About ITAC –

ITAC was founded in January, 2006, by Scott Hean of Horseshoe Bay, and David Marley of Ambleside. We were concerned over the preceding few years of rapidly growing municipal operating expenditures, and concomitant property tax and utility bill increases, in our District. There are eight others who have since joined us: Norman Alban, Mark Angus, Alex Baker, Paul Browne, John Clark, Heather Drugge, Steve Kaufmann, Alec Orr-Ewing, Dennis Perry, Garrett Polman and Patrick Shannon. We are all residents of West Vancouver, most of us having lived here for over a decade or more.

Councillor Michael Lewis is a distinguished alumnus.

Each member of our group has substantial, relevant education and business or professional credentials. We claim to represent nobody but ourselves and hope that the strength of our arguments will lead to desired changes in the financial management of our District.

News Reports of Interest

Civil service

North Shore NewsJuly  20, 2012
Hands up everyone whose salaries have increased 50 per cent in the past six  years. Or, for that matter, all who’ve enjoyed a substantial raise since  2008.

We’re guessing there aren’t too many regular folk in that category. The same  can’t be said, it seems, for the top managers at our local governments.

It’s a topic that senior civil servants aren’t keen to dwell on, but we think  the public should know what they’re paying.

So does the province, which is why local governments must make those salaries  public each year.

What those figures show is that pay for upper-run civil servants is rising  much faster than for everyone else.

We highlight the salaries of local bureaucrats because those are the people  whose pay is directly bankrolled by North Shore taxpayers, but they are not  alone, nor are they an anomaly.

Top managers at Metro Vancouver, TransLink and the City of Vancouver all top  the $300,000 mark. Many local government managers make more than deputy  provincial ministers, whose responsibilities are broader.

Governments often give the excuse that to attract and keep talent, they have  to swell pay in synch with the private sector. This reasoning is spurious.  Municipalities aren’t private companies; they are limited by what taxpayers can  sustain, and they can certainly attract strong leaders with reasonable  six-figure paycheques.

If some bureaucrats want to go to the private sector, let them.

In lean times, our municipal governments should practice the austerity they  preach.

© Copyright (c) North Shore  News

Read more:

MANAGERS who head up the North Shore’s civil service are earning more money than ever before – with top brass earning more than $200,000 a year.

While the number of municipal employees earning six figures has actually dropped – to 156 last year compared to 183 in 2009 – those at the very top are taking home bigger paycheques than ever.

The biggest earner among local government employees last year was the District of North Vancouver’s chief administrative officer David Stuart, who earned $289,000, according to figures released recently by the municipalities. That’s over $100,000 more than Stuart was earning six years ago, when he was chief administrative officer for West Vancouver, earning $188,000. It’s also 47 per cent more than the $197,000 former District of North Vancouver manager James Ridge was earning at the district for the same job in 2006.

Ken Tollstam, city manager at the City of North Vancouver, has also seen a substantial boost in his earnings. Last year Tollstam earned $269,000 as chief administrative officer – up almost 50 per cent from the $180,000 he was earning in 2006.

Grant McRadu, chief administrative officer for the District of West Vancouver, earned $224,000 last year – a salary 20 per cent higher than that position paid six years ago.

Wages for other senior managers at local government often clock in between $150,000 and $200,000.

Dermod Travis, executive director of the government watchdog group Integrity B.C., says ballooning salaries for local government managers have become the norm. Many municipal managers now make more than top-level provincial and federal staffers, he said.

Travis said the salaries set an unhealthy tone for local government. “When it comes to controlling spending, it starts at the top,” he said.

Overall, local governments on the North Shore spent $132 million on direct municipal salaries last year – up from the $130 million they spent in 2010. That doesn’t include money paid to employees who work for agencies supported by local taxpayers – like libraries and recreation centres. If those were included, the total would be about $167 million.

The sum also doesn’t include approximately $20 million paid by the city and district of North Vancouver to the RCMP. Under the Financial Information Act, local governments must publish salary information for all employees earning over $75,000 by June 30 each year. Police salaries are exempt from the reporting requirements.

In the District of North Vancouver, taxpayers forked out about $65 million on salaries last year, including direct pay to municipal employees of about $43 million.

Sixty-two people at the district made more than $100,000 last year. In addition to Stuart, top earners included deputy fire chief Steven Feenstra, who earned $235,000 and Gavin Joyce, director of corporate services, who earned $192,000.

Over in West Vancouver, local taxpayers forked over about $57.5 million on salaries, including $9.4 million for police and about $13 million on firefighters. Fifty-six people made more than $100,000. In addition to McRadu, top earners included deputy CAO Brent Leigh, who earned $175,000 and Fire Chief James Cook, who earned $164,000.

At the City of North Vancouver, $31 million went directly to municipal salaries. That figure climbed to about $45 million with other taxpayer-funded agencies.Thirty-eight people at the city earned over $100,000 in 2011. Besides Tollstam, top earners included Director of Corporate Services Francis Caouette, who made $183,000 and Deputy Fire Chief Dave Burgess, who made $178,000.

Among North Shore politicians, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton earned the most, taking home $94,000 for his mayoral duties, plus $33,000 for his duties as vice-chair of the board of directors for Metro Vancouver. City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto earned $93,000 as mayor, plus $27,000 as a member of Metro’s board of directors. Former West Vancouver mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones earned $65,500, plus $9,000 as a Metro board member.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

West Vancouver council asks staff to revisit budget hike

By Jeremy Shepherd, North Shore NewsFebruary 8, 2012

COUN. Michael Lewis led a call Monday for West Vancouver municipal staff to axe the 1.74 per cent property tax increase proposed in the district’s 2012 draft budget.

