Category Archives: Snafu

‘Public’ facilities not very public accessible

I ran into an acquaintance I had not seen in a while who, knowing how I feel about City council’s priorities and behaviours, felt I would provide a sympathetic ear to his need to vent.

Both he and his wife work and even though they are frugal it is difficult to make ends meet these days – a struggle an ever increasing number of Canadians and Abbotsford citizens share.

The fees the City of Abbotsford charges for the use of its athletic fields has pushed the cost of playing soccer (and other sports) to the level that, while they might be able scrimp enough to pay for one child, paying for two kids is not possible. Leaving, in fairness, none of the kids playing soccer.

I pointed out that council needed as many dollars as possible to pay the multi-million dollar subsidies for council’s ego/vanity projects – the ASEC and Abbotsford’s professional hockey team – and their subsidizing the purchase of a professional hockey team for a group of well connected citizens.

His reply involved several anatomically challenging, if not out and out impossible, suggestions. When he inquired as to how one qualifies for City subsidies to purchase a professional hockey team I had to inform him that since the makeup of the ‘ownership group’ was deemed knowledge to important (to damning?) to let the taxpayers (the people footing the bills for all the multi-million dollar subsidies) know, there was no way to know the relationship between councillors and the Heat ownership.

Sadly he is not the only person I know who has children that cannot participate in sports because of the cost Abbotsford charges to use its fields. Growing numbers of young people are being denied participation in sports activities because their families cannot afford the fees.

Ironic is it not? The airwaves are full of government advertisements about the fact children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day to be healthy and the City of Abbotsford is making it impossible for growing numbers of children to participate in physical exercise.

Personally, I think that a City’s priority should be the participation of young people in sports and activities. If we are going to give multi-million dollars subsidies to sports facilities it should be facilities for the young and other citizens – not for professional athletes and certainly not to subsidize the purchase of a professional hockey team by well connected citizens.

But then I also think that the purpose of public recreation facilities is to provide an affordable place for citizens to exercise. Unlike the current council which uses public facilities as another source of funds to subsidize (to the tune of several millions of dollars per year) a facility for professional athletes to use and to provide multi-million dollars yearly subsidies for the purchase of the professional hockey team.

Council talks about the need for amenities to attract new citizens to Abbotsford and to encourage young people to remain in Abbotsford rather than moving elsewhere. Yet the fee’s council charges for the use of amenities are prohibitive.

There is no difference between having no amenities and having amenities nobody can afford to use or can afford to use only infrequently.

That is why in Abbotsford, in the good old days before this spendthrift council, a monthly or yearly membership for the use of city facilities was the lowest (or among the lowest) in the city.

These days, under this spendthrift council, the prices at city facilities are the highest (or among the highest) and fewer and fewer families and citizens can afford to use city facilities.

I have been, until now, a pass holder and regular user of city pools to swim. I have watched as those I had shared the city facilities with over the years became members of private facilities (as I would have if one of them had an appropriately sized pool) – because membership at a private facilities is many $$$$$ less.

I have lost count of how often I have been told by other citizens and families how extremely limited their ability to use ‘public’ amenities have become because of admission costs.

In other cities, the city facilities ensure the general public access to regular exercise and the private facilities are the haunts of the better off who can afford higher fees.

In Abbotsford it is the private facilities that best ensure the general public’s access to exercise, while the city facilities are the haunts of those who can afford the fees at city facilities.

But then in other cities, city facilities are to serve the needs of citizens and not the need of council to pay for its ego/vanity projects.

They will never learn.

I want to salute local First Nations artist Raphael Silver for his sculpture. Elegant. It left me interested in seeing other works by Mr. Silver.

I also offer Mr. Silver my condolences as had his art been purchased by a fiscally sound and well managed city, or even an adequately managed city, the $64,000 would be considered to have been well spent.

Unfortunately for Mr. Silver he is dealing with the City of Abbotsford which, under its current mayor and council, does not meet even minimal standards of fiscal and management adequacy.

Leaving Mr. Silver’s artistry overshadowed by yet another demonstration by mayor and council of how out of touch with any sense of thrift, restraint, fiscally responsible behaviour or taxpayer’s wants/needs council is.

Council may consider $64,000 to be chump change, but $64,000 here, $64,000 there and before long it adds up to real money. The kind of money that the mayor, council and city management should have been setting aside to cover the $230 million cost of the needed new water supply.

In addition Mr. Silver’s art deserves a location where it can be savoured, rather than glimpsed – the case with its location at the center of one of Abbotsford’s new safe transit challenged roundabouts.

I wonder how many accidents will be caused, or claimed to have been caused, by drivers distracted by the sculpture. How many drivers will not see or have a chance to appreciate Mr. Silver’s art because they are focused on surviving their encounter with the roundabout?

Might I suggest that, rather than straining their arms patting themselves on the back for the $5 million ‘saved’, it would have been better to have invested the ‘savings’ making the roundabouts more travelable rather than leaving them in their current ‘accidents waiting to happen’ state.

But then making sensible investments in the basic operating infrastructure (roads, water etc.) of Abbotsford has never been of interest to council. Vanity projects – Yes. Nuts and bolts infrastructure and maintenance – No.

