More News on the Nanaimo Ratepayers Association

Ron Bolin: April 26, 2013

Don Graham of the Nanaimo Ratepayers Association has provided an updated version of its Manifesto and a date for its first public meeting which will be held on Wednesday, May 29, at 7pm in the Kin Hut on Departure Bay.  I suspect that there may be some retrospective discussion of the 2013-2017 budget and plan which will see about $40 million dollars in borrowing  while at the same time raising taxes by over 18%.  This early start will offer sufficient time for a thorough review of the 2014 budget and related 2014-2018 Financial Plan.  Nanaimo, like most cities in BC or around the world, is in serious need of a review of spending and related taxation.

Our City Manager is fond of reporting that Nanaimo financial situation is in the middle of the pack for BC municipalities of comparable size.  I would note that if the pack in which we are in the middle are all, like lemmings, poised to run over a fiscal cliff that this is small consolation.  I hope that citizens will take this chance to examine the future of our Nanaimo from a financial perspective.

Here is Mr. Graham’s submission:

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NANAIMO RATEPAYERS ASSOCIATION

PREAMBLE:

            In as much as City Council has lost sight of it’s role in construction and management of infrastructure, we, the people, comprising members of the newly-formed Nanaimo Ratepayer’s Association are proposing to get the Mayor and Council back on track. We will do this through a Manifesto that will set out broad objectives Council should adapt to better serve the taxpayers, who provide all the funds used in running the city.

            In addition, we will monitor the proposals and projects brought foreword by the mayor, Council and staff We will offer suggestions when necessary .

             The  NRA is non-partisan and welcomes all taxpayers.

MANIFESTO

1.      The NRA will identify projects that will provide little, or no, benefit to taxpayers.

2.      Objectives which should be followed include:

a.       Health, safety and well being of it citizens by supplying fire protection, policing, and shelter for the homeless as well as other humanitarian services where required.

b.      Construct and maintain infrastructure that supplies water, sewer, road and garbage services.

c.       Cultural services which would include theatres, museums, parades and other cultural activities if supported by a majority of the taxpayers.

d.      Provide recreational facilities if and when voted on by the public

3.      The NRA will discourage the City from competing with business in matters of land speculation, hotel ownership etc.

4.      Re project financing:

a.       The City should finance only current approved projects and not set up reserves from current taxes.

b.      Decisions on capital expenditures should tbe based on need science, and benefit to taxpayers.

c.       All non-budgeted projects over two million dollars should be approved by the voters and be subject to cost/benefit studies.

d.      Engineering and design should be targeted toward lowest cost alternatives.

5.      Policy guidelines will include:

a.       No money to be allocated to support charities. This should be left to the individual taxpayers.

b.      Job creation should be left to senior governments. The City should concentrate on providing a business-friendly environment. This means low taxes. No group such as the Nanaimo Economic Development Corp. should be funded by the city

c.       Staff salaries and benefits should not exceed those in the private sector.

d.      Homeowners right to “quiet enjoyment” of his property shall not be impaired except for essential public purposes.

e.       The mill rate will not be allowed to increase faster than the rate of inflation.

f.        To prevent excessive growth in the bureaucracy zero-based budgeting should be introduced in all areas and “sunset” clauses to a maximum of 5 years to be included in all management level employment contracts.

g.       When onerous and, apparently, unnecessary work is ordered by senior levels of government it should be contested by Council.

6.      Rational:

a.       Councils have initiated projects which had no demand from the taxpayers

b.      They have taken shortcuts to avoid referenda. e.g. Setting up reserves

c.       They have incurred debt that is an on-going drain on City funds. E.G.

i.   Port theatre

                                    II     Conference center

            The hotel they propose cannot attract private enterprise even with  mssive tax subsidies! If this does not point out the project is not economically viable what will?

            Before the Port Theatre was built research was published in the Nanaimo Daily News which pointed out elsewhere in Canada such a theatre would incur annual deficits of $500,000 and we are almost there.

d.      The City is speculating on land by buying Wellcox waterfront – this suggests they think they can do a better than private enterprise – I don’t think so.

e.       The cost of running recreation programs is well ahead of taxpayer demands and needs to consider participation.

f.        Lack of controls on growth in staff numbers has contributed to increases well in excess of growth in population and city revenue.

7.      Action Required

a.       Staff salaries should be Red-Circled until they reach appropriate levels.

b.      Staff numbers should be reduced to sustainable numbers over a 5 year period to reduce hardship on the redundant staffers.

c.       All departments should use zero-based budgeting and  monitor on a routine basis.

d.      All projects over $3,000,000 estimated cost should include a cost-benefit analysis and be submitted to the public in referenda.

e.       The present practice of preparing a “wish-list” known as a “strategic plan” for future expenditures should be discontinued. In no way should any plan be coupled with a budget for Council approval.

f.        Annual budgets should be approved by Council by Dec. 1st preceding the budget year.

g.       If new provincial regulations in the building code appear to call for retrofitting of buildings under the guise of “seismic upgrading” they should be protested and if necessary challenged in court.

h.      So called “peer reviews” of consultant reports and recommendations should be carried out by arms-length professionals.

i.         Council’s focus should always be on reducing costs and therefore taxes.

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