Staff needs to separate “the must-haves from the nice-to-haves,” to find enough money to allow for a zero per cent property tax increase, according to Lewis.

“It feels a little difficult after we’ve gone through an incredibly rigorous process,” said Nina Leemhuis, the district’s chief financial officer.

Leemhuis, who presented the budget to council last month, described the 1.74 per cent tax increase as “reasonable and measured and ensures the district can continue to provide services and programs in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Lewis’s motion echoed the sentiments of Dennis Perry, the lone West Vancouver resident who spoke to council about the proposed budget.

“We can balance this budget without increasing our property taxes,” he said.

The 1.74 per cent tax increase sounds benign but masks the district’s unsustainable spending practices, according to Perry.

I will not support this motion,” said Coun. Nora Gambioli.

After four months of work by district staff, Gambioli said it was up to council to make the tough decisions, not to send it back to staff.

“I think zero is a really arbitrary number,” she said. “I’ve done some of the detail work on the little details that we’re talking about.”

Prior to the 2011 municipal election, district staff was instructed to prepare a budget with a 2.1 per cent property tax increase.

“As a new councillor, I’m elected with a new mandate,” said Coun. Craig Cameron. “The question is: Do we go to the community and ask for more money than we did last year?”

Cameron said he felt he should apologize to staff for supporting Lewis’s motion, but couldn’t support any tax increases without being certain it was necessary.

“I am inclined to support this motion,” said Coun. Mary-Ann Booth, noting that more than 80 per cent of budget expenses are salaries and benefits.

“I concur with Coun. Cameron on a number of points,” she said.

“If we wanted staff to do a zero, we should’ve asked for it then,” argued Coun. Trish Panz, referring to the instructions given to staff last July. “I’m not prepared to keep deferring,” Panz said, adding she would not support the motion.

The motion received support from Coun. Bill Soprovich, although he said a zero per cent property tax increase might not be possible.

“That’s a great healthy exercise,” he said of having staff go over the numbers in the budget again.

“We cannot justify going to the public to raise taxes,” said Mayor Michael Smith.

“I don’t see how you can knock on somebody’s door . . . and ask for $24,000 to redo the (fire hall) kitchen,” he said.

Smith also stressed that the motion was not binding.

“It doesn’t tie us to a zero per cent tax increase, it just challenges staff,” he said.

The motion passed with Panz and Gambioli opposed.

The revised budget is scheduled to return to council on Feb. 20.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

West Vancouver ballot advice nobody had to pay for

It is time once again for the sage old gent who has been at this stand for 21 years to give his sage old advice

By Trevor Lautens, Special to North Shore NewsNovember 11, 2011

Feel free to ignore it, as you probably have in past West Vancouver elections with no loss.

First, a favourable nod to former member of the Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee Michael Lewis, a principal player in shrinking the West Van budget increase toward zero. A possible future mayor.

Perennial poll-topper Bill Soprovich won’t quit and won’t relax. Loves the work. Loves responding to citizen calls. A love reciprocated – this is his sixth election.

Carolanne Reynolds is committed, deserving, but, as a long-time citizen council-watcher and editor of West Vancouver Matters (a labour of love that she underwrites), arguably is more valuable outside than inside the tent.

Vivian Vaughan is the Woman Who Would Have Been Mayor, maybe, second in a three-way split in 2008. She’s of independent mind, brainy, politically not necessarily a team player.

On the other hand. . . . School board chairwoman Mary-Ann Booth plunged right off my recommended list with the revelation that her husband is a lawyer with a firm representing Grosvenor, hip-deep in redevelopment in West Vancouver. This clear conflict of interest would fatally disqualify her from important decisions ahead. On the other hand. . . .

Incumbent Trish Panz made a jibe about something negative I wrote about her in 2008, and she won. No kidding, I like that. Keeps me humble. Panz is a “Pamette,” a total political and personal friend of retiring Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones. If you liked the one, you’ll like the other.

Craig Cameron is too sleek, too “downtown” by half for my tastes, his speech stuffed with clichés – will someone please kill the word “transparency” with a stick? My suspicion: Another development-friendly heir of Goldsmith-Jones. And allow that there’s no black/white on that issue, but a matter of degree and kind.

Nora Gambioli has a law degree (Dalhousie), teaching certificate, and diploma in psychology, but in 2008 she impressed me anyway. Still does. Less impressive: She doesn’t advertise that she ran for the Green Party provincially against Ralph Sultan (a distant second) in 2001. “Environmentalist” isn’t a dirty word to me, but her silence on this point slightly bothers me.

Gregg Henderson may have got the sympathy vote in 2008, his speeches painfully inept, but three years have improved his platform confidence without improving his mind. His foolish pitch to end incamera meetings shows blank ignorance of why, though open to abuse, they exist.

. . .

Finally, West Van voters will have to decide whether the following is important.

A curious reader questioned this statement on Coun. Michael Evison’s website: “Michael is a FCCA Fellow, Chartered Association of Certified Accountants in the U.K.”

The reader couldn’t find Evison’s name on the members’ or Fellows’ list.

A Wikipedia entry describes ACCA as a global body for professional accountants with 147,000 qualified members, who, if they have “sufficient post-qualification experience are designated Fellows, and use the designatory letters FCCA in place of ACCA.”

After we exchanged a few emails, Evison – who is seeking re-election – explained, verbatim: “Thank you for your question for clarification. I am not now a ‘registered’ member. I use the designation as in I’m a Lawyer or an Engineer or a Teacher.

“For the record, I never practised, as in public/private practice. I spent most of my career in financial roles for a variety of companies.

I formally resigned my membership 22 Feb., 1998.”

At best it’s strange that the affable Evison is flaunting an affiliation that ended 13 years ago.

. . .

