Category Archives: Accountability

What did we tell you?

Here’s a quote from the article  in a recent Advertiser by single W….

According to MacLean, an increase of $17 million in assessment was a boon to the town budgeting process this year. [emph ours]

Why? Why should this affect expenses at all? WE HAVE SAID IT BEFORE AND WILL SAY IT AGAIN – rising ( or decreasing) assessments should have no effect on whether it costs more (or less) for the administration to manage town affairs via the budget.

We are disappointed in MacLean – we thought he might turn out to be above this sort of deception. Or was he was misquoted?

But the town keeps the rate the same ( to snow taxpayers into thinking taxes aren’t rising)  and reap the windfall. But tax rates are not taxes any more than assessment is revenue.

Residents ( and Councillors) should be alert to this trick and ask Councillors (and staff)  to justify every  dollar increase in the cost of running the town.

Acadia might be trying to instill critical thinking but it is noticeably absent in the thinking of our councillors  and – it seems- most voters.

A letter on the Property Valuation Services Corp

This letter in the Chronicle Herald this morning is worth noting. Since it may eventually disappear from the Voice of the People” we copy it here in full to preserve it for ratepayers future reference.

Not-so-minor details

In a Feb. 25 opinion piece, Kathy Gillis, CEO of PVSC (Property Valuation Services Corporation), says, “All property owners are assigned a PIN number for their assessment account and by using the PIN, details of their accounts are readily accessible.”

In fact, the information is limited and what is provided is not helpful in an appeal. One page of the online report is a map of the property, a second page deals only with the CAP program, and one-half of the third page is devoted to the address. None of this is useful. The remainder is sketchy, at best.

My own for 2011 and 2012 had significant differences. The construction went from “average” to “good,” the area from 2,060 sq. ft. to 2,017 sq. ft., and the garage that was detached in February 2011 became attached in February 2012. No work was done on the house since 2008 so it must have been magic.

The PRC report, on the other hand, is usually six or more pages with breakdowns of the assessment and dwelling details such as number of fixtures, heating details and the quality grade.

The important thing that is not available is the comparators report, which Ms. Gillis neglected to discuss. One has to ask for it and may have to wait months to get it. Few know it exists. I had to request mine from PVSC’s freedom of information officer (although I did not have to file a formal request).

[I have left off the letter writers name, although you may see it now at source]

The Assessment Office, which was supposed to be at arm’s length from  municipal government, was never very independent, prone as it was to reassessment requests from various town administrations,  but now with this corporate model ( which they copied from other provinces where it has proved to be a disaster for taxpayers), the municipalities are both clients and overseers of the “service” (Roy Brideau used to be on the Board). Note that the PVSC gets paid partly on the basis of assessment value. That is, the higher the assessments the more they get paid by the municipality. Isn’t that a sweet deal?

One thing is sure, taxpayers are not served well. The formula or information the PVSC uses to come to a figure is a complete mystery and prone to all kinds of adjustments behind closed doors, always to the taxpayers detriment.

Municipal administrations consider assessments to be their “revenue stream” (which they are not and should not be) and they want to keep it flowing at higher and higher amounts.

Please follow the rest of the links from our past posts on this subject (some were already linked specifically in the above text ) – we are tired of repeating ourselves.

It’s Teddy time

An appeal from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

Dear Supporter:

The CTF’s annual waste recognition event – the Teddy Waste Awards – are approaching and we need your help.

This is the biggest media event of the year that blows the whistle on government waste.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  And nothing will change unless we put wastrels in the spotlight and demand better from those charged with managing our tax dollars.
The worst wrongdoers – the most specious spendthrifts at the local, provincial and federal level – are singled out for a Teddy – the golden sow, a handsome gilded symbol of government waste and extravagance of the highest order.

And that’s where we need your help. Have you heard of a local, provincial or national story of government waste that you think deserves to be nominated for a Teddy?

If you have a great nominee please email us at: research@taxpayer.com

Last year we awarded a Teddy to Ontario’s tax collectors, who collected $56 million in severance payments when the province converted from provincial sales tax to the HST, even though none of them lost their jobs.

The year before, we honoured Nova Scotia MLA Len “The Master of Multitasking” Goucher, who charged his taxpayer-funded expense account for 11 computers, 12 printers, 5 digital cameras, 4 video cameras and the Xbox game Dance Dance Revolution over a three-year period.

We can’t make this stuff up! But we do need you to tell us your favourite waste story – help us give Canada’s money-wasters the recognition they deserve!

Our Teddy awards get tons of attention from newspaper, TV, and radio reporters, bloggers, even foreign wire services, so please provide an internet link, or attach a document, with more information on your Teddy nominee. We need credible, public news sources to back up the information in our Teddy nominations.

Thanks for all you do,

–Gregory, Courtenay, Derek and the rest of the CTF team

Do send in your nominations of wastrels from Wolfville or elsewhere in the Valley. We’re sure they wouldn’t mind a donation either.

