Ron Bolin: July 13, 2017
I recently opened a Facebook group under my name in which I try to deal with ideas that may be less tedious and more introductory. I will periodically present the latest series of Nanaimo Notes to this blog. This is the first installment..
Nanaimo Notes #1:
I recently received an email which encouraged me to protest the City of Edmonton’s permitting Uber to operate in that city. As was about to sign, I thought back to some of the places I have visited where public transportation is less formal than a public mega system like ours which is so expensive to operate that it can’t reach a broad segment of the public due to low densities or poverty. We, for example are a long way in both distance and elevation from a Nanaimo bus stop. We couldn’t live without a car… And while this could be overcome if we moved to a location more compatible with huge buses, it would still leave whoever moved in here with the same problem. Our dilemma is not unique.
Other places where we have either lived or visited have found more flexible and less formal way to handle a problem like ours by using private conveyances of many kinds: jitney buses, private drivers who may establish routes with minimal overhead, pedicabs, you name it, to provide income to individuals and transportation to the public. In a way Uber and its electronically organized competitors provide this kind of service with a centralized communication node which augments a costly public bureaucracy with a private corporation which profits by using drivers with their own vehicles. Why not, as is done elsewhere, eliminate both overheads and allow small entrepreneurs to fill the gap while working under some safety and registration guidelines?
I suspect that something like this, absent the employment is coming in the next decade in any event as self-driving cars can provide this service. We wouldn’t need a car if we could be assured that a vehicle which doesn’t require the expense of a driver could be at our home within a few minutes with a similar wait time on the return. And so we eliminate the human interface as we are doing with so many functions in industry and service until we are left with ever more redundant people.
Our paradigm has to change big time and it has to change soon. Maintaining employment by substituting corporatocracy for bureaucracy or is not viable even in the medium term.
Am I missing something?
Nanaimo Notes #2
Policies at Nanaimo City Hall
In a recent article in Nanaimo News Now:
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Victor Mema is quoted as saying:
“You really want policies to be respected,” Mema told NanaimoNewsNOW. “If you can just change these things on the fly then it begs the question ‘why do you need policies at all, why don’t you just make it a free-for-all.'”
The question at issue relates to the passage of up to $30,000 in funding for the Vancouver Island North Film Commission (INfilm) located in Campbell River. At issue is a Council policy which stipulates that that organization is not eligible for City funding because it is not based in Nanaimo.
My question to Council and to Mr. Mema about City policy involves the apparent passage of an expenditure some 250 times greater than that on the Campbell River Film Commission on the implementation of a new solid waste collection system estimated to cost $7,500,000 which has never come before the public for debate or discussion. Council has consistently sent to me and an unknown number of others, postponements of requests to be a delegation on the matter of its proposed expenditure on new garbage trucks and bins. Thus far the matter has not come before open Council, though I have been told that it was passed in an IN-CAMERA meeting back on March 27, 2017 when, despite the fact that it did not appear on the agenda for the open meeting and no minutes of the IN_CAMERA meeting interjected into that regular meeting have yet appeared.
Now that, in my mind, is a huge breach of policy relative to the City’s responsibility to citizens. There are a number of matters of public interest arising out of the purported approval of this expenditure and its, in my estimation, severely underestimated problems for many citizens.
For those who are interested to read more, I have written several posts dealing with the Catch 22 nature of the use of IN-CAMERA meetings on my blog: www.nanaimocityhall.com under the headings: Catch 22.
What do you think?
Nanaimo Notes #3
Questions for by-election Candidates –and for all Current Councillors
The following questions were submitted to the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce to be asked at their recent All-Candidates Meeting. None were used at that meeting, perhaps as they did not lend themselves to that venue.
Nevertheless, I believe that these are important questions which you may wish to raise with any of the candidates which you still consider to be in the running for your vote next Saturday…
- Nanaimo spending, and thus to a large extent, Nanaimo property taxation, can be categorized in a number of ways. Perhaps the most general is to describe expenditures in terms of:
a) How Much is MANDATORY, i.e. water, sewer, roads, Fire and Police services, administration and asset management, etc.
b) How Much serves public health, i.e. parks, recreation, etc., i.e. encourages activity;
c) How Much serves the purposes of public entertainment, i.e provides passive visual and/or aural stimulation; and
d) How Much serves charitable purposes, i.e. gifts, grants and exemptions.
What proportion of Nanaimo’s spending do you believe should be spent on each of these categories?
- What is your opinion about the use of the IN-CAMERA meetings to take Council decisions behind closed doors, and what, if anything, would you propose be done about it?
- To what extent do you feel that personalities are an issue in Council behaviour and decisions and to what degree should or must this be the case? Can you suggestion how Council decisions might be made more communal and less personal?
- The Province of British Columbia has established criteria for municipal governance which some maintain have handcuffed citizens to a broken system by increasing the terms of Councillors to four years, neglecting any mechanism for external review of a municipal council, and failing to introduce any recall capability which might constrain a fractious Council. What, if anything, would you work for as a Nanaimo Councillor to serve the municipal citizens of Nanaimo in this area?
- Why we are having this by-election which will cost Nanaimo ratepayers $150,000?
- As Nanaimo has volunteered to become part of the solution to Lantzville’s water problem without, as far as I am aware, a clear and publicly defined consensus in this regard, what is your position on the supply of Nanaimo water to Lantzville?