After West Van acclaimed mayor Michael Smith made it plain in an interview that he was scandalized by union donations in North Van, I questioned North Vancouver’s city and district mayors, Darrell Mussatto and Richard Walton about that.

Walton: “No, I don’t accept contributions from unions. I have maintained a very positive relationship with our unions over the years but am uncomfortable accepting financial support and have spoken very amicably and objectively with them explaining why. They fully understand and have not offered me financial support.”

Mussatto: “Hi, Trevor. Yes, as an ambulance paramedic I am a member of CUPE 873 and I do receive money from them. As well, I receive contributions from CUPE B.C. and from CUPE National. I received money in all my previous campaigns from CUPE since 1993. I also receive money from independent businesses and from individuals. If you would like to donate to my campaign I would be happy to receive it from you! Warning, all donations to my campaign are disclosed as per the provincial government regulations! Cheers, Darrell.”

I prefer Walton’s stand, but whatever your take on Mussatto’s, top marks for his openness and wit. Maybe that’s why his constituents have given him four council and two mayoralty terms for 18 years.

© Copyright (c) North Shore News

Crucial municipal issues eclipsed amid Occupy Vancouver protest

By Jon Ferry, Metro ViewNovember 11, 2011

While media and the public are focused on shuffling the tents around at Occupy Vancouver, key issues leading up to the municipal elections are being ignored.

One of the problems with the seemingly pointless Occupy Vancouver protest is that it’s sucking up huge amounts of media attention during a municipal election campaign in which there’s a much more pressing concern — one we can actually do something about.

That issue is lavish municipal spending, which is driving up taxes alarmingly for many Lower Mainland residents.

“How can city hall possibly even consider hiking taxes in times like these?” asked former RCMP officer Heine Mortensen in the Richmond News shortly after receiving his last property tax bill.

“The economy is stagnant, homes are becoming unaffordable unless you’re a millionaire. Salaries, likewise, remain stagnant unless you’re a government employee.” Mortensen told me Thursday it’s still his concern.

For left-wing Vancouver activists, however, it’s much easier to rail against Wall Street greed than government over-spending — and the soaring union wage bill mainly responsible for it.

Also, the centre-left Vision Vancouver’s dithering over dismantling the downtown tent city is a far more appealing target for the centre-right Non-Partisan Association than any likely future tax increase.

As Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman Jordan Bateman says: “Occupy Vancouver has been great for the NPA, but really that’s a minor issue in the whole scheme of things. The No. 1 issue has got to be finding ways to keep municipal costs under control when 80 per cent of your money is going to wages.” Bateman, a former Langley Township councillor, is right. For years, municipal spending in B.C. has been rising unsustainably. That’s little wonder since, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, B.C. municipal workers earn an average 35-per-cent more in wages and benefits than do comparable private-sector workers. Salaries above $100,000 are now common. One of the reasons for this is because the powerful Canadian Union of Public Employees, along with the unions representing the firefighters and police, have been able to outmanoeuvre municipal councils when it comes to labour contract bargaining. Another is that civic politicians, especially those who rely on CUPE for help with their election campaigns, appear fearful to be a party pooper. That’s especially true when their own salaries and those of the non-union managers on whom they rely for other support are also spiralling upwards. Besides, there is no “net zero” mandate for municipal workers as there is for provincial employees.

The last CUPE contract signed for Lower Mainland municipal workers provided for a whopping 17.5-per-cent wage hike over five years.

Negotiations for a new contract are likely to begin early next year. And Metro Vancouver labour relations manager Malcolm Graham predicts that, given the lacklustre economy, “money is going to be scarce.”

One of the problems for residents is that the region’s labour relations bureau, which does collective bargaining on behalf of a majority of the Lower Mainland municipalities, seems to be breaking up. The City of Vancouver, for example, is leaving Dec. 31 to bargain on its own. The solution? Well, I think you should vote for tough, independent-minded candidates with enough spine to stand up to pushy unions, developers, green groups or other special-interest organizations.

They’re much more likely to be working for you, the taxpayer.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Harrisburg bankruptcy sets up fight with state

Wed, Oct 12 2011By Dave Warner and Edith Honan

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) –

Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday in a desperate bid to resolve its debt crisis, setting up a showdown with the state over control of the city. Harrisburg becomes one of the most-high profile cities to opt for the little used Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy code, most notably tapped nearly 20 years ago by Orange County, California. The Pennsylvania capital’s crisis has been a year in the making as the city of about 50,000 struggles to pay for critical services as well as roughly $300 million in debt incurred from an expensive revamp of its incinerator. While city services should continue uninterrupted, the move has caused confusion about how bills will be paid. “We’re getting calls from vendors, wondering if they are going to get paid,” said Brenda Alton, the director of city’s department of parks, recreation and enrichment. “I feel it is a bad decision.”

Municipal bankruptcies are rare. But if Harrisburg is successful in winning concessions with bondholders, pensioners and other stakeholders, it could lead other financially troubled cities to seek bankruptcy. Bankruptcy gives the city “bargaining power” with its creditors, municipal workers, retirees and the state, which is considering a takeover, said Mark Schwartz, an attorney for the council. There have been only 629 municipal bankruptcies under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code since 1937, according to James Spiotto, a municipal bankruptcy expert at the law firm Chapman and Cutler. “I think it’s more of an example of an aberration,” Spiotto told Reuters Insider. “It’s event-driven from a failed incinerator plant that’s unique to the Harrisburg situation. That isn’t a contagion that’s going to spread to other municipalities.”

