunate that the decision was made to overwhelm rather than negotiate. I suspect we will see Mr. O’Donnell on the hustings in the next election.
Andrea Blakeman, representing one of our old city neighbourhoods, made an impassioned request that Council return the zoning criteria in place prior to the new zoning bylaw on the solid grounds that the new regulations did not protect the style and character of the neighbourhood, and showed slides which demonstrated this objection. It is worthwhile to note that they thanked planning staff for their efforts to assist in the matter.
Council took upon itself the privilege of increasing a facade grant from $5000 to $10,000. There are so many good causes… It also increased the per capita grant to another organization from $2.00 to $2.30, a 15% increase. While it is up to the general public to decide on the merits of such grants, it must be noted that nibble, nibble and the cheese is gone.
A presentation from the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria noted that legislation provided the opportunity under the proper circumstances for the City to effectively down zone property to park or other public use states. A vigorous discussion ensued with the Mayor concerned about the possible, indeed likely, claim for compensation for such action. To my mind this defense was over done, as the property only became more valuable when it was up zoned by the city in the first place. This gave rise to my question during Question Period, concerning the legal or ethical theory which provided that while Council could give value to property by their actions, that they could not take that value away.
Another Council/FPCOW meeting with no debate and more points of order. When and where does a serious discussion of the budget take place?
Surprised Ron…… all you have to do is get a dozen people to take over a public space, and the city should provide you with one ??????
I am a little surprised that it took a court order to have illegal structures removed from a public space. I always thought city hall, was just being gutless, by not simply enforcing the bylaws as they stood.
Does that mean we have to pick up a $20,000 tab, every time someone wishes to ignore a bylaw??
Anderson I don’t think was being aggressive, just getting a little weary of hearing the same old, same old in 10 different ways. I know I was.
Occupy should be the ones to pick up the tab, not the Nanaimo taxpayer……
“Taking over” public places has a long and distinguished history. Its one of the reasons they are called Public Places. While we might argue about whether we like the public that is doing the taking over and how long they can stay and under what conditions, we had best be careful in talking about “illegal structures” and unenforced bylaws. If all structures are illegal unless sanctioned by the king, we are in trouble. It is also easy to point to all kinds of bylaws which go unenforced, some of them by Council sanction. It remains my understanding that negotiations were supposed to be continuing at the time when the decision was made to spend the $19,000 on the Court. Democracy is messy.
Yes, they are public spaces, and the use of this public space was being denied to many of the ‘public’, If the city had not finally moved them, how much longer do you think it might be before other public members did???
Democracy may be messy …… but anarchy is much worse. No one was negotiating anything, at the end, there was a handful who had next to no real support…… as for the importance of the cause….. where are they ?????
So to be clear, you think the Nanaimo taxpayer should have provided $20,000 worth of building, so they would vacate the plaza??
In my time downtown I did not notice anyone who appeared to be afraid. At the same time, I do know that many folks are afraid to go downtown at any time. If the “others” to whom you refer had seen fit to move them, then this would have been anarchy indeed.
My information is that negotiations were proceeding.
And yes, spending the money on another location and buying time would have been a better use of the money. Not good, perhaps, but better than throwing it at the courts under the circumstance that existed at that time.
So, why not simply enforce the bylaws that the court endorsed?? Why have to go to court at all???
And for the love of Mike, why you would think we should fork out $20 grand to give this little group an office just boggles my little mind.
Pass the hat among all their supporters and rent a space…….. they did say they had money for rental…… so why expect the taxpayer to give them $20,000 for free rent???
They are still welcome and free to protest in the plaza anytime they want….. so where are they??? Do you think they to, finally realized they have run out of things to say and it is time to move on???
If they truly represent the 99%…… raising $20,000 for rental should be an afternoon event. Ron, why not start a fundraiser for them you would be a great advocate, or would you sooner just dole out tax money???
