Category Archives: Election 2011

This category contains information about James W Breckenridge to provide information on Mr. Breckenridge’s background, experience, character, thoughts and positions on how the City of Abbotsford should be managed by council, ethics of council and how council should behave/conduct itself.

Just say No.

I distinctly remember attending and speaking at a council session in the spring of 2009 concerning Abbotsford’s 2009/10 budget. I also distinctly remember Abbotsford’s city council proclaiming the 2009/10 budget to Abbotsford’s citizens and that they had struggled mightily on behalf of the citizens and held the tax rise to “an overall increase of 5.5% to address key areas; a 2009 budget that protects key City services and provides support to the areas that need it most; Budget reflects the role of City government and responds to economic outlook” (to quote from the city’s press release).

So why is Abbotsford city council scrambling madly to separate taxpayers from millions more of their dollars this year and for year’s into the foreseeable future?

A budget is a financial plan. A household budget itemizes the family’s sources of income and describes how this income will be spent (housing, insurance, transportation, food and so on). Similarly a municipal budget indicates the municipal government’s income sources and allocates funds to police, roads, parks and recreation, wages, fire and the like.

Budgeting is, thus, a management tool used for both planning and control.

Fundamentally, the budgeting process is a method to improve operations; it is a continuous effort to specify what should be done to get the job completed in the best possible way. The budgeting process is a tool for obtaining the most productive and cost effective use of the city’s resources. Budgets also represent planning and control devices that enable city management and council to anticipate change and adapt to it.

Operations in today’s economic environment are complex. The budget (and control) process provides a better basis for understanding the city’s operations and for planning ahead. This increased understanding leads to faster reactions to developing events, increasing the city’s ability to perform effectively.

Clearly budgeting is a most important financial tool – if done properly.

I recently was dealing with getting an automobile on the road. I drew up a budget for the costs involved. I then drew up a budget for how the funds to meet these costs would be raised. Only after I was satisfied with the budget being realistic did I begin operations to get the car on the road.

It developed that there were a few unanticipated complications that had to be dealt with and that required extra cash outlays. My original budget had been realistic and so had covered the anticipated (major) expenses. The additional expenses were dealt with within my overall normal monthly operating budget. It required a shift of cash from budgeted expenditures to cover the additional expenses; decisions made based upon priority of the expenditures involved.

That is the way a budget works. You (should) know your income with a fair degree of certainty. You allocate how that money is to be spent. If there is an income shortfall for a undertaking such as getting an automobile on the road you need to increase the funds available to cover those new expenses (in the case of the city determine the tax increase to be imposed). Additional expenses (which, in a proper budget environment, should be minor) are handled, if considered a priority, through the reallocation of expenditures within the overall operating budget.

I apologize to the reader if the preceding paragraphs seemed a little dry. However, it is necessary to set out an understanding of budgeting in order to examine the actions of the City of Abbotsford and Abbotsford’s city council vis-à-vis the City’s current (past and future) Budgets.

I think that armed with even the most basic understanding of what a budget is, what a budget is for and what the budgeting process should involve makes it clear that no matter what city hall and city council call it, the document they called and approved as the 2009 budget was and is not a budget in terms of what an authentic budget entails and the information a bona fide budget contains.

If the document that Abbotsford city hall and city council approved had been a real operating budget, city council would not have had to immediately scramble around for additional revenue to cover operating costs. In a real, substantive budget those operating costs would have been covered by property taxes and the other revenue sources of the City of Abbotsford.

What city staff and city council continue to try to pass off as a budget is a document whose main purpose would appear to be to hoodwink the citizens of Abbotsford into accepting the fiction of a tax increase of only 5.5%.

Explaining why it was that after announcing and passing their fudged budget, council embarked on a search for the additional revenues needed to cover what the city’s actual operating costs were going to be.

The need for revenue to cover costs that the 5.5% claimes tax increase was inadequate to cover, is also likely why the city transferred $300,000 into each of water and sewer as ‘administration costs’ this year. That way the taxes needed to cover that $600,000 would be hidden from citizens in large water and sewer levy increases.

What about the five year 2009 – 2013 budget City hall and council passed? The need for investing hundreds of millions of $$$$ in infrastructure would have been part of any legitimate budgeting process with the result that funding to cover these expenditures would be or should have been included in the budget. There should be no need to scramble for large sums of additional revenue to pay for the needed infrastructure.
Indeed any responsible, any real long term budgeting process would have included the need for investing hundreds of millions of $$$$ in water treatment, sewage treatment, roads etc in the budget process that included Plan A.
All of which leads to the conclusion that Abbotsford city council has failed to engage in an accurate and proper budget process on both a yearly and long term basis over many years.

