Time for Trusteeship ?
Were you shocked by yesterday's news that the estimated cost of Ottawa's proposed rapid rail transit scheme is now $2.1 billion ? And there's likely more to come. This is only the cost of the first phase.
Those of us who thought the initial price tag of $1.8 billion was beyond reality are no longer fazed by cost predictions coming from city hall. We've come to accept that no one down at the "hall" seems to understand (or care, for that matter) that ratepayers want to know what they're getting into in terms of immediate and future impact on their property taxes when major projects are proposed. In this case, a $700 million increase apparently is a mere bagatelle to those in charge.
Transit Committee Chair (and mayor wannabe) Alex Cullen opined after yesterday's committee meeting that thanks to funds raised by the city going into debt, plus contributions from the other levels of government and gas tax revenues, there would be no immediate impact on property taxes. The key word here is "immediate".
Earler in the week, Councillor Cullen was quoted as saying he wouldn't be falling down from a heart attack once the rapid rail transit cost figures were announced. Of course he wouldn't. Tax and spend is his mantra.
The news about spiraling rapid rail transit cost projections came on the same day we learned OC Transpo needs another great whack of our money next year. Those running this dreadful operation want a12.7% increase in their budget. They say they need more cash from our pockets to pay wage increases, cover Para Transpo costs related to the growth of this service and to make up a $8.1 million employee pension fund shortfall due to stock market fluctuations.
This last one really irritates. What does this say to ratepayers who saw their pension plans and retirement savings eroded by fluctuations in the stock market a year ago ? What does this say to ratepayers whose employers have told them the employer can no longer make pension contributions ? What does this say to former Nortel employees who don't know from one day to the next if they'll be receiving that pension cheque ? What does this say to the countless number of ratepayers in this city who don't enjoy gold-plated pension plans ? Maybe it's time some of those well-paid OC Transpo employees, and that includes bus drivers, bit the bullet.
OC Transpo is the same outfit that will run the rapid rail system if it ever gets off the ground. That's guaranteed to turn it into an even bigger albatross around the necks of ratepayers who are currently subsidizing its operating costs to the tune of more than 50%
OC Transpo doesn't pay its way now and one has to wonder what crystal ball the proponents of rapid rail transit and tunnels under the downtown core are consulting if they think OC Transpo will pay its way in the future. Maybe Tarot cards are telling them OC Transpo's ridership will magically increase to the point where fare box revenues will cover all costs and a subsidy from property taxes will no longer be required. Fat chance !
Ratepayers in Phoenix, Arizona bought into a rapid rail transit scheme a few years back. The cost of the electricity required to run this system has turned out to be prohibitive and Phoenix ratepayers now rue the day they ever went this route. Citizen Ellie obtained this information from someone who lives in the Phoenix area.
Fortunately for us, Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson is standing on guard. He says the $2.1 billion price tag for the first phase is likely unaffordable.
Once again he's expressed the provincial government's concern about what appear to be never-ending cost increases. But no one down at the "hall" is listening.
The province's finance minister, Dwight Duncan, outlined Ontario's serious financial situation earlier in the week. The province is looking at cutbacks -- including cutbacks to social services, health care, education etc. and even the Ontario Drug Benefit isn't sacred. The feds aren't in a much better position and we haven't heard Transport Minister John Baird jumping up and downj with glee over the fact this mass transportation project is going to cost more ....much more ! So why would anyone in their right mind think the two senior levels of government are just panting to pour money into into the rapid rail transit sinkhole in Ottawa ?
According to Ottawa Sun columnist Sue Sherring, the city's on a rapid road to financial ruin. She notes that already $1 million has been allocated in the city's 2009 budget and this will be spent by the end of the year just to get us to this process.
"The money," she wrote in today's column, "appears to flow faster than citizens can pay. Without traying to be alarmist -- it's incredibly scary. And there's no one there leading or reassuring the taxpayers this plan will both work and be affordable."
Right on, Susan. It's downright scary. And since nobody down at the "hall" is listening to Minister Jim's warning, maybe it's time he dusted off his copy of the legislation which allows the senior level of government to step in and take over, putting the city under trusteeship. Unfortunately some fiscally sensible councillors would be impacted, and some councillors' pet special interest groups would howl, but most Ottawa ratepayers would probably welcome the move. They've had it with this council and its free-spending ways! A previous provincial government took such a step when The Ottawa Hospital couldn't get its financial house in order and it turned out for the better. The timing is right -- the next municipal election is a year away -- time enough for a thorough housecleaning.
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