Orange County, California, filed the largest Chapter 9 bankruptcy in U.S. history in December 1994 after it suffered more than $1 billion in investment losses on derivatives. Vallejo, California, with 120,000 residents, filed for Chapter 9 in 2008, and Central Falls, the smallest city in Rhode Island, the smallest U.S. state, filed earlier this year. Harrisburg’s City Council approved the bankruptcy filing in a 4-3 vote. It was opposed by Mayor Linda Thompson, who in a news conference on Wednesday challenged the legality of the City Council’s vote. Under city law, the mayor and the city solicitor must sign off on all hiring of outside counsel and the city solicitor must approve all ordinances and resolutions considered by the council, and neither was done in this case, Thompson said. “They have been dishonest with the entire community for months,” Thompson said of the council. “I am ashamed of the behavior.” The bankruptcy has the potential to stoke political passions as it will likely pit firefighters and police against municipal bond investors, who are often perceived to be wealthy retirees, said Peter Kaufman, president of Gordian Group and a financial restructuring specialist. “It’s disgusting, it really is,” said Warren Jones, 68, a retired corporate manager. “I talk to people I know who are in business and they’re worried.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has said the city would be better off if it agreed to a rescue plan under the state’s Act 47 program for distressed cities — which has seen Philadelphia and other cities through crises — and his office stressed its opposition to the bankruptcy. Pennsylvania’s state Senate will vote on a bill next week that calls for an eventual takeover of Harrisburg and the forced implementation of a fiscal rescue plan. The state’s lower house has already passed the bill. “Rather than wasting precious time on illegal filings and engaging expensive attorneys, the majority of City Council should be about working with the mayor and the commonwealth to resolve this crisis via the Act 47 process,” said state Senator Jeff Piccola, who helped write the bill.


The City Council has rejected rescue plans, one backed by the state and one by the city’s mayor. Those plans called on Harrisburg to renegotiate labor deals and sell or lease its most valuable assets — the incinerator and parking garages. The City Council said those plans demanded too much of Harrisburg residents and did not ask enough of the county, bondholders and the bond insurer, Assured Guaranty. City Councilman Brad Koplinski, who voted in favor of bankruptcy after opposing both of the rescue plans, said the council is looking for “a global solution with shared pain for all of the stake-holders.” By selling its assets, and cutting off major revenue streams, the city could risk another fiscal crisis down the road, Koplinski said. If that happens, the city’s only options for addressing cash-flow problems would be to raise property taxes or further reduce benefits for public workers, he said. Koplinski said he would not support a solution where “Wall Street gets paid in full and the people of Walnut Street have to pay for it many times over.” In a statement, Assured questioned the vote’s legality, saying that as a distressed city of the third class of Pennsylvania cities, Harrisburg is “specifically prohibited from filing for bankruptcy.” “Assured Guaranty realizes the complexity of the situation facing Harrisburg and continues to be eager to work with Harrisburg, Dauphin County and the Commonwealth in formulating solutions to address Harrisburg’s debt.” The company “also strongly supports the efforts of the Governor and the Legislature to reach a prompt and fair resolution of Harrisburg’s debt obligations.” However, City Controller Dan Miller said the filing was the right move for Harrisburg. “I think it’s the only real option that we had,” said Miller, adding that the previous plans rejected by the City Council would have benefited creditors at the city’s expense. Harrisburg’s bankruptcy filing wants to go where previous municipal bankruptcies have not: toward cutting the principal owed to bondholders, Kaufman said. Daniel Berger, senior market strategist at Municipal Market Data, said there was very little trading in Harrisburg’s bonds on Wednesday. “Investors have written off these bonds for years as distressed credits,” he said.


Financial analyst Meredith Whitney, one of the few on Wall Street who foresaw the 2008 financial crisis, said last year she expected a wave of municipal bond defaults. Chapter 9 bankruptcies remain uncommon, however. The process is very expensive, and not all states let local governments file for bankruptcy. Governments also have a power that ailing companies do not have: the ability to tax. Alabama’s Jefferson County settled with its creditors last month to avoid what would have been the biggest-ever municipal bankruptcy. Despite Harrisburg’s filing, municipal bankruptcies will likely remain rare, said Richard Ciccarone, chief research officer and municipal bond specialist with McDonnell Investment Management LLC.

(Reporting by Dave Warner in Harrisburg, Edith Honan in New York and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Chip Barnett and Michael Tarsala in New York; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Jan Paschal)

© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only

BC Mayors are on a spending binge by Adam Leamy and Jamie Lamb click the article title to read

For Immediate Release

Taxpayers want municipalities to reduce runaway spending: Poll

ICBA poll shows British Columbians want spending held to rate of inflation and growth

(September 27, 2011 – Vancouver) British Columbians overwhelmingly want municipal leaders to tackle runaway civic spending, a poll
by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. has found.

The poll, conducted last week by Angus Reid Public Opinion, found that 73 per cent of British Columbians want municipal spending held at
the rate of inflation and population growth. On average, B.C. municipalities are ratcheting up spending at twice that rate.

“If the UBCM agenda is any indication, municipal leaders are out of touch with the overwhelming concerns taxpayers have on civic
spending across the province,” ICBA President Philip Hochstein said. “Politicians and administrators are in Vancouver this week thanks to their taxpayers to attend sessions on Canada-European Trade Negotiation, Medical Marijuana Licensing and Regulations, and Building Partnerships to Encourage Farming. Sadly there’s not a single session on how they can hold the line on municipal spending.”

Municipal politicians have one place where reduced spending would get public support – wage and benefit packages for municipal workers that are an average of 35 per cent higher than what workers in the same job in the private sector receive. The poll showed 68 per cent of British Columbians thought these pay rates are unjustified and municipalities should find ways to reduce them and bring them in line with the private sector.

“ICBA highlighted the problem with the municipal pay and benefit issue in a special report released earlier this month – and municipal leaders tried to shoot it down,” Hochstein said. “It’s clear that the taxpayers – and the voters in November’s municipal elections – disagree.”