Budgeting is a planning and control process for delivering services in a cost effective manner – if done properly.

If done improperly, where the financial numbers used in the budgeting process are fudged rather than an accurate reflection of current (and future) operational needs and costs, you end up in the financial mess, the financial bind Abbotsford city council has put Abbotsford and the city’s taxpayers in – on the hook for hundreds of millions of $$$$ for infrastructure that should have been part of the budgeting process over, at the minimum, the past six years but that currently are unfunded and lack any financing plan.

The facts, the financial reality that is coming home to roost at City Hall, make it clear that budgeting, planning and control are effectively nonexistent for the City of Abbotsford – and have been nonexistent and/or ineffective for years.

Budgeting is a vital tool in managing Abbotsford and imposing discipline on city spending and operations. Pouring millions of dollars into bailing out city council and city staff will not remedy the demonstrated lack of a true budget process; it will only enable city council to continue it’s undisciplined, irresponsible financial behaviour.

Which is why the citizens of Abbotsford need to begin now to contact (with repeated regularity), their MLAs (John van Dongen, Michael de Jong, Randy Hawes), the Premier (Gordon Campbell), the Finance Minister (Colin Hansen) and Minister of Community and Rural Development (Bill Bennett) to urge them to “Just say NO” to Abbotsford city council’s request for a gas tax.

Since the current and future financial quagmire/crisis the City of Abbotsford faces demonstrates that current (and past) budgets were not accurate, realistic or effective tools for managing the city’s finances citizens can have no assurance as to the current true state of their city’s finances.

Despite statements made by city council members about the fact that the city’s financial statements are audited – anyone with experience with the audit process, especially as an auditor, is well aware of the inaccuracies and incorrect information an audited set of financial statements can contain. Remember that ENRON also had audited financial statements.

Which is why, among numerous other reasons, we need to urge the provincial government to have the provincial Auditor General do a thorough audit and evaluation of the financial/accounting records, results and financial position of the City of Abbotsford.

We need an accurate understanding of the finances and financial state of Abbotsford in order to have a accurate starting point to begin to impose financial discipline and properly planning and budgeting to meet the operating needs of the City of Abbotsford.

Citizens can continue to ignore city council’s financial irresponsible actions, finding themselves groaning under an evermore onerous tax burden, in order to bail city council out of their financially irresponsible ways.

Or risk becoming the residents of the first major Canadian city to go bankrupt as Abbotsford’s city council financially mismanages the City into destitution and insolvency.

Alternatively we can “Just say NO” to Abbotsford city council and stop enabling their spending addiction, and lack of financial responsibility.

Preying on the Poor and Homeless

Reprehensible, despicable, abominable, anathema?

Anathema, best begins to reflect the contempt I hold those who prey upon the poor in; a behaviour that is unfortunately neither unusual nor that rare in Abbotsford.

I spent time on July 31 paying rent and other bills which left me broke but secure for another month. I could do this because the monies due me were in fact deposited in my bank account.

I spent time on August 1 explaining to a gentleman what the rules were and what he needed to do to get a bed in the shelter that evening. He found himself in need of a bed at the emergency shelter because monies due him had not been paid. Sadly he was not the only person finding themselves in a bad situation because this “employer” had not paid people the wages they were due.

One of the other people who were on this job had been at the shelter when this “employment opportunity” came his way. Had been at the shelter because, with the long hours they were working, he had not returned to the shelter in order not to lose this “job” and the opportunity it represented to earn enough money to be able to afford an apartment and to start to get his feet back under him.

In doing the demolition on what had been the Grand Theatre in the Clearbrook Town Square Mall on South Fraser Way in Abbotsford they had been labouring hard 14+ hours a day to be done by the deadline.

These were not the only two victims who had the rug pulled out from under them once the job was finished. The friend I was sitting beside on August 1 had been telling me about others who had also been left owed a thousand plus dollars of wages for this job. After the gentleman had left my friend gave me a ‘what are you going to do about this’ look – a look he is very good at.

The people hired to do the hard labour during the demolition were homeless or poor in need of the money for rent so as not to join the growing ranks of homeless on Abbotsford’s streets or to get off the streets into housing.

They are each owed $1,000+ apiece and have been told there is no money to pay them what is owed, that they may get 25% of what they earned. Often in these circumstances they get nothing. Or only get the small “advances” given by the “kind, understanding” boss to keep them coming back and working hard.

To quote Samuel Butler: Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.
This kind of behaviour is why temporary labour agencies have long lines of workers at their doors – better to get minimum wage and actually be paid than to “earn” double the minimum wage but never see a cent.

