Monday, January 4, 2016

Salt Spring to be In Corporate or Not.

I know a lot of people on Salt Spring are grappling with the incorporation issue, the study, the vision, and the costs. I think study's projection that rate payers will only face an additional $15 per $100,000 assessed value is initially unrealistic to imagine given the likely immediate call for a town hall and all the extra cost that that one item alone will entail.

But realistically it has been said that while Bowen Island's (incorporated) taxes went up substantially, Salt Spring Island's taxes over the same period have gone up more so by almost 300%.

So you look at that and you wonder where and which taxing institutions are the culprit in the mix and what can truly resolved through incorporation?  Two notables jump out right away of course and they are the fire department which has gone from approximately $700,000 annual budget to closing in on $3,000,000 and the ever reliable annual budget increases of that feel good organization known as the Islands Trust, up from approximately $4,000,000 to well over $7,000,000 now. It should be noted that in years where we have had an incorporation study and possible referendum, the Islands Trust has held the line on tax increases, so there is always a silver lining in just doing a study and threatening to incorporate. ;-)

I will admit I voted against incorporation the last time and even help spearhead the NO effort with the image below...

I think between Eric Booth and myself we dove into a public discourse on the potential financial impact with our typical Capricornian concerns and alas in retrospect, Eric was right, taxes will go up anyway!

However, it is important to realise that while it is presumed that a centralized governance can be more efficient in allocating tax dollars according to community priorities, the incorporation study repeatedly mentions that that existing water boards, the fire department board, the Parks and Recreation Commission, Transportation Commission and other boards of Trustees will likely maintain their status at least in an advisory role to a town council. So representation will only become greater and possibly more effective in managing the lack of budget prioritization under our current de-centralized governance. To this I am all ears and hope to see how the final report factors this in.

One conundrum that still holds me back from choosing to incorporate has to do with the loss of power that ratepayers will have once a municipal council takes over and ratepayers lose their exclusive referendum-based option to vote for or against tax increases. In our current system we generally have referendums on all big money proposals and only property owners can vote on whether they wish to support this or that tax increase. Under a municipal model, and correct me if I am wrong, council would make these decisions and even if they did offer to hold a referendum, all island residents, not just property owners would have the right to vote. This is significant as it would leave ratepayers open to tax increases approved by everyone regardless of whether they were impacted tax-wise. This is a biggie for ratepayers to consider because as much as it can be annoying to be voting on every big project, it has been ratepayers' exclusive right to decide on which tax increases they favour. Savings on reduced Islands Trust fees may balance this out, hard to say.

The other issue that often follows incorporation, besides responsibilities for police and road maintenance which I think need much more detailed flushing out, is the individual impact of fees that council will come up with for things like business licensing and parking tickets that are often the bread and butter cash cows of municipal budgets.

I would certainly like to hear some pro-incorporation views and financial stats that would help clarify some of the positives because while I am all for a more centralized prioritization of our tax dollars, I worry the same old advisory commissions and boards will be there to maintain their fiefdoms of taxation while a municipal council grows a whole new level of governance expenditure.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bandwagon Believers

Warren Buffet recently reiterated a simple truism re: Gold "bandwagon investors make their own Truth... for awhile". I have always extrapolated on such truisms to explore how far you can take them in understanding a deeper truth. Ie: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" could be broadly rephrased to suggest that "Beauty is in the I of the beholder... along with everything else." One's perceptions even as they are enhanced by technology are still limited by the narrow bandwidth of our human faculties and while we seek to arrive at fundamental conclusions we can rely on, they are forever to be limited by our simply not knowing all the variables and the changing condition of those variables.

Today's access to information over the internet is pretty much an unfiltered array of soapboxes, like this one, with every possible notion and nuance that such a broad spectrum of humanity can conjure up and yet, it is still limited by the level of skill one has in cross-referencing, verifying sources and the real work of researching a topic.

Getting back to "the beholder" I mean to say information from sources other than the internet, primarily ones own experience and observations. As I said, I rely on truisms more than long dissertations because I want to analyse for myself my more immediate experiential perceptions to understand what is actually observable and verifiable within my capacity to do so.

So if "bandwagon investors make their own truth", then I would naturally extrapolate from that that "bandwagon believers make their own truth" as well and if we bring that chicken home to roost we can see what we are up against in our local politics, particularly environmental changes and the general belief that close to $7,000,000 worth of Islands Trust bureaucracy is somehow protecting our environment without even the purchase of one acre of land to preserve. That increasing the budget on one hand and yet spending a further $400,000 in a navel gazing exercise to 'explore a trite policy statement' is somehow a a justifiable or efficient use of our tax dollars.

It all adds up to an extremism that we need to excoriate by seeking to contain The Islands Trust to their simple land planning mandate. Writing long reasoned letters to Trust Council is useless when they openly admit that they are simply playing a numbers game of counting the yeas and the neys as to whether the public is accepting or rejecting their proposed budget increases.

