Friday, September 25, 2009

Overbudget ? What's New ?
They haven't even started boring the Alex Cullen Memorial Tunnel deep into the centretown core and we learn that the LRT project is already $100 million over budget !
That same Councillor Cullen, who apparently won't rest until the taxpayers are bled white by this costly transit project, is the same man who earlier this week castigated the mayor and some of his fellow councillors for setting budget efficiency targets for 2010 which he says are "too ambitious."
These folks, he told The Ottawa SUN, want savings instead of resorting to a tax increase. Shame ! Shame !
The council-directed budget efficiency target for 2010 has city staff looking for about $138 million in savings. Almost $47 million has been found, and it's predicted another $22 million can be achieved in 2009 with another $19.4 million in 2010. That leaves the city some $50 million short of reaching its goal. Four city departments -- as yet unnamed -- are missing their targets and the city has created a group to help managers meet the goal. Given the city's penchant for hiring consultants at the drop of a hat, have consultants been hired to oversee this process ? Inquiring minds want to know.
Citizen Ellie wonders if the city's managers are subject to annual performance reviews and if so, surely meeting (or not meeting, as the case might be) departmental budget efficiency targets would be part of the review. It certainly would be in the private sector where managerial fortunes rise and fall on the manager's ability to either meet or exceed budgetary expectations.
Given this bit of news, and the word that the LRT project looks as if it's going to be waaaaaay over budget, Citizen Ellie can only conclude that this extremely important aspect of a manager's job isn't on the line when performance is being reviewed.
One good bit of news is that those councillors keen on saving tax dollars staged a revolt over giving committee chairs an additional $10,000 to spend on consultants --to help these poor overburdened chairs with their new budget duties -- i.e. membership on the audit, budget and finance committee which is headed by Mayor Larry and is supposed to streamline the budget process which, as everyone knows, is a huge joke, except that the taxpayers aren't laughing. This demand for extra cash closely followed the granting of additional funding so committee chairs could bring in an extra person to work half-time in their offices. The money was offered up by Mayor Larry -- money from his office budget which he didn't spend on mayoral activities while off on leave during that farce of a trial.
It's interesting to note that the councillors who wanted to save taxpayers' money are not committee chairs. It's also interesting to note that the money isn't going to be saved anyway. Mayor Larry apparently is going to take those dollars and -- guess what -- hire a consultant who'll be made available to the committee chairs. Just goes to prove old Polish proverb -- if you want to beat a dog you can always find a stick.
On the LRT issue -- enough's been said and written about what all the fumbles are doing to the city's credibility with its two potential partners --the federal and provincial governments. Those current members of council who are contemplating a run for the mayor's chair are probably going to be left twisting in the wind which is likely to sweep through city hall in November 2010.
One Way To Save Taxpayers' Dollars
Apparently charging taxpayers who want to use meeting rooms at city hall to hold budget consultation forums involving council members is the new way to inch a step closer to finding budget efficiencies -- especially if the group organizing the forum favors frugality when it comes to spending taxpayers' dollars.
The Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (Ottawa TAG) hosted such a forum at city hall on September 15 and subsequently received a bill in the amount of $142.50 from Councillor Alex Cullen -- presumably Ottawa TAG's share of splitting room rental costs.
Ottawa TAG sees this as a cheap shot and Citizen Ellie joins the group in expressing gratitude to Councillors Bob Monette and Rob Jellett for stepping in and picking up this tab. These Councillors have demonstrated that they believe public engagement in the city's governance is a good thing.
Is Ottawa TAG correct in its view that certain members of city council would prefer to see the organization as a threat which must be silenced because its members hold opposing opinions on how taxpayers' dollars are spent ?
Citizen Ellie wonders if a social agency or one of certain councillors' pet special interest groups would be charged a room rental fee if it wanted to hold a budget consultation forum in a city hall meeting room ? What do you think ?
Regular postings usually on Fridays