Excellent presentation Mr. Bolin. I too have wondered about the fate of the old city hall annex. Surely the city cannot leave it standing as is or even sell it off in clear conscience as according to staff if an earthquake were to happen the buildings integrity may fail. I surely hope the taxpayers of Nanaimo will not be on the hook to ” fix it ” before it is used for storage space or sold. What to do !!!
There is some $90,000 budgeted for a ‘Seismic Screening’ program this year. Guessing city staff will come up with a list of projects that don’t meet current seismic code. They will then present council with the list along with the warning we can’t possibly put the staff or public in harms way by not bringing them up to standard. The fact there is NO requirement to upgrade to the new code, is lost on most people. This is however a great make work project for an otherwise idle city department and the starving builders around town who haven’t left yet.
The Annex could/should simply be sold as is, and if someone buying it really thinks the quake hazard is as great as out precious ones at city hall did, they can upgrade, if not, they can continue to use. The city could NOT insist on an upgrade of one building without applying the same standard to all.
This is indeed a bit of a sticky wicket council and staff created for themselves last year, when they chose to not keep out tax increases at ZERO which they very well could have, had they not wanted a shiny new office.
If I am not mistaken there really would be no need to earthquake upgrade the Annex. This was just a smoke screen to have the general public not raise too much, iI say too because only a few have questioned, stink about the new building.
If the Annex is sold as office space it is not required to be upgraded. If there was a choice to change its usage then there would be. In all liklihood the City will sell it at less than assessment and the ppurchaser will tear it down.
Hmmm, another future Hotel site:).
The Annex will probably be sold by the City and will once again be used as (private) office space. It will not be seismically upgraded; it may get a new paint job. The City will find some way to explain why the building was unsafe for its own staff but is good enough for the plebs. Council will take it all in – i.e.councillors will not question the egregious hypocrisy.
Let’s hope your assessment is correct. But why isn’t it on the market now, nor its sale recognized as income in the five year plan. Surely, as a death trap, the City cannot use it further. And with an assessment (currently exempt) of nearly $4 million dollars (about 85% of which is in improvements), it will remain a maintenance albatross around taxpayers necks until it is somehow disposed of.
Should the City lose all or most of the improvement value in a sale, shouldn’t this amount be absorbed into the total cost of the new annex? How is it that the City can plan half of a transaction without a plan for the whole. I wish I could buy a new house without having to be concerned about what I will do with the old.
You answered your own question, the word “Plan”.
Ron. Changing a building from “It is really dangerous; it will probably fall down, if you blow too hard on it” to “Well it’s really okay and it has some nice heritage features and besides, we need the money from selling it” is major spin even for Nanaimo’s City Managers and will take some time, so be patient! Wait about twelve months and the (supposed) reason why it was so vitally necessary to spend 16 mil on a new building will have faded from the collective memory of councillors, the Daily News and the inside (onside?) group of the Citizenry.
This is why there is a plan going forward to hire a Manager of Propaganda. It will then be up to this person to provide the proper spin thus removing that responsibility from current city managers and council.
I’m not sure if city hall and most city Councillors need a spin doctor to explain to the public what is going on, or explain to city council what is going on.
For the most part, many of them seem pretty much oblivious.
Only if you ask the right and very pointed question:)
It is useful to refer to page 3, section 1 of the “CITY OF NANAIMO FIVE-YEAR FINANCIAL PLAN 2012 – 2016”, where it speaks specifically about the topic of corporate communication challenges:
“It is not included as a recommended item solely because of the cost. In the absence of this position staff has recently structured a new staff communications committee that utilizes existing personnel resources from throughout the organization to tackle corporate communication challenges. While I am hopeful this committee will improve the City‟s corporate communications performance, it is too early to fully assess the effectiveness of this initiative.”
So … Was an assessment actually conducted? If so, what was the outcome of the assessment of the initiative? How was the justification for additional bureaucracy at City Hall arrived at?
I respond to your question about justification in my Daily News column tomorrow (Friday, Feb.24). As for assessment, if any was done it was not mentioned.
Looking forward to it Ron..
Thanks, Ron. :)