Wednesday, October 9, 2013

$6,250,000 to fight 11 building fires a year?

It certainly can get a little hair raising for taxpayers on Salt Spring Island watching how independent organizations like the Fire Dept. Board operate. They do so with an impunity that only volunteers can safely do without worrying about being personally liable for the decisions they make. We see a lot of this sometimes laudable, independent, wild west flair among groups freely taxing us in our unincorporated district. We need to contain it.

The problem in this day and age is that money is in short supply and the taxpayer is fatigued by the mega-projects we've had to digest over the last few years. It is like the next planner wants to out do the previous one as we snowball into yet another architect's big idea! The audacious nature of dreaming up a monster fire hall plan while propagandizing it into a full blown Emergency Service Building Project takes balls but it defies logic given our recent census numbers! At just over 10,200 people now 'associated' with Salt Spring Island, the myth of Salt Spring's projected massive population growth can finally be put to bed. If anything, projects like the new fire hall can safely be scaled back to be a lot more modest and reasonable! And well they should be!

Just saying. In 2008 there was an unusual blip on the screen with the financial collapse mostly in the US yet the Federal Government knee jerked out some make-work money so we could spend $7,000,000 on an edifice to that vanishing medium called the printed book. One wonders how on Earth we can dial back peoples' expectations after such a spectacular extravagance as the new Library. Now we find ourselves, as taxpayers hardly able to compete with that kind of 'Manna from Heaven' and still we are told we need that kind of money this time for a really important emergency service centre. Fair enough but in this case SIZE MATTERS.

We need to chill for a bit and re-examine our priorities which is probably a governance study over most anything else. If these decisions were to go through a responsible central council like in a... wait for it... MUNICIPALITY, surely the smart people of Salt Spring Island would prioritize peoples' tax monies in a far more efficient and caring manner. Just saying.

I refuse to vote YES for an extravagant security blanket in the face of the astronomical odds of a geological event... and believe or not, I can do that and still "support the troops". We are all very proud of our Fire Department and the brave men and women who service this outfit but this current plan uses fear of the unknown next 'disaster' to attempt to extort far too much for far too little actual community need.

Moderation is all you need! --- and then something quite adequate is possible to support. A NO Vote this time on October 23rd and 26th will ensure that happens.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Extreme Standby Position

Over time, which always marches forward, these little or big projects take on legs of their own. As Mr. Schubart of the Fire Dept. board in a candid moment revealed at a recent meeting, in so many words; the plan (for a new fire hall) took on a life of its own! and it became as of Sept. 16th, the "Emergency Services Building Project" It was not amusing to think that an inanimate proposal could actually grow to such proportions or that Mr. Schubart would think that people voting in a referendum to spend $6,250,000 might not be interested in a line by line look at where and what the budgeted money was going to be spent on! Especially with some line items estimated at between a fuzzy $60,000 and as much as $250,000.

No critique of such a good example of Salt Spring Extremism should go without at least offering ideas for other solutions however late in the game they may come. If you have any please comment. It actually would benefit the Fire Dept. to hold off on this decision until perhaps a more modest proposal were presented. My argument with it is less about immediate costs and more about ongoing maintenance, lives, protecting property and island house insurance rates. One of the best decisions the fire dept. made was to locate the two satellite stations at Central and in the Fulford Valley, this apparently saved over a million in house insurance payments. I am not sure what those installations cost but with an annual fire dept. budget of $2,375,000 I think the $6500 dollars a day we pay for this standby service is probably the par for the course considering it now features 5? unionized firepersons and a couple of paid employees?.

The reality is we could use a couple more of those satellite stations, one at the north end and one at Beaver Point or even Izabella point. If we are going to approve $6,250.000 expenditures why are we so focused on a huge centralized building as opposed to spreading this service more island-wide? All of our lives and the saving of our homes, in the dreadful event of a fire may depend on it and that should be the focus of any fire dept. should it not? It is after all a standby emergency service and it should be within reach of actually accomplishing its mission in emergencies; to save lives and protect the actual property. Centralization of this particular emergency service makes it out of reach, in terms of cost and effectiveness with absolutely no sense putting all eggs in one basket particularly in the event of an earthquake just does not seem a good idea for this kind of mega expense.