Needless to say, they should take that proposed $400,000 'policy statement discussion' and subtract it from their tax requisition and somehow continue to explore ways to trim their insatiable squandering of our tax dollars on this endless ideological fixation on environment and how it changes like every other aspect of the Universe we know and love.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Weird Science

Be nice if these guys could get on the 'sane' page. I am talking about new age 21st century freakin' climatologists. It is more like we are witnessing the birth of a new religion with all the classic elements in a kind of tired recipe that most religions are founded on; guilt, wrathfull gods of nature, humanity's sinful ways, heathen deniers and a huge appetite for donations.

One minute you are reading "Met Office releases new figures which show no warming in 15 years (since 1997). The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age... Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, according to the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit", then the next news cycle and blogs galore - suddenly all those scientists are the bad scientists who are irresponsible and clueless.

From the public's non-scientific mindset and with access to this deluge of contradictory data, one wonders about 1 or 2 degree graphic charts expanded vertically to dramatically show some kind of change, any change at all. The so-called hockey stick graph goes higher depending on the proportionate use of graphical design accentuation... dare I say, I miss the days when you could trust science, even its theories. Now there seems an emotional fervour that does not instill much trust at all, in fact it is almost evolved to a faith based system of sorts since only the high priestscientists are supposedly 'in the know'.

Meanwhile, sadly a friend of mine sits out on the deck of a local pub imagining he is on the deck of the Titanic. Any disciplined religion or science that brings on that sort of hopelessness is surely suspect for its extremism.

Being only a virtual realist, I am not sure where that line goes too far over into despair, but it can't be healthy.

Solution: disconnect from the madness, pull the plug on your radio and TV, forget the 11:00 o'clock news blues and then, when you are left to your own resources, you shouldn't find anything quite so urgent as the subtle realization that you are dreaming!

Like now?...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pecuniary Interest versus Procedural Irregularities

In spirit I supported the Petitioners on behalf of taxpayers, however I was disappointed that the Petitioners themselves neglected to pursue the front and centre issue that a video appeared to show were procedural irregularities.

Rather the Petitioners seemed, from the judgement, to have prioritized inferring direct or indirect pecuniary interest and requesting disqualification. This kind of inference was noteably lacking in evidence or proof despite the structural aspects of the societies allowing for potential remuneration of directors who might one day be ex elected officials. The Judge needed evidence not inference.

Consequently, the judge could only go so far as to conclude in part that..."in these circumstances, the petitioners concerns are understandable. In the sphere of local government politics, it would be in everyone's best interests to ensure that future local government meetings follow properly transparent procedures". Earlier he found that our CRD director had been imprudent yet did not go so far as to say improper in a similar case. His final judgement was not particularly surprising.

Suffice to say that that acknowledgement and the Islands Trust's own "How to Stay out of Trouble" guidelines to conflict of interest issues are about the best we can expect coming out of the community addressing this important issue.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Are Smart Meters too Smart for their own Good?

Nary a change goes by the board on Salt Spring Island where there is not some extreme group protesting change, as if it were not the fundamental Operating System of the Universe. I think I preferred when it was Global Warming, at least that was tangible, but climate change? How innocuous can you get?

So I'll take two Smart Meters thanks. Why? because the state of artificial intelligence is an unreasonable fear and I fault BC Hydro for choosing such a loaded name for a simple upgrade. What would have been wrong with just saying everyone is getting a new Hydro Meter? People like 'new and improved'. Don't they know that people have an inherent fear of computers to begin with let alone claiming they have humanistic characteristics like intelligence or Smarts?

Anyway just thought I would mention that I would at least like the freedom of choice from my fellow islanders, given that they declared an undemocratically arrived at decision, island-wide ban without asking me. I am hoping that the wireless feature lets me more carefully see why my Hydro bill is where it is at. Too many electronics? Nope, I like to be warm in the winter and I don't like the acrid pollution of wood burning stoves that environmentalists oddly enough don't seem to have a problem with.

Incidently while visiting our friends on Kauai recently, Hydro was going for .45 cents a Klw... can you imagine? How does that compare with our mere .08 cents? The point being that heat or no heat they need the same operating budget. Anyway... looking forward to the future as always.

A Special Thankyou

Despite the recent court ruling which by rights should be more closely scrutinized, to all the Petitioners representative of a wide sampling of the community, once again, thank you for bringing this important issue of conflict of interest to the community's attention.

To the Islands Trust and 'Humphreys' too numerous to mention, thank you too, obviously this whole affair has had a constructive impact on policy with the recently released publication reminder for old and new Trustees - "How to Stay Out of Trouble". A detailed explanation of what conflict of interest is and isn't should now be amply clear enough even for future judges. It is surely recommended reading for any elected officials or society directors in general. Better late than never.

To all the secret or otherwise closed societies out there, I hope the next time you consider coming to the taxpayer-funded trough, that you do us all a favour and seek traditional public donations first to test the support validity of your cause and then most certainly recuse yourselves as directors from voting yourself funds if you are the ones in a conflict of interest situation. Again, refer to the Islands Trust publication above if you don't understand the subtler nuances of the legislation.

Paul Marcano