Other poll highlights include:

  • 76%
    want increases in development fees and charges held in line with the rat of population and growth.
  • 53%
    think their municipal taxes are too high.
  • 86%
    agree there should be some independent oversight of municipalities to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent.

“Municipal politicians head to the polls this fall and they’re going to be seeking the support and the votes of taxpayers,”
Hochstein said. “ICBA’s poll found that 81 per cent of people are ready to support candidates who agree to reduce municipal spending and taxes. That tells me that spending control and tax relief isn’t just good for taxpayers and the municipal budget – it’s good for politicians.”

Download the poll report with detailed tables (including regional breakdowns) and poll methodology.

About ICBA ( The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. services and represents B.C.’s construction sector. ICBA’s 1,100 members build in the multi-family residential and Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) construction sectors and are involved in virtually all major capital projects in British Columbia.


David Frum Sep 3, 2011 – 9:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Sep 2, 2011 5:50 PM ET

To: Toronto Municipal Employees

From: Your Media Consultants

Re: Your Pay

Guys, as far as we are concerned, you are worth every dime. If anything, you’re underpaid! Like it or not, though, we face a challenging perception environment. A lot of people out there think you are overpaid and over-indulged.

We know! Ignorant! Ungrateful!

But here’s the mountain we must climb. Over the past five years, the city budget swelled by 25% at a time when the population grew by a hair over 5%. Half of the budget increase was driven by wage and benefit increases, up from $3.88-billion in 2006 to $4.82-billion in 2010. Out there in the private sector, they were facing a pretty tough recession through that same time, so you can see the sensitivities here.

We have to tell you, the garbage strike did not help. In fact, it would be hard to think of a worse optic: public sector workers, already much better paid than private-sector counterparts, striking in order to preserve their right to be paid for not working. “I’m entitled to my entitlements” is not a good message.

Which brings us to our alternative. We need to pivot, reframe the debate. We need to identify a municipal function with a totally positive public image — and change the discussion to focus on that.

We propose: libraries. Everybody loves them. Even people who never read a book still think they should read books.

We need to find some way to persuade the public that the debate over union contracts is really a debate over children’s literacy. And we think we have found that way.

The city recently hired a consulting firm to suggest efficiencies. (We hate the term “efficiencies,” too. You guys are already doing an awesome job.) Among the many dozens of suggestions: closing some library branches and reducing branch hours of operation.

Here is the opportunity.

Instead of defending the big line items in the city budget, we focus on something comparatively small but fraught with symbolism. True, the symbolism is verging on the obsolete. The physical book is passing from the scene, raising powerful questions about the continuing need for physical libraries.

Some radicals might even suggest that public money be spent to support the creation of a universal downloadable digital library — by, for example, buying copyrights of out-of-print books and making them available to all for free over the Internet on any computer, tablet, or smart phone.

But those 21st-century approaches do not sustain unionized public-sector jobs! And sustaining unionized public-sector jobs must be priority number one, ahead of all other considerations. If we delivered a service a certain way in 1961, that’s the way it must be delivered in 2011 — only, of course, by a larger workforce, earning higher pay, with superior benefits.

We must squelch questions about the way we deliver services. We want to keep the debate focused on the goals, not the means.

Dangerous question: “Can we save money by contracting with private companies to collect garbage?”

Comfortable question: “Is cleanliness good?”

Dangerous question: “Why do TTC drivers earn much more than people doing comparable work in the private sector?”

Comfortable question: “Do you want more cars on the road?”

Dangerous question: “How can government in the digital age most effectively make necessary information available to all the people?”

Comfortable question: “Don’t you love the library?”

Even people who never set foot in a library will say they love the library.

Of course we’ll need a celebrity spokesperson, one who will help keep the conversation far, far away from the issue of how much we pay unionized personnel like librarians (69 people making more than $100,000 within the Toronto Public Library system) — and adhering closely to the preferred message.

Do you think we can find somebody like that?

If so — what a good candidate we’d have for mayor of Toronto, on the good old slogan: “Let’s put the fox in charge of the henhouse.”

© David Frum

Bonuses and salaries soar while earnings sink on SS Gravy Boat

Incomes of more than half of BC Ferries employees rank in top five per cent of Canadian incomes

By Stephen Hume, Vancouver SunAugust 31, 2011

B.C. Ferry Services Inc. paid its technical staff, managers and senior executives more in bonuses than it reported in net earnings last year, according to documents posted on the corporation’s website.

The annual report for the 2009-10 fiscal year reports net earnings of $3.4 million. Bonuses, however, totalled more than $3.9 mill

A report on remuneration for employees earning more than $75,000 annually shows that, including payments to 33 employees listed as inactive, a total of 284 BC Ferries employees got bonuses that for some senior executives amounted to more than half their regular salary.

President and CEO David Hahn, for example, received a bonus of $292,353. His bonus alone was about $100,000 more than Premier Christy Clark’s salary. The bonus topped up Hahn’s $500,000 base salary, which itself is already about $180,000 more than we pay the prime minister to run the entire county.

The average annual wage in B.C. was just over $43,000 as of July. Half a dozen individual bonus payments at BC Ferries exceeded that amount.

Statistics Canada, analyzing federal tax data in 2007, determined that the top five per cent of incomes in Canada started at $89,000. On the list of active ferry employees displayed on the website, better than 60 per cent ranked in the top five per cent of Canadian incomes, many of them propelled into this exclusive statistical neighbourhood by their bonuses.

This quasi-non-government organization – maybe we should just call it the SS Gravy Boat – appears to have been stoking the boilers with bonuses even as net earnings steadily declined. In a report at the end of 2010, CBC reported Hahn’s income had doubled between 2004 and 2009.