The poor and homeless are seen as powerless victims who, lacking power, are helpless to do anything about collecting the monies owed them. Prey to be exploited to line someone’s pockets.

In this instance, even if they thought about filing a lien, could they fill out the paperwork and then file their class action suit in small claims court?

Except … for a certain ‘what are you going to do about this’ look. I told my friend to pass along the fact that we can, should, will file a lien to get their money. That I can and will help them fill out the paperwork and file their lien to get the monies they earned through hard work if necessary.

If city council feels the need to pull business licenses or deny the ability to do business in Abbotsford they should apply this principle to those who prey on the poor and powerless, not just to those who annoy the powerful. They should be telling those who seek wealth by preying on the poor that this is not an acceptable business practice in Abbotsford.

Procrastination …

… is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill

Is it just me or does it strike others that a headline screaming ‘WATER DANGEROUSLY LOW’ and proclaiming that a ‘sprinkling ban (is) coming’ in this the summer of 2009 is at odds with the statement ‘Abbotsford is anticipated to have enough water until 2018’.

Given Abbotsford City Staff and Council’s record on “anticipated” over the past years I certainly don’t want to be gambling on Abbotsford having enough water until 2018. More importantly why are we gambling on having enough water until 2018 rather than being prudent and investing in the future of Abbotsford’s water supply now?

‘Because the 12 reservoirs serving Abbotsford refill overnight (from Norrish Creek and from the 17 wells), the city only needs to worry about its peak daily water consumption.’ Council might want to follow the example of other municipalities in the lower mainland and spare some thought to what happens to the refilling of reservoirs if the flow of Norrish Creek diminishes, given the low snow pack and the effect this has had on the levels of lakes and streams in the lower mainland.

Look around your neighbourhood and you will see those new steel signs detailing the watering restrictions. The appearance of the signs for the first time this year suggests the City was aware of possible water supply problems this summer.

Council and staff have been well aware for years of the need to invest in the city’s water infrastructure to meet the city’s growing demand for water. What was the City’s response?

To ‘buy time before it has to tap into a new water supply’; how many millions of taxpayer dollars are we misapplying to ‘buying time’ rather than investing in building the infrastructure we need to meet Abbotsford’s water needs?

It is not just the millions spent on stopgap measures such as the Bevan wells; Mill Lake is a jewel in the center of Abbotsford – what is pumping water out of the ground under Mill Lake doing to this jewel’s future?

What businesses are going to want to locate to a City with a ‘dangerously low’ and/or inadequate water supply? What responsible developer is going to want to build housing in a City that has not secured a source of water to meet growing needs? What smart homebuyer will buy a home that may or may not have running water?

The need to invest several hundred million dollars in a new water supply has not come out of the blue.

The need to make a major investment in water supply infrastructure was part of the Plan A debate. For opponents of Plan A, given that the City needed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new water supply, the financially responsible course of action was to invest in the City’s future by building a new water supply before spending on ego projects.

Instead Council chose to rush precipitously ahead with Plan A and to seek to ‘buy time’ on a new water supply; even though a new water supply was/is vital to Abbotsford’s future liveability.

Millions in cost overruns that devoured reserves, $85 million in debt, soaring taxes … all at a time when Council knew they needed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a new water supply.

Yes, City Council’s feckless behaviour has left the City in a poor financial position to undertake the needed large investment in a new water supply; yes, City Council’s fudget as opposed to a budget for this fiscal year has further eroded Abbotsford’s financial health; and yes, the need to invest in additional waste treatment capacity complicates matters.

Abbotsford will just have to ‘deal with it.’ Burying you head in the stand and/or trying to avoid making this investment in a timely matter, sooner rather than as late as ‘anticipated’ possible, is an irresponsible gamble.

Does Council intend to wait until Abbotsford, as happened to Tofino, finds itself trucking in water from its responsible neighbouring municipalities before it acts?

Procrastination is the bad habit of putting of until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday. Napoleon Hill

Mayor’s, Council’s Actions raise dobts about their Words

“Welcome to the club” crossed my mind while reading “Mayor George Peary responded quite curtly to my e-mail that this fee will generate $125,000 and “if you have any suggestions for additional revenue sources for the city or recommended cuts in city services for 2010, we would like to hear from you.”” in a letter to the editor.

The letter writer joins a growing list of citizens dissed by Mayor Peary and City Council for daring to suggest that Abbotsford’s Council live within its means.

Further, while I have no doubt Mayor Peary would love to hear suggestions for additional revenue sources that would permit City Council to continue its financially irresponsible spending ways; I do doubt, based on council’s actions in searching for new ways to divert taxpayer’s money into City pockets rather than the prudent fiscal behaviour of reducing spending, Mayor Peary or Council having any real desire to hear suggestions on spending cuts.