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's Budget Time Again.....
Citizen Ellie has returned from a well-deserved vacation in the world centre of civility -- Prince Edward Island -- where the biggest problem confronting Charlottetown's civic leaders was the infestation of wasps in the city centre.
One could not walk on the streets with impunity. Indeed, Citizen Ellie was attacked and stung as she made her way past Province House.
But this was a minor matter when compared to what confronts Ottawans over the next couple of months.
Are we to take a hint from the fact that councillors need to hire extra outside help to assist them through the budget process ? One wonders if this bunch are so clueless that they need to hire outsiders to assist them with their household budgets? Seems simple to Citizen Ellie. Money comes in (salary, wages, pension or the like), money goes out (mortgage, taxes, groceries, car payment, hydro, phone, water, heating, cable/satellite) and what's left over is for savings or discretionary spending. Don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when more money goes out than comes in, serious trouble lies ahead.
One also wonders what all those six-figure salaried city employees are doing to earn their top dollars ? There's a huge bunch of them. Surely one or two of these folk must understand the budget process and have the ability to present it to council members in the simple terms that they will understand.
The city currently faces a situation where more money is going out than is coming in. A deficit of about $12 million is predicted for the current fiscal year. That doesn't include the $37 million to settle the LRT lawsuit. That doesn't include cost of the bus strike or the arbitration award for which we're still waiting. That doesn't include fixing the west end sewers to put an end to flooded basements. That doesn't include the cost of cleaning up the Ottawa River. Then there are the pie-in-the sky items -- the new transit system (haven't heard a peep from the province or the feds re their share of the funding), and the planned rejuvenation of Lansdowne Park (another money-sucker which is going to make lawyers rich as injunctions are filed to prevent the handing over of one of the choicest pieces of downtown property to a consortium of developers without tender). All of this bodes ill for the residential property taxpayer.
The charade of public consultation regarding the budget will no doubt occur again this year. The charade takes the form of public meetings where the budget is presented and members of the public ostensibly have a say in how their property tax dollars are to be spent. What a farce !
Citizen Ellie attended one of these "consultations" last year. It was presided over by Councillors Michel Bellemare, Jacques Legendre and Georges Bedard. They listened intently when representatives of special interest groups made their presentations. Their eyes glazed over when overburdened taxpayers pleaded for restraint.
It became evident as the evening progressed that some of the special interest group representatives were well-coached and armed with printed statements which they parroted at the microphone/s. If asked to elaborate by one of the councillors, they resorted to re-reading the printed statement over again. One suspected that perhaps they'd had some assistance from CUPE 503 as the special interests being promoted employ numerous CUPE 503 members.
Citizen Ellie is a CNN fan and it's interesting to watch how our neighbors to the south are behaving at "town hall" meetings. Politicians of all stripes are having a hard time of it at these public sessions -- which citizens now refer to as "tea parties", the historical context being the famous Boston Tea Party which gave birth to the slogan "No Taxation Without Representation". Ottawa ratepayers could learn something from this. We've been sheep for far too long. It's time we stood up at a budget session or two or three and told councillors flat out to quit pissing on our legs and telling us that it's raining.
Fiscal restraint. Frugality. Those are the words Ottawa ratepayers want to hear.
Speaking of frugality, Citizen Ellie practised some herself in PEI. Instead of spending $130.00 green fees plus another $20.00 for share of cart, she contented herself with a soda on the clubhouse verandah at plush Crowbush Cove. That's cutting the coat in accordance with the cloth !
New postings usually on Fridays

Friday, September 11, 2009

Meeting Alert !!!
"Zero means zero: is it possible ?"
Interested Ottawa ratepayers will have the opportunity to hear the issue debated at a meeting on Tuesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. in the Champlain Room at City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave. West.
The meeting is sponsored by the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group and will feature a debate between two Ottawa TAG members and Councillor Alex Cullen plus another individual of his choice.
Ottawa TAG says this will not be a debate about personalities or style. Rather, it's an opportunity to inform the public about the current city council's spending record and its impact on the average household, providing information so that when the next municipal election rolls around in November 2010, ratepayers will be able to judge past and current anti-zero- means- zero actions on city council's part. For some Ottawans, property taxes now exceed their mortgage payments. Unless there's restraint, spending growth means property taxes are likely to double in the next 10 years.
Can you afford that ?
Regular postings will resume next week