COMMENT: Financial Plan passes with no hint of public consultation, or thought

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
May 10th, 2013

Council approved the 2013-2017 financial plan (FP) on Wednesday morning, just one week after the bulk of debate was completed in a single unpublicized meeting on May 1. 

No major changes came about in a follow-up meeting on May 6 that concluded with council passing the first three readings of this year’s FP bylaw.


The major obstacle to council taking a reasonable approach to this year’s financial plan—for example starting the process back in December or January like most other municipalities, or, failing that, informing the public that there would be a last-minute debate on the expenditure of several million in a single meeting—is that the new CAO wanted a two month (unpaid) vacation in the Caribbean as part of her contract, and got it.


The FP was not substantially changed by council from staff’s recommendation, except for some $5700 cut in total from certain community groups.


The only major change other than that? The Sustainability Commission (SC) manager was cut entirely for a savings of roughly $13,000 relative to the 2013 request, and a savings of about $15,000 relative to 2012 expenses—some $15,000 has already been spent by the SC this year.


Council directed staff to bring the position “in-house” to be picked up by an as-yet unassigned city staffer, with no indication of what other capacities the city will put on hold to accommodate the new position—we hear several times per meeting that staff don’t have any extra capacity.


The decision to axe the SC—particularly in a meeting that had not been advertised to the public—galvanized counteraction by some residents, including 20 who attended the May 6 meeting to protest. The Telegraph captured the articulate, well-reasoned comments of the nine people who chose to address council in twenty minutes of entertaining video by Liam Barnes.


We’ve transcribed some of these comments and council’s reaction. I was personally most taken by Alex Loeb’s, and I love it when Michelle Laurie gets going…


Council’s decision, however, was not changed. It’s an exercise in patience to sit in silence as the most weak-minded things get concocted by puff-chested councillors.


Of particular note, Coun. Kathy Wallace took several minutes to scold the public for their insolence. It’s unfortunate we can’t reproduce the shrill tone she took on in defence of city staff and their salaries.


“When I hear comments about neglect that we’re at this point in the planning process, that city salaries are high, the community needs to recognize that the way the community treats city hall and city council is a piece of that,” she said. “There needs to be more appreciation for the very hard work done, not so much for council, but for staff.”


“The fact we haven’t had a finance manager sitting in city hall until Miss Arnott’s been able to take over, that leads to this situation. The atmosphere that’s created in this city hall by a hypercritical, small population, leads to this.”


Okay, let me get this straight, councillor. A small group of “hypercritical” people is the reason you guys are incredibly, irresponsibly late in getting to the financial plan?


Are you telling me you lost your finance manager last May—who, according to the new CAO, left the books in good order—and that’s why it took you until two weeks before the financial plan deadline to have your first discussion on the budget?


Wow. Really, wow. As Moore said, “That’s just silly.” You’ve had a year to get your ducks in a row!


The real reason you’re late is that the CAO took January and February on vacation! Simple. Then she rushed to catch up when she got back, not having got things prepared beforehand, it would seem. She was still preparing the database on May 1.


More cynically, the real reason was to rush council, so that nothing more substantial could occur than an ill-advised axing of the core position in Rossland’s most vital volunteer organization.


CAO Arnott made it pretty clear on May 1: there was no longer time to make any change to the operations budget. Her only alternative was to close a park, but she wisely suggested a community consultation first.


Less wisely, the city did not even advertise the May 1 meeting. Truly, that’s plain incompetence of city administration. They tried to pass it off as a technical error, “the server was down,” they said. But is that true? I haven’t seen any supporting evidence.


Why are we paying the CAO and Deputy CAO six (or more) full-time Kootenay salaries? They’re doing a great job—or would be, for $50,000/year.


On top of that, we have some incredibly uninformed councillors, such as Cary Fisher who did not attend a single SC meeting when he held the position of liaison. Not one, I’m told.


Had he gone, he might have understood that the SC is the key to a long term process that can do things like identify the $80 million sewage plant planned for Trail as a boondoggle. Imagine what Rossland could create in terms of a state-of-the-art biological waste water treatment right here in town, that would generate energy, money, and soil, for a fraction of $20 million!


There are other savings to be found in SC-thinking (distinctly different than the stodgy 1950s “core service” approach the mayor lives and breaths) in the city’s $40 million infrastructure deficit. Take the water pipes, for example, that the city has rightly fingered for potential failure all over town. 


Well, every single house in Rossland has enough roof space—even the smallest miner’s shack—that they could collect every drop of water they’d need for the entire year in a large concrete cistern under their lawn or garden to store the rain and meltwater. No expensive treatment facility, just a simple filter, a small pump, and it’s pure tasty water from heaven.