I think when special interest groups and organizations seeking more of our tax dollars use the insipidly overused notion that "it is only going to add so many dollars a week or whatever to property taxes" they do so with a blind-sided monocular vision because it simply all adds up a start point in an ever increasing amount once it is on the tax requisition. Since taxes rarely ever go down it is quite honestly a huge error in perspective to presume these are the costs of any service. We should all remember the 0% tax on food when the GST came in, while it quelled some public outrage to the GST, it was set as 0% to simply allow the tax to go forward on the books so that it could easily be raised later.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sure audit all organizations who receive our tax dollars but...

As always whether it is millions of tax dollars to the Islands Trust year after year or millions to remote locations in Canada for the sake of feigning an Arctic foothold of Sovereignty there is very little clarity for tax payers as to how the money is allocated once these organizations establish and solidify their conduit into our wallets.

In so many cases from Unemployment Insurance to Social Services of any kind it is fundamentally the cost of administration and the requisite bureaucracy that absorbs most of the tax piechart with fewer trickle down dollars actually reaching those in need.

This percentage could so easily be reversed in favour of those in need by computerizing the entire network of wealth redistribution in one simple guaranteed annual income suppliment for those below the poverty line (which is what $50,000 a year now?) Whatever it is, taxpayers are being severely gouged by fiscal administration costss and those in need are falling by the wayside as collateral damage whether they are First Nation's people or the needy and homeless of any ethnicity from coast to coast.

Every Government service department needs a major upgrade and all wealth re-distribution needs to be streamlined to end this endlessly squanderous use of a majory of our tax dollars spent distributing a minimum of the total available. Get the computers to spit the cheques out regularly and remove the middle-management-person who is often only there to value judge each recipient with an annoying worthier than thou attitude towards the poor, all the while enjoying a cushy and expensive admin job at the tax payers' pleasure.

Sure there should be audits done regularly but you won't find the problem is with recipients but rather bureaucrats still occupying positions from a former century of manual labour where none is needed anymore. I pay my taxes by cheque and I would prefer the government redistribute that wealth as efficiently as possible, I am not in the slightest bit concerned about a few odd people taking advantage of government services, those few lay-abouts are still cashing their cheques regularly and feeding our sputtering economy back with the money the government takes from all of us. It is called the Great Circie of our Monetary-based Life.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Appeal: Guilty As Charged

It may have been like pulling teeth to get the system to appreciate the concerns of taxpayers for the whole sordid conflict of interest case against our former Trustees but upon successful appeal it was clarified Friday in no uncertain terms. Elected officials are not allowed to start their own societies, become directors of those societies and then use their status as elected officials to vote public funds to their societies without declaring their conflict of interest.

Most of us thought it was an open and shut case right from the get go but when elected officials have unlimited access to public funds to defend themselves win or lose it all becomes a major cat and mouse game. The taxpayer is highly disadvantaged having to pay out of their own pocket additional money just to defend the public interest in a case of conflict of interest 101 that should never have gone on this long.

I fully appreciate the concerned members of our community who felt the incredible importance of this issue enough to petition the courts, lose and then appeal it, again at their own considerable expense. To Norbert Schlenker and the orginal gang of 15, Ted Bartrim, Alison Cunningham, Harold Hill, Malcolm Legg, my good friend Dietrich Luth, Victoria Mihalyi and Mark Toole, a big thankyou. I am sorry that it cost so many tens of thousands of hard earned dollars, time and cash on behalf of taxpayers but if it prevents future opportunisitic secret funding by our elected officials then it may all have been worth it, on principle alone. And thanks again to public videographer Jill Treewater for capturing the essential evidence that proved the case. I hope my small cash contribution helped in some way too.

The appeals court made its strongest point when it stated: “The object of the legislation (Conflict of Interest) is to prevent elected officials from having divided loyalties how to spend the public money. One’s own financial advantage can be a powerful motive for putting the public interest second but the same could also be said for the advancement of the cause of the non-profit entity, especially by committed believers in the cause, like the respondents, who as directors were under a legal obligation to put the entity first”.

I think it would behoove the former Trustees to come clean now and apologise to the community for patronizing the petitioners and polarizing the electorate against each other on an issue that was as easy to understand as any we have seen come before the courts, it has cost way too much at this point. I certainly will be looking to Trust Council to refund the taxpayers for the massive cost of this indefensible court case in lue of any attempt to raise their budgets this year..

Paul Marcano Vesuvius