Saturday, March 29, 2008

Someone Else's Fault

It's someone else's fault. It's always someone else's fault. When you are the Provincial government it is the Federal government's fault. Never mind that the Federal government did some serious budget cutting in the 1990's, got it's financial house in order and now enjoys budget surpluses. The Provincial government doesn't have enough money, won't make the politically unpopular choice to cut spending, and so the financial problems are someone else's fault.

Same for the City government. Infrastructure is falling apart, there isn't enough money and it's someone else's fault. After all, the alternative to blaming someone else is to make the politically unpopular choice to cut spending. Mind you, give the Provincial government their due. They aren't afraid to raise taxes. Our City government jumped through a lot of hoops, raided the contingency funds, and took money the Province offered for infrastructure and put it into the general fund, before they decided to raise taxes.

One of the problems with the City government is that the Mayor was elected on a platform of freezing taxes, but the City Council made no such promises. Hence a lot of deadlock. The Mayor is a business man who is used to giving orders. Council quite rightly points out that they too were elected by the people. But unfortunately nobody is ultimately in charge.

Finally I'd like to point out that the alternative to raising taxes and cutting programs is to cut waste and increase efficiency. Unfortunately whenever council talks about cutting waste and increasing efficiency, the city management comes back with a plan to cut services. Oh, you want us to cut waste? Sure! Here's a plan for collecting garbage every second week and closing all the sports arenas. Don't like that plan? Oh well, we tried. Having spent 13 years in the business world, this approach neither impresses me nor fools me. It's time for city council to show leadership by saying:
  • City management will deliver a plan to cut waste and increase efficiency by 2% a year without cutting services. If they can't do it, we'll find new management
  • When the provincial government gives us money for infrastructure, we'll spend it on specific infrastructure improvements
  • we'll build a reserve fund, contributing each year until it reaches 5% of the overall budget. We will not raid the reserve fund for general program expenditures. The reserve is for emergencies.
  • effective immediately city taxes will increase each year automatically at the rate of inflation
  • city government will focus on the basics of keeping citizens safe and providing basic infrastructure. Rather than raising taxes, we'll have user fees that target the specific users of specific services.

5 Comments:

Anonymous jgriffin316 said...

Good points Shawn, here are some others for you to think about:
- Have you noticed that when city staff talks about cutting services they never talk about cutting th staff that support those now non-existent services?
- Do you recall when Larry O'Brien had consultants come up with a set of recommendations they were all dismissed out of hand by the city manager?
- Have you noticed that the municipal civil service has grown faster than the rate of inflation?
- Have you noticed that the municipal civil service has grown faster than the rate growth of the city?
- The city currently has about 17,000 employees. If you look at the standard ratio of city employees to citizens, which is about 100:1, we are over staffed by about 7,000 employees.
- The average wage of an employee in the City of Ottawa is about $80,000. So the city payroll is approximately $1.3 billion per year, over half of the budget.
- Almost all city employees are unionized. The chance of staff reductions, or even freezes, are near zero

2:26 PM  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

Yes, it actually did occur to me. 8-)

Since amalgamation of the city, wages have skyrocketed, there have been no savings, and city employment is up.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Rileysowner said...

Oh to have a city government actually govern. Not very likely.

How about having a portion of taxes that is set aside every year to pay for infrastructure repair/replacement when it wears out. I find it amazing that city governments (London and Toronto at least but I would guess Ottawa as well) are acting as if they didn't expect the bridges/roads/water and sewer to ever wear out. They have not said it, but their attitude is like, "What! These things wear out! We didn't know that. The province better give up money to fix them."

I don't own a home at the moment, but if I did there would most certainly be a fund to save money for roof repairs, paint, electrical and plumbing maintenance/replacement because I know they wear out over time. If I can figure it out, why can't people making $80,000 plus a year with much better educations in these areas than I have?

Finally, as a rural dweller (well small town) I am particularly sick of the moaning and groaning of Toronto. Just because they can't get their financial house in order doesn't mean I should be paying taxes through the provincial and federal government to subsidize their misspending. They need to deal with this themselves.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

The City of Ottawa has a long term planning committee on City Council, but...

8:33 AM  
Blogger Ed LeBlanc said...

Don't expect significant changes in the direction of city council when it comes to leadership and implementing a new vision.
The problems are that the same batch of councillors get re-elected every time. In the last election, all of the same batch got in, only the major's position changed. Another problem is that only 30 to 40 percent of the voters bother to vote. This is a real indication that people feel things are just fine the way they are and they don't care to change much of anything. A further problem is a lack of apparent knowledge of how city government works. It is not a parliamentary system where the mayor is the leader of a party and party discipline rules. Each councillor is free to vote as they please thus leaving a mayor with little political leverage. I get the feeling many people think the mayor has the same level of power as a PM or premier.

We can list all the ways to fix things but unless the electorate takes up their responsibilities too, expect more of the same.

4:12 PM  

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