Over the same period, according to the corporation’s annual reports, B.C. Ferry Services Inc. had $49.9 million in net earnings in 2006. In 2007, they were $48.8 million; in 2008, $37.1 million; in 2009, $9 million; and in 2010 $3.4 million.

Meanwhile, as fares rose rapidly, outstripping the rate of inflation, passenger traffic dwindled to the lowest levels since the days when the ferry service was an arm of government.

This year, if the losses posted in the first quarter keep mounting, the corporation is on track for losses that could exceed $20 million. BC Ferries has floated the prospect of cost containment through a hiring freeze, reducing hours for casual staff and reducing service by as many as 400 sailings.

All of which raises reasonable questions from taxpayers for the board of directors that signed off on these rich bonuses – not to mention for a provincial government that relentlessly preaches austerity for the masses.

The letters pages of this newspaper show the public is not happy with this state of affairs.

Indeed, the annual reports of the ferries commissioner have noted a festering state of customer dissatisfaction in the category identified as “value for money.”

Customer satisfaction surveys show that the number of passengers either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with what they paid and the service they got has averaged a steady 30 per cent since 2006, most of that on the current executive’s watch.

All of which caused me to laugh out loud when I read The Vancouver Sun story that exactly how much BC Ferries spent on tickets, luxury suites and advertising at Rogers Arena is a secret because public knowledge of such information might harm corporate financial or economic interests (“BC Ferries mum on amount of Canucks sponsorship spending,” Aug. 27).

The reluctance of a publicly owned near-monopoly to disclose what it’s been spending and why probably has a lot less to do with competitive advantage than with corporate anxiety over how the optics of hockey tickets and luxury suites might affect the perceptions of increasingly restive taxpayers who can’t afford to go to games – let alone visit the grandkids – because of rising ferry costs.

At a time when the government has put everyone on austerity notice, I’d say nervousness on the bridge of the Good Ship Lollipop is well-placed.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Auditor-general for municipal councils should be welcome

 By Garrett H. Polman, Vancouver SunAugust 18, 2011

Re: Cawing over Clark’s imprudent watchdog proposal justified, Aug. 9

The premier is to be commended for her initiative to establish an auditorgeneral for municipalities. An independent watchdog is a proven tool for better oversight and is a prized element of our democratic framework at federal and provincial levels.

In my community core services cost nearly 50 per cent more than the Metro Vancouver average. No one knows why. Elementary cost estimates of alternatives for a proposed $65-million project that was costed at $37 million two months ago have not been done.

In 2010, municipal operating departments went nearly $4 million (six per cent) over budget with no explanation in the annual report and no comment by the local auditing firm.

Budgets cannot be compared with actual expenses because they don’t include the same items.

Residents and municipal councils should welcome an auditor-general.

Garrett H. Polman

Editorial: Auditor-general for municipalities will help cities cut costs

Vancouver SunAugust 16, 2011

The City of Vancouver’s 9,000 employees help make it one of the world’s most livable cities, its website tells us. Maybe so, but with an annual payroll of $672.3 million, they also help make it one of the most expensive. Out of every 100 people who work in the city, three are municipal employees.

Now, every one of these jobs may be vital for the proper functioning of government and delivery of essential services. And we agree employees should be paid market value when it comes to salaries and benefits.

But we can’t be certain that’s the case because no third party with the appropriate expertise has examined the city’s organizational structure, policies and finances to make that judgment. The city collects and spends $1 billion every year, most of it contributed by taxpayers, with little oversight or accountability.

Over the last decade, spending has increased at double the rate of inflation and population growth. And wages and benefits are far in excess of similar jobs in the private sector.

Vancouver is not alone in facing budget challenges; most other B.C. municipalities are in similar straits.

This is why Premier Christy Clark’s proposal to establish an auditor-general for municipal governments is so badly needed and long overdue. From the outside looking in, an auditor-general can help municipalities find cost efficiencies city staff might overlook, being unable to see the forest for the trees, so to speak.

Consider the case of BC Hydro. Despite having an army of some of the smartest people on the planet, the Crown corporation needed outside help to pinpoint policies, practices and procedures that were unnecessarily adding to costs and forcing up electricity rates for consumers. What the panel of civil servants assigned to the task uncovered now seems obvious, but the problems went undetected until the review released last week brought them to light.

It found that the utility was overstaffed by as many as 1,200 people, that the number of employees had soared by more than 40 per cent from 2006 until 2010, that Hydro has 650 engineers, six times the number in the Ministry of Transportation, and that 142 people worked in internal and external communications for a staff of 6,000, compared with 187 for the government’s entire complement of 28,000. Overtime costs were higher than the industry standard and nearly every employee received performance bonuses, amounting to $42 million in 2010. Savings from staff costs alone would amount to $175 million over three years and help reduce the electricity rate increase by nearly half.

The review also took aim at policies arising from the Clean Energy Act that limited BC Hydro’s flexibility, adding to its burden and forcing up rates, and offered recommendations on a host of governance, operational, regulatory and structural issues.

Rather than welcome the valuable assistance that an experienced outsider can bring to the municipal budget exercise, the Union of B.C. Municipalities has expressed concern about the province’s lack of consultation with local governments and charged that the appointment of a municipal auditor-general would encroach on local autonomy. But cities have no autonomy constitutionally, they are creations of the province. In any case, far from being an adversary, the auditor-general is an adviser, helping municipalities – and the taxpayers they serve – obtain value for money.

As for efficiency, well, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told us during an editorial board meeting before his election that he agreed with the dictum that you can always find fiveper-cent fat.

Auditors-general at the federal and provincial levels are applauded for their work from all sides of the political spectrum. They are advocates for the careful management of taxpayers’ money. They are courageous warriors against waste. They are heroes. Why wouldn’t a municipal auditor-general receive the same approbation?