Good News

An item of Good News from David Daniels. Also available in The Mud Creek News- if you can find a copy.

GOOD NEWS
New garbage containers have been placed on the west side Gaspereau Ave. just below Acadia St.  They were placed there as a result of suggestions of a few residents.  Hopefully it will be a convenient place for residents to use and for Wolfville  school students to throw their garbage as they walk from school to downtown and return.
A new Council practice has been put in place.  Copies of all correspondence received by Council are included in the upcoming Council meeting agenda package and acknowledged at the meeting.    
David A. Daniels

Wolfville’s Wild spending

Another in the series of submissions from David Daniels also available in The Mud Creek News.This one is on a subject we have been complaining about for years.

ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS GONE WILD?
Compare what Wolfville pays in “Administrative” costs, according to the Town’s recently produced Consolidated Financial Statements, dated March 31, 2011, to the same line item for the Towns of Antigonish and Kentville.  I’ve included the most recent, 2006 StatsCan population figures. 
General Administrative – Administrative Costs:
Wolfville (pop. 3772)      —-     $857,044

   

Antigonish (pop. 4236)   —-     $504,790
Kentville (pop. 5815)      —-     $606,408
Dig a little deeper.  For Wolfville only, in the budget year 2003-04, the cost of administrative salaries was $234,862; for 2008-09, $329,850; and for the present fiscal year, administrative salaries are at $407,000.  That is an increase of over 73% in an 8 year span.

David A. Daniels

Police – Absent

Here is a second submission from David Daniels, also published in the latest issue of that illusive publication, the Mud Creek News.

 THE STRANGE CASE OF THE MISSING COMMITTEE

For fiscal year 2010-2011, the Town will spend an estimated $1,234,241 for law enforcement services, which made up almost 17% of the Town’s annual budget.
The Council established by Chapter 38 of its Bylaws a Police Services Advisory Committee (the “Committee”), “a body to provide advice and policy options to Council and the RCMP” concerning all policing matters.  I could find no other document on the Town’s website which concerns the Town’s oversight or monitoring of the RCMP.  The Town has a RCMP Advisory Board.  There is nothing on the website to indicate that this is not the committee referred to in Ch. 38.  
This Committee is required to meet, according to s. 5 of the bylaws at least four times a year.  In addition, s. 5 states: “The Committee shall make a complete annual report to Town Council, and other reports from time to time as required.”   
Among the Committee’s responsibilities as set out in s. 6 are:
  To advise Council concerning all financial and budgetary matters relating to the provision of policing services.
  To provide a forum for residents, taxpayers,  business people, concerned citizens and groups to present their complaints, concerns, or quires to both Town Council and the RCMP. 
  To provide annually to Council and the NCO an evaluation of the policing services with the Town with reference to Policing Goal and Objectives as stated.” 
The Town’s Committee policy, effective August 19, 1996 provides, among other things, that  the “minutes of all Committee meetings are to be recorded . . . “ (s. 1.7) and that “Committee meetings shall be recorded in sufficient detail . . . to enable Council members to be reasonably conversant with the action required.”  s. 1.14. 
The Committee is presently chaired by Councilor Hugh Simpson, and has been so for the past several years.
If you want to find out what this Committee has been doing for the past several years, you’d be mostly out of luck.  The following documents are posted on the Town’s website under the RCMP Advisory Board:
Meeting Agendas.  One in 2009.  None in 2010.  One in 2011.
Minutes.  Two in 2008.  None in 2009.  None in 2010.  One in 2011 (which is misfiled in 2010.  There is reference in these minutes to approval of minutes of a Feb 14, 2011 meeting).
Reports.  One report in 2008.  None in 2009. None in 2010.  None in 2011.  
Without RCMP Committee minutes or reports, one can only wonder how the Council has been evaluating the work of the RCMP.  Has the RCMP Committee been meeting and no minutes taken or posted?  Or have there been no meetings and no annual reports in violation of the Town’s bylaws.  Can Councilor Simpson and  Mayor Stead explain these apparent lapses in good governance?  
David A. Daniels

MLA pensions

We have respect for the work of AIMS and have referred to their reports, such as the Municipal report card, several times over the years in our posts.  AIMS  has thoughts concerning  NS MLA pensions and here is an excerpt on this subject, with some links, from their online newsletter, The Beacon. 

AIMS Director of Research recommends eliminating MLA pensions

The culture of entitlement surrounding MLA pensions in Nova Scotia – and other provinces – has been a key focus for AIMS in recent weeks.

AIMS Director of Research Don McIver is recommending the elimination of MLA pensions in Nova Scotia , or at least, replacing them with fixed-contribution plans or an RRSP allowance. AIMS issued a press release on the topic and generated important discussion in the province. AIMS ’ recommendations were mentioned in the Chronicle Herald as well as on News 95.7.

