Tag Archives: Accountability

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.

Expenses

Politicians’ expenses have been much in the news in Nova Scotia. Wolfville, which considers itself a leader among municipalities in the province, can go to the forefront and be an example as we have on other issues like smoking, pesticides and uranium mining. Let’s be a leader in good governance.

How about putting the Mayor’s, Councillors’ and senior manager’s expenses on line. Ottawa has done it.

Ottawa taxpayers will be able to keep track of how much money their city councillors are spending, starting Monday.

The city will start posting councillor and senior manager expense reports on the Internet.

Mayor Jim Watson, who campaigned on what he called an ‘integrity platform’, says residents will be able to see how their money is being spent.

“We will be releasing for the first time ever councillors and senior management expenses online, so that you can see what we’re spending your money on,” said Watson.

The information will be separated into categories such as hospitality and travel, which will help taxpayers to understand how their money is being spent.

“[City officials] do have to spend money on hospitality or travel, that’s part of doing business,” the mayor said. “But it also disciplines us to make sure that we’re being respectful — day in and day out — with your money.”

Hear, hear we say. If you don’t have anything to hide you don’t need to hide it.

You can see what Ottawa has online re  expenses here.

Ottawa has an auditor and  a fraud and waste hotline. We notice they  are having a Spending Control Town Hall Meeting soon. They also have audio and video of meetings and don’t seem too concerned about people hearing them or quoting them. But perhaps they don’t have an Ow [Ottawa watch] to twist their words worry them.

A lot has been spent on IT in the past so many years in Wolfville. Isn’t it time that resident tax dollars for this benefited residents?

We don’t see why, for example, the Mayor’s words and expenses couldn’t go on line if he wasn’t embarrassed by them and he felt he could justify them.

Mud Creek News II

There were two other articles in the Mud Creek News beside the one by Lutz Becker already posted; here is the first of two articles by David Daniels. This one is on the issue of Committee member selection and is posted as received.

WHO SELECTS COMMITTEE MEMBERS?

David A. Daniels

Section 24 of the Municipal Government Act states that “council may appoint persons” to committees.  Section 1(c) of the Community Development Committee policy specifies that Council shall appoint the members of the committee.

This is how the Town operates:  The Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, CAO and Clerk reviewed the applications to the new super committee, Community Development.  (Were some members recruited?  What criteria was used?)  These four selected a slate of candidates which Council members could vote for or against.  Why wasn’t Keith Irving, Chairperson of the now defunct Planning committee or Jim Laceby, Chairperson of the now defunct Economic and Community Development committee asked to participate in the “selection” process?  What qualifies the CAO or Clerk to choose what members of the public should serve on a committee?

I could find no policy on the website which sets out the mechanism for committee members selection.   The statute is clear: the Council, and only the Council, has the authority to select committee members.  Because the Mayor (and the CAO?) seem make policy where there is none, it may be time to devise a policy which allows council members to play an active and central role in member selection.

[We would add that the final vote on the pre-selected slate was apparently made by secret ballot.Why? Ww]

 

The abdication

Lots of interest in The King’s Speech. Anyone interested in the abdication closer to home?

Wolfville will soon have a new governance structure.

Town council has decided to change its model come January. Mayor Bob Stead says council acted on a report prepared by chief administrative officer Roy Brideau, outlining the rationale for a new model, and several options.

Council will dispense with a committee structure for input on planning, economic development and recreation and parks. One volunteer committee of nine members will be set up to advise council on those issues. … Councilor Bill Zimmerman won the vote Dec. 20 to take over chairmanship of the new committee. [Wendy might have mentioned in her report that the ballot was secret, but she didn’t. We thought the MGA didn’t allow for secret decisions by Council. How is this different from an in camera meeting?] Councillor Hugh Simpson will be the second councillor. Committee members will include Rosemary Segado, Jim Morgenstern, Mercedes Brian, Paul Cabilio, Alan Howell and Andy Nette. …According to Brideau, much of the town’s success [Success? Success? What do they call failure?] over the past five years has been accomplished through the use of task forces, working groups and moving roles from committees to staff

Heaven help us.

Clock Park – yes, no or maybe

Here’s another perspective on the clock park issue. This was sent in by David Daniels and can also be found in flyer form at the post office ( if there are any left).

CLOCK PARK?

YES
NO
MORE INFORMATION

David A. Daniels
January 10, 2010

“In a democracy, leaders should therefore give reasons for their decisions, and respond to the reasons that citizens give in return.”

Why Deliberative Democracy? by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson

Wolfville’s Core Principles of Governance and Service Provision:

Fiscal Responsibility

Transparency and Participatory Government

From the Town’s recently adopted Corporate Strategic Plan

The Town Council appears ready to approve an agreement transferring the Clock Park land from Irving Oil to the Town at its January 18th Council meeting.

The Town has held ONE public meeting, in the recent past, at which the transfer was discussed.  No questions from the public were allowed to be asked.

(Apparently, the process to transfer of the Clock Park property to the Town has been in the works for about ten years.)

There was at least one closed Council meeting at which the transfer was discussed.  Mention was made at  the January 4th Council meeting of a memorandum which staff had prepared for the Council.  No part of this memo has been made public.

Irving Oil paid $10,902.28  in property taxes to the Town in 2009.  This stream of income will presumably end with the transfer of the property to the Town.