FVRD – Abbotsford Council is that desperate for Cash to waste?

“Getting good value for money [for taxpayers] is our number one priority.”

When Abbotsford’s city council is looking for an excuse to do something it wants (close Matsqui pool, leave the FVRD) council is all about saving or getting value for taxpayer’s money BUT when it is an expensive boondoggle they want to squander taxpayer’s money on (buy wealthy, well-connected businessmen a professional hockey team, provide multi-million dollar operating subsidies for an arena for the team to play in, build an (practically) unused $1.4+ million dollar scraggly garden) value for money or saving taxpayers money is not a consideration.

Given the mayor and councillors comments on leaving the FVRD and their decisions over recent years that led up to this year’s decision to close Matsqui pool, one is led to suspect they don’t have a solid grasp of the concept of value. Whether that is true or not, it is clear from councils decisions on Matsqui pool that council’s concept of value is quite different from that of the taxpayers of Abbotsford.

Value is not strictly a dollars in equals a dollars out thing. One of the reasons for being in the FVRD is to stay out of the clutches of Translink and its gas and parking stall taxes. I suspect most taxpayers would consider this a very valuable benefit of FVRD membership. There are numerous other ‘values’ I can think of that Abbotsford receives for being a member of the FVRD, not the least of which is good relations with the neighbours.

But the real reason that wise municipal politicians do not want to open the can of worms that comes with dollars in must equal dollars out is that, while at a municipal property tax level the rural areas (and smaller communities) put in less dollars that the larger municipalities, at provincial and federal tax levels the rural (and smaller communities) put in far more dollars than they receive back – dollars that flow to the larger municipalities.

Following councils dollars in must equal dollars out philosophy you would end up with decisions that, while typical of Abbotsford councils decision making, are not astute, wise or necessarily rational.

Under dollars in equal dollars out our new REGIONAL hospital could have been built in Yarrow because it is far easier to balance dollars in with dollars out using large cost projects.

Or a more likely scenario is the hospital gets built in Abbotsford but the city gets no federal or provincial dollars for the new highway interchanges or other projects until it has put enough dollars in to get any dollars out. Although given the interchanges Abbotsford ended up with……not having money from the province and federal governments to build the new interchanges and being left with the old interchanges may not have been a bad thing.

Be that as it may, the funding mayhem that would arise from following councils dollars in must equal dollars out philosophy is why politicians with any common sense wisely avoid opening the can of worms that comes with dollars in must equal dollars out.

That is the problem with focusing on narrow wants – you fail to see the overarching reality. Like a mouse focused on the cheese you miss the presence of the trap until it delivers a painful, or fatal, reminder of its presence.

And while there is nothing wrong with the municipalities in the FVRD wanting their taxpayers money spent wisely and efficiently, it is highly ironic – nay, the height of hypocrisy – for Abbotsford’s council to be complaining about the way Abbotsford taxpayer dollars are being spent by the FVRD in light of their profligate spending of Abbotsford taxpayer’s dollars.

Matsqui Pool

On January 24th 2011 Abbotsford council closed Matsqui Pool.. On February 7th 2011 the mayor and councillors give themselves a large raise, benefits and perks as well as an Never-ending stream of yearly pay raises. Perhaps explaining council’s desperate need to save thousands of dollars by closing Matsqui Pool.

As to the question of whether council deserved a raise – the closing of Matsqui Pool, and the history of that closing, provide clear evidence that mayor and council did not deserved one single cent of an increase.

Mayor and council are suppose to be stewards of the City of Abbotsford’s finances and assets, not vandals.

For years council and management of Parks and Recreation have wanted, indeed have tried repeatedly, to close Matsqui Pool.

Just as an aside: Have you noticed that when council and Parks and Rec management want to build something (an arena or a museum/gallery) they are all about comparisons to other cities BUT when council and management wanted to close Matsqui pool there was no comparison to other communities; a comparison that would highlight Abbotsford’s severe shortage of public pool space?

Council claims it would cost too much to repair Matsqui pool and they cannot afford the $70,000 annual operating costs – yet council has $500,000 (or more) for yearly subsidies to purchase of a profession al hockey team for wealthy Abbotsford citizens; $600,000+ to subsidize the Museum/Art Gallery; multi-millions of dollars to subsidize the operation of the arena for the Heat to play in.

And council has $250,000 to demolish the pool.

I do not want to get mired down in an argument about whether the city’s estimate of $1 – 2 million to repair the pool is accurate (but given city management and council’s record of grossly underestimating the costs for projects they wish to do and exaggerating the costs of projects or things they don’t want to do……) or whether competent management could accomplish this task for considerably less. Nor mired down in the fact that when a neighbour of mine had a leak in his pool tank he had no problem finding and repairing the leak. But then he was a competent individual who hired competent help to find (and repair) the leak.

No the real point is that the current decrepit state Matsqui Pool is the result of the failure to perform prudent and needed maintenance. A failure council and management will no doubt claim had nothing to do with their desire to close Matsqui Pool.