Please share the responses which you get with the rest of us…
What do you think?
Nanaimo Note #4
1 Commercial Street, Nanaimo, BC: A key to why our downtown languishes?
As an urban address, 1 Commercial Street carries a sense of power, potency and importance. In any City in Canada, 1 Commercial Street should be the hub of commercial activity extending its importance over an entire downtown. So where in Nanaimo is 1 Commercial Street, our hub of commerce, located?
It is found at the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue at the epicentre of commerce north of Terminal and commerce south of Terminal (Victoria Crescent and environs). By rights this should be a much desired location, no? In fact it is the A&B Sound Building which has been deserted now for a number of years. If 1 Commercial Street is the heart of the City, then the heart is dead…
A piece of land, without use is, from a municipal point of view, a corpse. If I were to leave our house vacant, I would still be taxed as if the property was alive and the house was in use… This is not the case with commercial property like the A&B Sound building which, in its current long term vacant condition, is taxed as moribund, i.e. as close to dead as can be without actual putrefaction… While a vibrant property will carry a tax ratio of somewhere between 3:1 and 1:3 of land to the improvements, 1 Commercial Street carries a ration of land to improvements of nearly 36:1, i.e. the land assessment shows as $359,000 while the improvements are assessed at $20,000, $10,000 of which is forgiven as it is automatically for all commercial properties. And while the value of the land increased from 2016 to 2017 by $8000, the improvements (the building on the land) stayed at $10,000. In other words, doing nothing to a vacant downtown property made a potential profit of $8000 for its owner. And, given the commercial mil rates for 2017 in Nanaimo, the carrying cost for the vacant building was only $124.06.
There may be a theory of property ownership which states that an unused residential property should carry a full value of both land and improvements for property tax purposes, but commercial properties should not. If so, I am not aware of it and am prepared to be enlightened. But until then I must note that the effect of this distinction is to permit our vital downtown public space -and make no mistake, our shared downtown area is a public space- to be impacted by disuse and dilapidation in our downtown, and leads to the kinds of antisocial behaviour about which we read and because of which many refuse to come downtown.
While this may not be the only factor affecting the condition of our downtown, the neglect which it enables is not inconsequential. Is the City powerless to deal with dead commercial property?
What do you think??
Note #3 is oversimplified. It might surprise most to learn that there is no ;legal obligation for the City to provide and maintain roads. So be careful what you wish for. If we want to tell the City to get out of the business areas where you do not belong, roads go on that list. Other services can easily be mandated by the Medical Officer of health where a health risk takes place. i.e, lack of drainage causing disease, waste collection and storage and others.
More important is the economic health of our City and our ability to pay for services. Happy healthy people are productive, earn wages (public or private sector) who can then pay the bills and live in a safe rewarding environment. In many cases only the City, because of the nature of the service can / or is either the champion of and/or provider of the services. Healthy people need good air quality, environment and usable public open spaces including culture and recreation. Some enjoy recreation more than others and some enjoy culture more than others so there is a balance. Healthy people keep our health care costs down which is an indirect benefit of City money well spent. The same rationale applies to city financed activates that support education.
No question there is the third category of options . The priority , in my opinion is what the value is the citizen of Nanaimo. Supporting a film commission, festival or activity that provides revenue to the city directly or indirectly or value to our citizens makes sense. Otherwise, what is the value added. I personally have difficulty with seeing the City fund trips for group to go and benefit someone else’s citizens in another location.
Let me begin by stating that I suspect that all my writing, and especially the Notes, are oversimplified. It is my hope however that the oversimplification may lead, with comment and discussion, to a better understanding of various issues affecting our community. I had hopes that perhaps the questions for Candidates raised in Nanaimo Notes #3, might lead to more discussion on the issues implied, but, once again, I came too late for my well intended, but poorly timed device to bear fruit.
As for the breakdown of municipal expenditures, the 4 Mandatory items which I used was a short cut for the 7, listed by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development which lays out the core responsibilities of municipalities thusly:
“Municipalities have broad service authority to provide core responsibilities that include, and are not limited, to the following:
• general government;
• transportation – streets and roads, in some cases urban transit;
• protection – police, fire;
• environment – water treatment and supply, waste water treatment, refuse collection/disposal;
• recreation and culture – recreation centres, playing fields, parks, libraries;
• land use planning and regulation, building regulation, zoning; and,
• regulation – animal control, public health, signs, business licensing, municipal services.
Municipalities have flexibility in how and what services they provide, including the ability to enter into private partnerships (PDF 361KB). Municipalities have flexibility in their ability to generate revenue to finance operations. This is done primarily through the property tax system but includes the ability to charge fees for services.
Municipalities are not responsible for schools, social assistance, hospitals. These are a provincial responsibility.” http://www.cscd.gov.bc.ca/lgd/pathfinder-mun.htm
I am not sure how to interpret your assertion that roads are not the responsibility of the City, but would like to hear more. It is only by a clear understanding of what must be done that we can determine if there is anything left over for other things that add to the general benefit of the community.
I could not agree more that a happy, healthy populace in which all can benefit economically and socially is the goal of most of us. But how do we get there? And what is holding us back?
Good idea and good work Ron. Eric