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Nothing much changes…

It’s been a while since I’ve written about City Council. And after last night’s meeting, I decided I wouldn’t mind trying to get back at it. Why not start with a 4 1/2 hour meeting?

First of all, this Council just approved a local improvement plan to get the additional 30% funding from a segment of the tax base in the City. What do I mean by that? Well, you may want to get on the City’s website or take a nice spring walk down to City Hall and determine if you have cast-iron water lines providing you with water to your home, which for some, have reached their 100-year life span. If you are one of the lucky ones who has cast-iron lines, be ready. You’re going to pay more. Maybe not right away, but your cast-iron water line is on the radar over the next 20 years.

But I’m not. We don’t have cast-iron lines coming to our house. Let me use myself as an example of how this is going to play out.

I like the rest of you will be paying my share of the 70% cost oof $117million to replace the city’s cast-iron water lines. This comes in the form of a set tax increase, already in place and other funding sources through the budget. Administration is estimating that the entire project will cost $117million over the next 20 years. They haven’t taken into account any inflationary pressures which could lead it to around and over the $177million mark, but…I digress…

If you are one of the lucky ones, and have cast-iron water lines, you are now on the “list” to have your water line replaced. Whether it needs it or not. Meaning, if it’s not broken, the City is going to fix it anyways. It’s reaching it’s 100-year life span. It needs replacing. Currently, policy states that  if your water line blows from the main line  to your property line, it is your cost. So, if my water line breaks, I will be paying the cost. But only if it breaks. I am not part of the ‘new’ local improvement program noted above. I’ll reinterate. I do NOT have cast-iron water lines connected to my home.

So some of the taxpayers of Moose Jaw, will be paying 30% of the $117million cost and some will not.

Fair wouldn’t you say? I say no.

As I mentioned at the meeting last night, this is not an easy decision. But one I would be prepared to have a dedicated tax increase allocated to across the board (as is already in place) ALONG WITH reduced spending at City Hall. We have long been placing our wants above the needs of this community and it really is time to reign in spending. Now I realize that some may believe that we can’t cut costs anywhere but I would urge you to try and get through one of our budget binders and add up the number of consultants we have hired over the years to provide us with expert advice on all kinds of issues. That’s only one area where the fat could be trimmed. Municipal govenments are beacons for hiring consultants because ‘we don’t have the expertise to determine the best course of action’. Blah blah…

I’ll sum up the decision last night of instituting a local improvement program to replace these lines. There was a gentleman in the gallery until the end of the meeting watching the proceedings. He stood up at the end and said…”this Council should be ashamed of themselves for the decision they just made.” This is not going to go over well once the intricacies of this plays out in the community. Not taking responsibility for past ignorance on infrastructure and asking some citizens to pay more is starting to become all too typical for municipal councils.

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On another note, I gave notice of motion last night to remove a clause to prohibit video from being taken during our public meetings. And to sum it up, this Council once again looks at something I bring forward and makes a mockery of it. A few weeks ago the Times-Herald uploaded a video to their Facebook page, from a public meeting in the Scoop Lewry Room and I thought it was fantastic. Turns out, said reporter was told by City Hall that he had “violated” the Decorum in Council Chambers bylaw. Hogwash I say.

So I brought foward notice of motion to allow video in Chambers (and otherwise) during our public meetings to be more accountable to our constituents. In this day and age everyone has a smart phone, with video capability, and with the introduction of Periscope (a live streaming app), I thought this would be a fantastic way to get our Executive meetings’ discussions out to more people. I thought I would try and do it myself during our public meetings in the Scoop Lewry Room! I am a huge fan of getting more information out to citizens and videos of our meetings and/or live streaming to me makes complete sense.

Well, I should know better than to try and make a change. This Council decided to refer the motion to administration for a report from policy to determine next actions. What a joke! In the whole scheme of things, this really is not the biggest issue Council should be dealing with BUT all councils should be open to being ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT. Doesn’t seem to be that way here in Moose Jaw. Councillor Kirkpatrick even said that she had “hoped it wouldn’t even be seconded” and then actually assumed from my motion that I was going to violate the Cities Act and stream IN-CAMERA/PRIVATE meetings! Where do these comments even come from? It really is unbelievable at times.