The crux is pouring a lot of underground storage tanks. For blue-barrel rain collectors around town, it’s worth pointing out that exactly 1 inch of rain on an 8-foot by 10-foot roof fills that 50 gallon barrel!


Get someone like the SC to propose a really advanced, 21st century idea like this to granting agencies, and the CBT (and far beyond) will pile money on Rosslanders to retrofit their houses as a model in true water-sufficiency.


The trick is to be the first on board, to be a pioneer, to be a leader, things our mayor doesn’t quite grasp, even after Energy Diet awards.


And what Fisher doesn’t get is that sustainability doesn’t cost money—like a golf course lawn—it saves money.


As every thrifty Kootenay citizen knows, a dollar saved is a dollar-forty earned.


Jody Blomme seems to think that sustainability work should be done for free, but city funding for business (the Chamber), more business (Tourism Rossland), and the museum, library, and so forth, are all good to go for funding? Of these groups, so far the only one of them I’ve seen that exerts true “leverage” is Tourism Rossland.


Blomme expressed confidence that the SC is “a very capable, committed group of volunteers who can pursue funding through other means,” such as the CBT.


Blomme did not mention that the CBT has been working hard to fund the SC for both operations and programming, but has been actively stymied by the city, notably Victor Kumar during his tenure, and also by Mayor Granstrom.


What Blomme seems to miss here, is that volunteers have to pay their bills, so getting around to very important drudgery—like sitting on the phone with CBT, cranking through paperwork, editing grant applications, hunting for more grant opportunities, and so forth—just doesn’t happen on time, or not as thoroughly, or with the same chance of success. We’re competing against other paid coordinators. 


Volunteers are there to drum up support and ideas, to attend events, run booths, call friends and neighbours, and generate excitement. Burnout happens when you expect them to do salaried work for free.


Read this and weep, Coun. Blomme: Government of Canada Looking For 20,000 Volunteers to Fill Positions Across All Departments.  It’s a farce, like your point of view on the relationship between paid coordinators and the volunteers they support.


If you pay someone incredibly talented like Ann Damude, someone who is not embedded in the city—with all the strictures the city inevitably brings—she makes money for the city: more money than the museum, more money than the arena (unless they charged higher rates), more money than the library, and much more money than we spent on the SC. 


Sustainability saves money, and sustainability creates relationships with organizations like the CBT who like what they’re seeing in Rossland—with the exception of our inept council.


Let’s face it people, this is a power struggle. We have a mayor who only understands “core service”—albeit including four-season swimming pools—but can’t grasp sustainability.


I have to relate this, because it was sad and funny. After posing for the picture above, glowing with pride beside MLA Katrine Conroy, SC Commissioner Steve Ash, and Fortis’s Carol Suhan, basking in the reflection of $1.5 million in energy upgrades that the SC brought to Rossland, the mayor refused to step one foot into the farmer’s market not 10 feet behind him.


He wouldn’t do it. Perhaps he couldn’t stand all the youth and vitality, the brimming ideas for positive change that make his core service arguments leak like the water pipes on Washington.


I didn’t ask him personally—I, personally, make the mayor burn up like a bright organic beet—but I inquired to be sure other people did. Despite having grandkids in tow and plenty of kids frolicking around the market who wanted to make friends, he refused.


Why? I can’t fathom, except that he hates sustainability. I’ve seen him pass the market enough times to know that he encounters an invisible force field that pushes him to the other side of the street.


Let’s can these clowns, Rossland. 


Here, loud and clear, is my VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE in this council. If only we still had a means for a public referendum and we could turf the lot of them and start again.


I’m sorry to say, I cast a vote for all but two of them—one councillor, and the mayor was acclaimed—but I regret that sincerely. I’m sorry Rossland. Please let me vote again, and vote against all but two.


I vote against the mayor, he’s in over his head, he’s in beyond his era.


I vote against Kathy Wallace, she has poison in her heart, she sees no problem spitting venom at some of Rossland’s most active and esteemed citizens.


I vote against Cary Fisher, he’s too busy with his business to understand what makes this community tick.


I vote against Jody Blomme, she talks the forward thinking talk, and walks the backward moonwalk. Thriller!


I also vote against Tim Thatcher, much as I appreciated his vote in favour of the SC, and much as his big heart shines out from his friendly face and handlebar moustache…but he doesn’t contribute much to the table. 


We need people with a vision on council. Please file this one away, and step up when the time comes.

Other News Stories