City Council did not cut one single dollar from the budget for this current year. Any ‘phantom cuts’ they claim to have made were only reductions of proposed spending increases. Any suggestions made during the budget process that Council cut spending in order to begin living within their means, were either ignored or, as in the case of the Abbotsford Ratepayers Association, publically scorned.

Focusing only on feeding Councils insatiable appetite for spending leads to a mindset where, when questioned on imposing user fees on sports fields, Mayor Peary focused on “… this fee will generate $125,000” rather than the truly important consideration – the devastating effect these extra fees will have on many young sports players ability to afford to participate.

Especially in these economically tight times when so many are forced to count how every penny is spent – except it seems, Abbotsford City Council.

A significant portion, if not all, of the money that the fees will raise could have been saved by the simple action of not spending the tens of thousand of dollars the city is spending to replace what was a perfectly good sign in front of the Abbotsford Recreation Centre, with an electronic sign. The old sign would have served fine until such time as the city’s financial house was in order.

But then, why should Council be expected to behave responsibly when the sign was shiny and bright and new and required spending taxpayer’s money?

Behaviour that holds little hope of this Council getting Abbotsford’s financial house in order; behaviour that leaves informed taxpayers shuddering at the thought of how wasteful and costly to the taxpayers Council’s spending will become if they ever get their greedy hands on a gasoline tax as a revenue source.

Why not in Abbotsford also? Part 2

 

 

The quote Ms. Lila Rauh used from my letter of June 12, 2009 in her Abbotsford Times letter of June 16th (see Below) was taken out of context, not only losing the point being made but implying a different meaning entirely.

“While Abbotsford City Council has been paying lip service to the lamentable lack of affordable housing, hiring social planners and forming advisory committees – City Councils in Chilliwack and Mission have been supporting and standing behind supportive affordable housing projects in their cities.”

Nowhere is mention made of Abbotsford City Council paying for affordable housing. The affordable housing being built in Mission and Chilliwack is not being paid for by those Councils. The contribution of the Councils of Mission and Chilliwack is not money but supporting and voting for projects. Contrast this with Abbotsford where Council is saying the right things but not acting to support affordable housing initiatives.

It does no good for senior governments to provide funds for housing when Abbotsford City Council is not prepared to hold up its end of the affordable housing equation.

The provincial government brought $22 million to the table to cover the costs for building 2 housing projects, with an additional yearly funding stream to provide funding for 35 years of supportive services.

The Clearbrook housing project depends upon City Council passing the rezoning over what is sure to be loud opposition by area residents since Council has shown that if people scream loud enough council will cut and run.

On the other project the City backed away from the $11 million in construction funding plus 35 years worth of funding ($22,750,000) that the provincial government brought to the table.

If we say to the provincial government they should provide funding for affordable housing in Abbotsford, are they not entitled to say ‘we offered $11 million plus yearly funding for 35 years ($22,750,000) and Abbotsford City Cuncil passed on the funding’?

Further if Council fails to pass the rezoning for the Clearbrook Road project why would anyone, provincial government or charitable organization, want to invest (and potentially waste) resources, time and money in any project that depends on leadership from Abbotsford City Council?

Affordable housing has been built with the support of Mission’s Council, built with the support of Chilliwack’s Council and modular housing units from the Olympic athletes housing will be trucked through Abbotsford to add to the affordable housing stocks in Chilliwack.

Abbotsford City Council’s recent actions say that affordable housing has no future in our city until we get a council that is able to provide leadership, not money, on affordable housing.

********************

In reference to James Breckenridge of Abbotsford, and his June 12 letter in which he berates Abbotsford council for not doing enough to create low-cost housing, and laments the “lack of affordable housing, hiring social planners and forming of advisory committees” which he thinks can rectify the situation.

Many citizens feel that this is exactly the wrong way to go since it removes the responsibility of the other levels of government who are financially responsible for those tasks.

Please, please, look into the facts of what is a provincial or federal jurisdiction for funding and what is municipal in various areas of low-cost housing.

What we definitely do not need is more ways to spend money on duplicate efforts, and becoming enablers for those who shirk their responsibilities.

It is certainly easy for local governments to dip into the endless pot of funds provided by local taxes and do the job in order to gain brownie points, but it is not the right thing to do – either in these tight financial times or otherwise.

For those interested, phone the provincial government and ask for their B.C. Housing financial booklet for 2008 and it will show you exactly who is primarily responsible for the various areas of low-cost housing.

Then put all your energies to apply pressure through your government representatives to fulfil their responsibilities.

Lila Rauh,

Mission