Oh, and Councillor, when you respect your other colleagues on Council, protocol that I’m familiar with says you second the notice of motion to allow it to come to the floor and be debated. You then have a right to vote against it if you wish. But allow your colleagues to have their say and express their opinions. 

Time will tell if this Council will allow citizens to join our meetings that are held publicly outside of Council Chambers by way of video clips or streams. As someone said on Twitter Sunday after the Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight, “I watched the fight on Periscope and saw the future”.

Maybe this Council will see the light and let even more of you see the discussions that go on outside of Council Chambers.  After some of the decisions that were made last night, you all deserve to hear and know more from your elected officials.
Have a happy Tuesday!

Observations from the past week

I saw an interesting quote on Twitter last week: “The status quo does not require leadership.” I immediately thought to myself that is the exact way I feel about some of the happenings over the past months with City Council during budget discussions and other meetings.

Here are a couple of examples. I don’t think I have to go into too much detail when it comes to the decision of Council to move the $1.5M back to the multiplex operating board for “upgrades to be determined” for the facility. The recommendation to move the funds out of the project budget came from administration and this Council went against that recommendation with some kicking and screaming from the fundraising group who truly believe the funds are theirs. Wrong.

With interest on the project over the next 25 years totaling over $15M, it is unrealistic for the fundraising group and anyone else to believe that this $1.5M is theirs. But as many things work in the world, unfortunately, a few ‘threats’ from a special interest group and you can usually get what you want out of some politicians. The fundraising group went to the multiplex operating board to express their displeasure for Council’s initial decision to move the funds back to the Capital budget for discussions. They didn’t come to full Council to express their displeasure because my understanding is that they were told not to, as it is “too public”. Instead they went to the board meeting and expressed their concerns to the new board, which might I add consists of two new Councillors who honestly are not privy to the history that this project has gone through at the City Council table. They are entitled to their opinion of course but it’s often easy to find a new pawn for a chess game.

And so, the status quo continues in Moose Jaw. We will give unprecedented dollars to recreation facilities and ignore our basic infrastructure. This $1.5M was realistically only a drop in the bucket as to what our Capital budget needs but it’s the taxpayers’ money and it should have gone back to Capital.

One only has to reflect on our dreadful winter season that we just got through unscathed. But barely. I’m getting a feeling once again that there is not much initiative from this Council or from Administration that we’d like to change the way things are done. Gasp! Excuses I heard through winter were “the snowfall is at record levels!” “Once we believe we are caught up, it [the snow] started again!”

How do other cities around the country do it? And why does it continue to be an issue in our City? We can’t do snow removal, ploughing or otherwise, at all it seems. I’ll continue to keep trying but honestly, after 10 years, I can kind of see where this is going. I can see the full picture. To clarify, snow policy dollars are actually included in operating dollars but this basic maintenance is definitely being ignored.

“The status quo does not require leadership…”

Then our Sportsplex situation is another issue. We received a press release on Monday about the pool status and the fact that Parks and Rec is going to drain the main pool to try and get to the bottom of the problem. No pun intended. In the press release, it said that could take about three to four weeks. Then if the problem is solved, they are going to shut the entire building down after the first week in June for the regular three week maintenance that occurs every year. Shut it down again? When members have been waiting months to get into the pool for their regular exercise or lessons?

I asked on Monday under Enquiries why they wouldn’t just do that annual maintenance now while the main pool is being drained. That seems to just make sense to me, but what do I know. Part of the answer I received is that there are lessons going on now in the other pool that is still open to the public and then I heard: “…and that’s what we do every year.” Ai yi yi…

“The status quo does not require leadership…”

Until next time…I’m on plane on my way to Montreal for a work conference. Enjoy your week Moose Jaw!