In addition, McIver wrote an op-ed entitled MLA Platinum Pensions: Till the end of time?, which appeared in the Chronicle Herald. In this commentary, McIver McIver says the panel should have looked beyond the narrow mandate of pensions alone, and considered the total remuneration of members, including their per diems and perks. “They should have taken note of the level of responsibility—recognizing our small population—as well as our ability to pay,” says McIver. On average, Nova Scotians receive significantly lower incomes than in wealthier provinces. “If we receive Nova Scotia wages, so should our legislators.”

The current MLA pension plan entitles members with as little as five years service, including those who are retiring or defeated, to collect a pension as early as age 45. A government minister with just 15 years service could draw more than $100,000 each year for the rest of his or her life. If they are still serving at age 71 they could collect that pension while receiving their paycheque.

Most Nova Scotians do not have a pension plan.

“In a world of gold-plated public pension plans,” says McIver, “ Nova Scotia ’s Member’s Plan is diamond studded.” …

You might also wish to follow the AIMS blog.

We are still irked by Wolfville CAO’s diamond studded retirement paid for by the largely unaware resident taxpayers.

Kings 2050

Garbage in, garbage out. Here’s some comment on the Kings 2050 initiative by Wolfville’s own Brian Sanderson. We copy a few excerpts here to whet your appetite.

Once again, the foul stench of municipal politics drags me to the keyboard. Bureaucratic bowels have turned out another turd, Kings 2050: “an exciting partnership initiative intended to guide the long-term sustainable development of Kings County”, they say…

…The administrators are only looking after their own interests. They have been put in charge of setting the terms of reference. And the terms of reference are to blow the budget on talk feasts and reports full of gabble-garbage. And when it’s all gone, perhaps Mr Irving will find them another pot to plunder! These self-serving goons are already targeting your pocket with a suggestion to “update taxation and user fees policies”. That’s code for robbing the rest of us blind!

…The “deliverables” are just a bunch of plans. Plans plans plans. Make a plan, review a plan, change a plan, plan to plan again.

Do read it all.

Our Debts

In case any Canadians are feeling smug about our debt situation compared to US debt woes we offer this cautionary article to consider:

Our federal debt is about 35% of GDP while the U.S. passed 100% on Tuesday, and Ottawa’s deficits are only 2% of GDP rather than Washington or London’s staggering 10%. But let me try to wipe the smile off your face.

For starters, a more realistic on-book number for Canadian public debt is over 80% of GDP. That’s what the IMF gets by including provincial as well as federal debt (for instance, Quebec’s $238 billion) and such “hard” unfunded liabilities as public sector pension funds.

An even bigger reason for worry is soft unfunded liabilities for things such as the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Health Act. In 2006 the Chief Actuary of Canada formally estimated the unfunded liabilities of the CPP at $620 billion. …Then there’s infrastructure.

Read the rest. And what about Municipal debt? So you had better listen up Municipal councillors everywhere, and especially in spendthrift Wolfville. Are you listening to Councillor Irving or ignoring him?

Municipal Auditor in the works?

Some time ago Ww sent an email to the Minister of Service NS and Municipal Affairs which read as follows:

Sir,
Do we taxpayers need to wait until our towns are in default before there is monitoring of responsibility? Can a Council just resign and wash their hands of all fault? Where is the accountability? We need a municipal auditor to catch fiscal flaws before towns fail.
From a recent article in the Financial Post:
Expenditure growth has run amok in recent years at the municipal level. A focus on spending restraint is long overdue.

We were a little surprised but pleased to get a response from John MacDonell which we copy below to share with our readers.

Thank you for your email of June 1, 2011 regarding municipal councils and the need for a Municipal Auditor.

I want to assure you that Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations does receive and review audited financial statements from municipalities. We work continuously with all 55 municipalities across the Province to discuss their financial positions and the challenges they face. If they are struggling, we are here to help.

The Province is also supporting the work of the Towns Task Force, a joint task force between the Province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities that is investigating the challenges facing towns across Nova Scotia. We have provided $100,000 toward this work, and I look forward to the creative solutions the Task Force will propose.

The resignation of Bridgetown Council was the first in Nova Scotia history that such action has been taken by a Municipality. As you know, Bridgetown faced unique circumstances, including a fraud investigation involving Town finances.

Your email calls for the creation of a Municipal Auditor General position, which has been a matter of discussion between the Province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. I believe that a Municipal Auditor General is a key component to the transparency and accountability that citizens expect of all levels of government. We are discussing the best ways to deliver that service effectively, at a reasonable cost to municipal taxpayers, with the UNSM, and I hope those discussions will prove fruitful.

I hope this response has been helpful. Thank you for your interest in municipal government in Nova Scotia.

Yours truly,

Original Signed By

John MacDonell

Minister, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations

We certainly hope those discussions with the UNSM bear fruit, real action, not just more talk.