Which makes it clear that 1) “Getting good value for money [for taxpayers] is our number one priority.” is of concern only where it can be used to justify taking an action council wishes to take (leaving the FVRD) and 2) that council is quite content destroying value if that will justify taking an action (closing Matsqui Pool) council wishes to take.

That council’s decisions and failure to act as a steward of a valuable and treasured taxpayer asset brought Matsqui Pool to its current state of disrepair evidences not only that 1) council should not have gotten a raise, but that 2) a garnishee of council wages was in order. Oh, and 3) Mark Taylor should be fired before he can inflict further damage to taxpayer’s parks and recreation assets.

Abbotsford Council’s Neverending pay raises.

With Abbotsford City Hall’s unsurpassed record of spend, spend, spend taxpayer’s dollars, it came as no surprise that council voted itself an unending, unlimited stream of yearly raises.

Neither should any Abbotsford taxpayer have been surprised that city manager Frank Pizzuto presented a staff report that recommended the increase since management and council have a very cozy, incestuous, salary relationship.

Council gives management yearly raises – and bonuses – is anyone surprised management recommends council give itself a raise? Or that it was recommended council get a yearly salary raise? Or that council promptly gave itself this limitless pay raise?

To add insult to the injury done to taxpayers tax bills by this never-ending, no limits pay raise, council and management started throwing around Abbotsford City Hall Math in regards to the pay raise.

[Abbotsford City Hall Math: City hall calculates a profit for taxpayers and the reality turns out to be multi-million dollar yearly losses that taxpayers must cover.]

Abbotsford City Hall Math:

The mayor’s increases work out to an average of 1.8 per cent a year, for the past five years, while councillors would get an average of 1.4 per cent a year over the same period of time.

Reality:

Other than the fact that dividing the raise by 5 makes it seem much smaller – what does the past 5 years have to do with this pay raise?
Perhaps council is seeking to have taxpayers forget that council enriched itself over the past three years with the 44% pay increase they gave themselves just three years ago?

A 44% raise that after receiving, council quickly cut the number of council meetings in half.

But then council, city management and Tim Dillon and Associates were very careful to just compare what surrounding councils were paid – and not what value taxpayers in those municipalities received for the wages they paid their councils.

Hardly surprising since even the most cursory comparison between what the taxpayers of Langley paid for their Sports and Entertainment Centre (and received for their investment) and what the taxpayers of Abbotsford paid, and continue to pay, (and received for their $$$$) would inevitably lead any independent party to the conclusion that 1) council does not deserve a 9% (mayor – 7% council) raise and 2) the taxpayers of Abbotsford are entitled to a refund, a BIG refund.

Instead, council will receive yearly raises in an amount which is unknown and on which there is no cap to limit the size of the raise in any given year.
Raises that will continue to have no relationship to the manner in which council fumbles its responsibilities.

Council gets the $$$$$$$$ and taxpayers – as usual – get the shaft, footing the bills for councils profligate ways.

Yet again!

So, council paid Tim Dillon & Associates $9,000 to provide justification for giving themselves (council) yet another pay raise? A raise that is to include health benefits, a yearly allowance for attending community events and an annual conference allowance?

With all the council promises and decisions that have turned in black holes sucking millions of dollars out of the city budget, infrastructure (e.g. Matsqui Pool) that is falling apart, the city mired in a financial quagmire, the need for water rationing (in one of the wettest years on record) in order to have water for the Fire Department to use…….how could anyone, even Abbotsford’s council, possibly think a raise is either deserved or in order?

What’s next? A golden retirement plan like the ones provincial and federal politicians have gifted themselves?

Perhaps the most offensive aspect of this pay raise proposal is to increase the mayor and city council’s wages every year – forever – without the politicians every having to face the taxpayers and publically vote to push their personal hands deeper into taxpayers pockets. If council has its way raises will happen quietly, behind the closed doors of City Hall, without any need to bother taxpayers with the knowledge that council has gotten yet another automatic yearly raise – unearned and undeserved or not.

So much for Mayor Peary’s “Getting good value for money [for taxpayers] is our number one priority.”

And while I include council’s current salaries as well as the proposed salary raises and perks in stating that taxpayers are not getting value for the wages they currently pay council – I do not include the $9000 paid to Tim Dillon & Associates in this lack of value.

Not that I don’t consider the $9000 paid to Tim Dillon & Associates to permit council to squander yet more taxpayer dollars – in this instance directly stuffing taxpayer dollars into council’s personal pockets – a misuse of city funds.

It is just that $9000 seems a fairly cheap price, perhaps even a bargain, when you contrast the outcome, the proposed 9% pay raise, with the nearly 50% pay raise council arrived at, and gave themselves, on their own 3 years ago.

“Getting good value for money [for taxpayers] is our number one priority.”

Laughable.

If there was any relationship between ‘value for money’ and the wages paid to Abbotsford’s current council, taxpayers would be getting an extremely large refund of the wages city council has paid itself.

Instead council is going to give itself ongoing yearly salary increases, benefits and perks. Business as usual – council (or friends) get the mine and taxpayers get the shaft.