“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
October 4, 2010
Taxes, Taxes, Taxes---The only thing on Voter’s Minds!
Well, there may be one other thing on voter’s minds. One man wanted a lawn sign while I was out door knocking this week and said, “There has to be a wholesale change on council.” He said any sign that had the word “re-elect” on it lost his vote. “Taxes are just out of this world,” he said.
An email this week informed me that 12 Durham Region Works Department Maintenance Supervisors named on the Ministry of Finance Salary Disclosure List are making in excess of $100,000 and one of these, the foreman of a paving crew, earned over $130,000 with $40,000-$50,000 of these salaries in overtime supervising night time and weekend jobs from their 9-5 daytime assignments. This is disgraceful! The private sector pays half the money for these positions.
He thought these salaries were criminal when hard-pressed families are struggling to pay property taxes increasing twice as fast as inflation. Why shouldn't they be scheduled to work the same shifts as the workers they supervise and put an end to this outrageous overtime expense? How many workers do you know, he asked, make $40,000-$50,000 in overtime, more than most Canadians make, to top up their very generous salaries. No wonder we have the highest taxes in Ontario.
In my response to him, I related stories of city employees pocketing over $1000 per week, 52 weeks a year in addition to their generous salaries, for using their own vehicles on city business. This madness has to stop. It would be far cheaper for the city to provide a city vehicle for work related travel.
Many city-owned vehicles also are driven on long work-home commutes, using fuel and other auto related costs at taxpayer expense.
This mindset where city politicians and city workers feel entitled to reach deeper and deeper into taxpayer pockets to fund their own entitlements has to stop.
City workers are not alone in this drain on the city taxpayer.
You can read many claims of care for the taxpayer dollar and cost-cutting on politician’s campaign materials and websites that is equally disgusting, untrue, and misleading.
Louise Parkes has some display lines on her literature distributed by mail drop across the city that screams, “The Road to prosperity begins with fair taxation” and “Council must first set an example by tightening our own belt. Her signs of course say "Fair Taxation! Some fine example of fair taxation and belt tightening she provides!
While making this statement, she grabbed a 54% salary and expense spending increase in the first three years of this current term with the results not yet in for 2010. Fair taxation for sure! Over that time, her blackberry bill was only $23 less than the total of eight of her fellow councillors. She made a pitch at council for increased office budgets to cover her travel expense despite the fact her literature says council entitlements must end. Some belt tightening and some example of restraint! And some big lies completely inconsistent with her personal wallowing in the trough!
She has gotten some major press by calling for a 5% salary cut for council members and a wage freeze for the upcoming council term. This sounds good but is “smoke and mirrors” with no real savings for city taxpayers. The city portion of Councillor Salaries totals about $500,000 annually. So a 5% rollback would mean a total taxpayer savings of $25,000 annually or about $1 per household...now in a couple of years at that rate of savings, you could buy yourself one Tim’s coffee!
I am the only Mayoral Candidate calling for tax cuts. My plan, a 3% tax cut will cut about $3.5 million of fat, waste, and inefficiency out of city hall spending yearly at a slow enough rate that adjustments can take place without service cuts. City Hall rakes in about $115 million from residential taxes and it will be very doable cutting $3.5 million from their total tax take. It’d be easy! It’d be like finding a $3.50 savings out of $115 dollars in your pocket. And we’d have these regular 3% cuts until our taxes reach the levels of our neighbours. If they can have lower rates, why can’t we?
Parkes’ brochure claims she has opposed over $70 million worth of unnecessary spending this past term. This is a remarkable claim since she voted to support the $25M, but unnecessary, city hall demolition and rebuilding, pushed for the Cullen Gardens Miniatures purchase and wanted to spend another $2M for a site to host them, voted for the 13% tax increases over this term in a time when inflation was only 6.56%, initially approved the $46,000 MBA fundings until voters found out exposing the issue and then she jumped on the “political opportunity” bandwagon, and she throws around terms like zero based budgeting which doesn’t mean a damn thing in terms of tax savings for ratepayers.
While the “zero-based budgeting” sounds great, she knows that the budget items are all prepared by the bureaucrats and that council’s job is not to do the nitty-gritty job of micro-managing but to set the policy on big decisions like budget increases, approval of big capital expenditures, and setting policy for the city and finally approving the staff budget. Beyond that, it is a lie for her to let on to taxpayers that she has the knowledge, expertise, experience, qualifications, or time to know the fine details of every manager’s and every department’s spending details. They make up their own budgets, which are administered by the City Manager and his management team. Council only approves it.
My 3% tax cutting plan, on the other hand, is straightforward and simple to implement and is a “policy decision” which is within the purview of elected officials. I’d simply say to the managers, “You had “X” dollars last year. You have 3% less this year. You have to cut 3 cents out of every dollar you spent last year. Cut out the fat and waste, improve efficiencies of city hall, and make sure there are no service cuts. As I said earlier, this would save taxpayers about $3.5 million annually at the present assessment rates and is a small enough adjustment for changes to take place. The biggest change, however, will be in the mindset of officials who will concentrate on real needs and just not on wants.
Louise Parkes misleads the public in every way possible and she is not to be trusted. In academic credentials she presented to a local newspaper in response to a candidate questionnaire, she said that she had an “Honours Degree---fourth year incomplete.” That fourth year would be a requirement for the degree and so Parkes was misleading the public in saying she has that honours degree when she does not.
Along the same theme, earlier, Brian Nicholson claimed on Facebook to have a BA in Economics and Political Science from Trent University, and this claim as a person trained in Economics may have secured him all those Regional and City Finance and Economic Committee Chairmanships he’s had over the years. When questioned about the degree, Nicholson deleted all the references to it but not before I had a screenshot of his claims. He threatened to sue anyone, including a Toronto Star Reporter, who pursued the story. In his bio submitted recently to a local paper, he confirmed that he is only a high school graduate with some university courses in Economics and Political Science. His claim to the Economics Degree did not serve Regional or City Taxpayers well as his untruthful claim to an Economics degree would have held undue influence with his political cohorts.
But then, politicians often claim to be different than their records indicate. Mayor John Gray gave me a call this past week and, among other things, informed me that Mayor Candidate, John Henry, who campaigned on a promise not to take the $100 weekly car allowance in the last election, did in fact take it and cancelled it only recently when he declared for Mayor. If this is so, perhaps the extra thousands he would get would explain why he held on undeclared for so long.
John Henry also has portrayed himself to be a guy looking after cost-cutting, restraint, and responsible use of taxpayer money. But the most recent political entitlement, “Health Benefits for life for retired politicians” which got taxpayers mad as hell was moved by John Henry. And as a guy who wants to cut costs, why has he not been calling for tax cuts...or why hasn’t he been putting forth a platform.
Even as a fellow Mayor Candidate, I have no idea what John Henry stands for. To me, he is still a “pig in a poke!” I would never put my “John Henry” next to his name...although it is a great political name...and sometimes people vote for the strangest reasons.
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