A municipal auditor-general of the calibre, say, of Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland (CMA, FCMA), one of the triumvirate that led the BC Hydro review, and a former comptroller-general who has tackled TransLink, BC Ferries and the Vancouver School Board, would ensure that the job would be well done.

In fact, The Sun would be inclined to nominate her for the position.

The question is not whether municipal government needs an auditor-general, but why it has taken so long to get one. It’s about time.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

North Shore municipal payrolls climbing

$100K earners have tripled over the last four years on the North Shore

By Jane Seyd, North Shore NewsJuly 24, 2011
THE cost of the public payroll continued to climb on the North Shore last year, with the three local governments paying out just under $130 million on direct municipal salaries.

That’s up from $128 million spent on salaries in 2009 and $116 million in 2008.

The $130 million doesn’t include many other employees who work for agencies funded by local taxpayers – like libraries and recreation centres – that aren’t paid directly by the municipalities.

Once salaries for museum staff, people who run the recycling program, the North Vancouver Recreation Commission, city and district libraries, emergency management office and cultural affairs office are factored in, the local government payroll clocks in at about $166 million.

Those figures come from annual Financial Information Act reports that all municipalities are required to make public six months after the end of their fiscal year.

Even that figure, however, doesn’t include more than $18 million paid

by the two North Vancouver municipalities for the RCMP contract – much of which goes to pay police.

While the total municipal payroll has been heading upwards, the number of people occupying the highestpaid positions – public servants who earn more than $100,000 – is actually down this year. In 2010, 175 people occupied that bracket in town halls across the North Shore, compared to 183 civil servants in 2009. That’s mostly due to two factors – a retroactive pay hike for firefighters paid out in 2009 that temporarily bumped some of those salaries into a higher-earning category, plus an extra pay period in the 2009 calendar year.

But overall, the number of people earning top dollar in local government has risen dramatically in the past decade. They now include 62 people at the District of North Vancouver, 58 people at the City of North Vancouver and 55 people at the District of West Vancouver. Overall, on the North Shore, the number of people making more than $100,000 has tripled in the past four years.

Those figures also don’t include any police officers, whose salaries are specifically excluded from the list of municipal earners.

David Marley, a member of the Interested Taxpayers Action Committee in West Vancouver, said he thinks local government payrolls are out of control. “There are too many people employed – especially among the managerial and supervisory class,” said Marley. The percentage of local government operating budgets devoted to salaries keeps going up, said Marley, and those being paid over $100,000 are getting the biggest annual increases. “It’s madness,” said Marley.

He said local governments still haven’t got the message that they need to cut back. “There’s no cheque that’s easier to write than one that’s drawn on someone else’s account,” he said.

The District of West Vancouver, which collected just under $53 million in taxes last year and had an operating budget of $117 million, spent the most directly on its employee payroll last year – $55.9 million, including $9.6 million for police.

That’s because the municipality ran more of its services directly – including its police force and its recreation department.

Among West Vancouver bureaucrats, chief administrative officer Grant McRadu topped the payroll list with a salary of $213,500. Other high earners included deputy municipal manager Brent Leigh, who earned $171,000, and Richard Laing, director of finance, who earned $157,000.

At the District of North Vancouver, where property taxes of nearly $77 million supported an operating budget of $136 million, the municipality spent $43.3 million directly on salaries last year. That didn’t include library salaries of almost $4 million and almost $12 million for the district’s share of recreation commission salaries, or payroll for the museum and archives, recycling program, community policing office and utilities workers. If those were all included, salaries paid by the district would be more than $60 million.

Top earners at district hall included David Stuart, chief administrative officer, who pulled in $247,000, Gavin Joyce, director of corporate services, who earned $180,000 and director of finance Nicole Deveaux who made $175,000.

At the City of North Vancouver, the smallest municipality on the North Shore, $42 million in property taxes went into an operating budget of around $70 million last year. Of that, $30.8 million went to payroll. However that didn’t include the city’s one-third share of the recreation commission’s $17.7 million payroll, library salaries of $2 million, or the city’s $7.5 million contract with the RCMP.

Top earners at the city included the North Shore’s highest paid bureaucrat, city manager Ken Tollstam, who made $254,000. Other top earners included Fire Chief Barrie Penman who made $171,000, and director of community development Richard White, who made $166,000.

Among North Shore politicians, both District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton and City of North Vancouver Mayor Darryl Mussatto were members of the $100,000 club, with Walton making the most – $124,000 – including $92,000 as mayor and $32,000 for work as a director and vice-chairman of the board at Metro Vancouver. Mussatto was close behind with $119,000, including $91,000 as mayor and $28,000 for work as a director with Metro Vancouver. Mussatto also received a $9,500 annual car allowance from the city.

In West Vancouver, Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones earned $80,000 including $65,000 as mayor and $15,000 from Metro Vancouver, along with a car allowance of $3,800.

Pay for local councillors ranged from $24,000 in West Vancouver to $39,000 in the District of North Vancouver.

Margaret Wente

The alarming truth about waste at City Hall

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jul. 21, 2011 2:00AM E

Please shed a tear for your friends in Toronto. Our city has fallen on hard times, and no one knows where it’ll end. If the barbarians at City Hall have their way, there’ll be no more petting zoo, no more flowers in the parks and no fluoridation in the water. Our children’s teeth will rot and fall out of their little heads.

That, at any rate, is the dire picture painted by opponents of our portly mayor, Rob (Stop the Gravy Train) Ford, who assured us he would cut the waste and fat at City Hall, no problem. Except there is a problem. According to a detailed KPMG report commissioned by the city, waste and fat are very hard to find. Serious cost-cutting will require a sacrifice of bone and muscle.

So, who’s right? The truth is, there really is a lot of waste and fat. But getting rid of it is really hard.