The value of the gift, which, includes the clock, is approximately $500,000.00.  Whether Irving Oil will obtain a tax benefit from the gift, and if so, how much, was not discussed.

According to the proposed agreement between the Town and Irving Oil, the Town may only use the land as a park.

(Unless further environmental remedial steps are taken, the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment limits the use of the property to a park.  In other words, whether the Town or Irving Oil owns the property, it may only be used as a park.)

The proposed agreement has not been made public.  The Town Solicitor indicated that Irving wished the agreement to remain confidential.  However, since the Town must approve the agreement in public and since the Town is bound by the requirements of the Freedom of Information law, Irving was informed that the Town could not keep the agreement confidential.  (I have made a FOIPOP request to review the agreement.)

The Town Solicitor also stated that the agreement provides that Irving will be liable for any environmental costs due to actions taken prior to the transfer of the property to the Town.

There was limited discussion of the benefits to the Town if the Town were to accept the gift.

Proponents of the transfer stated as benefits: the Town would be able to control the property if it owned it and it would be a benefit to the Town if the Town owned the property.

There was no mention at the January 4th meeting if the Town’s Parks and Recreation Committee had been asked to review the pros and cons of the transfer, and if so, what the Committee’s recommendation was.

There was no discussion of whether the Town needed a new park.  According to the Town’s new Municipal Planning Strategy there are approximately 13 park/open space areas maintained by the Town’s Park’s Department.  (The acquisition by the Town of Clock Park is not included as a policy in the new MPS.)

There was no discussion of the cost of maintaining the new park.  Was Irving asked to provide an endowment to help with upkeep?

Councilor Irving asked a number of questions concerning the Town’s potential environmental liability. Several of his questions could not be answered at the meeting.

In October 2007 Doug Stiff, a hydrogeologist,   wrote in an email to Chrintine Attard of the Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment and Labour that “[t]he town should somehow be informed that they will not be able to put a park on the site until it is below Tier 1 RBSL residential potable water levels (only half of the property is currently at those levels).”  Whether this standard has now been met was not discussed at the January 4th meeting.

Although not mentioned during the January 4th meeting, Town records show that  $125,000.00 has been set aside in the Town’s Capital Reserve fund to landscape Clock Park.  Could this money be put to other uses if the Town does not accept the “gift”?

The Council adopted  governance principles of fiscal responsibility and transparency and participation less than two months ago.  Unlike the King in Neil Young’s song, highfalutin principles, once adopted, are soon forgotten.

MAKE YOUR OPINION KNOWN

THE NEXT COUNCIL MEETING WILL BE HELD ON JANUARY 18 AT 7:30 P.M.

It shouldn’t come down to Freedom of Information requests should it but it seems the well of good will is poisoned and all questions are considered attacks, at least by some at the Council table.

Another first for Wolfville?

Our deputy mayor swears that this administration struggles over and debates every expenditure. He swears it doesn’t over tax and then over spend. He swears those reserves aren’t really just slush funds. What if the town posted every cheque it wrote online? Then we would really know what this administration spends our money on wouldn’t we? Does this sound far fetched? There are some US states that are doing just that and it sounds like a fine idea.

Alaska has become the latest in a string of states to boost government spending transparency by posting information online.

Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has announced the state has put its check register online. The department of administration’s Web site now hosts datasheets in PDF and Excel formats that allow taxpayers to view details of every expenditure greater than $1,000, organized by department, payee, and type of expense. [link to source ]

HT Making Sense with Nicholls

Don’t know yet of any place in Canada that does it but hey, Wolfville is a leader isn’t it? Just think- the first Fair trade town, AND the first municipality to be REALLY transparent about its spending in Canada. That might even make the financial post! How about it Councillors?

Accountability begins at home

We notice that a search function has been re-established for Wolfville public documents. This is not through the Town Website (just as well perhaps!) but through Ask Joe Howe (it was the Province that originally provided the script for the Town search function before). If you scroll down to the municipalities box and plug in Wolfville and a search term you can search the minutes. We will add a link to this page to our useful links list under “Ask Joe Howe” T’would be nice if the Town had a link to it on their website too? Wish we were getting paid what the Town’s IT guys are.

HOWEVER, this search function only searches what is online and is little help when the last minutes posted on the Town of Wolfville website are from FEB 20! They are supposed to be posted once approved at the subsequent meeting. What is Council afraid of?

Or is it poor IT support? [ Can we mention frames again!] What about e-government and all the money spent on IT? Was this supposed to improve transparency and accountability or prevent it?

While we are on about transparency, we ask why approvals for grants to local organisations (below $5,000) are now below the Council radar and handled by administrative staff? This from the Feb. 20 minutes:

Councillor Zimmerman noted that someone approached him about the procedure for requests for funding by non profit groups. He asked for clarification because he was told by this person that the application does not go through Council this year as compared to other years. The Chief Administrative Officer confirmed that Council did support the establishment of an application form and a process by which grants will be allocated. The administration of that is under the Director of Community Services. Any and all applicants that are looking for funding under $5,000.00 will be dealt with through that process and no longer have to come to the Council table.

If Council supported this plan why was Councillor Zimmerman unaware of it? Is $5,000 an appropriate figure for administrative “discretion”?