Come with me on a brief tour of our lovely city. It may not be so different from your lovely city. Up the street from us lives a little old lady who has chest pains every month or so. Someone calls 911, and a million-dollar fire truck screams up, manned by four beefy guys with axes. They hold her hand until the ambulance arrives. The firefighters and the EMS workers really ought to merge, but that’s impossible, because they hate each other. The politicians don’t want to touch the redundancy in the system, because somebody might die.

Although the number of fires in Toronto has gone way down, the number of firefighters has gone way up. In fact, just 7 per cent of fire department responses are to actual fires. Around half are to medical events that EMS workers can handle better. Firefighters do okay. They make around $79,000 a year, plus “recognition pay” just for staying on the job. They work four-day round-the-clock shifts, meaning they get lots of time off to build your deck.

Our police officers are often busy writing traffic tickets, although why someone else can’t do this I don’t know. You also see them at construction sites, because the city has a rule that any construction site within 30 metres of a traffic light must have a cop on duty to make sure nothing goes wrong. And, by gosh, it seldom does!

Cops also earn a lot of overtime at public events. In fact, it’s easy for them to parlay their incomes into six figures. Yet, they spend very little time arresting bad guys. Toronto is a low-crime city, and the average number of arrests per officer is seven or eight a year, according to John Sewell, a leftish former mayor. He argues that over-manning is rife. The reason you see so many cops hanging around Tim Hortons is they don’t have a lot to do. Yet, policing costs about 50 per cent more, proportionately, than it does in Ottawa.

Across town, a friend of mine runs a restaurant where the city’s parks and recreation workers like to hang out. They spend a lot of time having breakfast there – during work hours. And who can blame them? They don’t have any competition, so they’re in no rush. Meantime, back at City Hall, people are always coming up with more things the city absolutely has to do – from waging war on bedbugs to building bike lanes and running daycare centres (at far greater cost than the private sector does).

All this stuff is highly inefficient, but also hard to fix. Just try cutting cops or firefighters. These folks are popular! Besides, people don’t want their house to burn down or their grandma to get mugged. Here’s how Ed Kennedy, president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, responded to a request for cuts: “It’s going to be devastating. They’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”

No wonder it’s so hard to stop the gravy train, or even slow it down. You’ve got to battle intransigent unions, fear-mongering, featherbedding, mission creep, a culture of entitlement, sacred cows, turf wars, lack of accountability and competition, and the weight of history. In general – as cities, states and countries around the world are finding out – the only thing that really stops the gravy train is a train wreck.

The recession bites taxpayers, too

Vancouver must rein in its spending


Not all employers are cutting staff to cope with the recession. The City of Vancouver, for instance, has a host of positions it is looking to fill, such as an assistant director for the planning department — a job that pays up to $116,000 a year with all the benefits, days off and vacation entitlements one would expect in the public service.
There’s also a vacancy for a facilities planner, charged with the responsibility of ensuring the thousands of public servants working for the city have adequate accommodation and office furniture. Pay: $72,000.
There are many more job postings for everything from a systems applications and products analyst to general labourers. And where else could you apprentice as a blacksmith? The city already has more than 5,000 employees and a payroll in excess of $300 million, which puts the average wage at $60,000.
We don’t begrudge these civil servants their jobs, cost of living increases or health care coverage, but the city’s enormous payroll obligations are ultimately borne by taxpayers, some of whom have lost their own jobs.
If only for the sake of propriety, the city should consider a freeze on hiring and review its staffing requirements. But there are other compelling reasons for restraint.
Over the past decade, Vancouver’s operating spending has increased at more than twice the rate of inflation plus population growth. During the civic election campaign, Mayor Gregor Robertson agreed that inflation plus population growth was a reasonable benchmark for municipal spending increases.
Had the city kept its spending in check since 2000, it would have reduced the tax take by roughly $100 million, making a significant difference to business and residential taxpayers.
Achieving this target, which successive councils have failed to do, could be made even more difficult now that the city has assumed financing for the Olympic Athletes’ Village. Credit rating agencies that grade Vancouver’s $478 million in outstanding debentures, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and DBRS, have issued negative reports as a result of the city’s increased exposure to the real estate project — a sum that amounts to 1.5 times existing taxpayer-supported debt. None has yet issued a downgrade, but additional cost overruns or continued deterioration of the real estate market could lower Vancouver’s triple A rating and raise the cost of borrowing. So far, funding has come from the city’s property endowment fund rather than the operating budget, but such accounting manouevres won’t protect taxpayers indefinitely.
At the same time, the council has committed to rebalancing the property tax burden by shifting one per cent a year from businesses to residential ratepayers. Business pays five times the residential rate — one of the highest business-to-resident tax ratios in Canada — and small business, the economic core of any community, is hardest hit. Again, Robertson has agreed that the shift is necessary to maintain Vancouver’s commercial and industrial base.
Now, the city is proposing a tax hike of 6.29 per cent for all classes of property, and homeowners face a bigger bite — 8.29 per cent — than other property owners. Given the rate of inflation and population growth, these proposed rate increases are too high.
At a meeting with The Vancouver Sun’s editorial board last fall, Robertson said he believed in the dictum that you can always find five per cent fat. This would be an ideal time to work through the city’s capital and operating budgets line by line to find that fat and excise it.
In fact, a thorough cost-savings exercise is long overdue. Spending priorities should be established through a zero-based budgeting process, in which every existing item on the books must be justified.
Otherwise, any tax increase will be seen for what it is: A money grab by a recklessly wasteful administration that is insensitive to the hardship facing those who pay the bills.
Times are tough and we all have to make do with less. The City of Vancouver should not be exempt.
Trevor Lautens, Special To North Shore News
Published: Friday, June 13, 2008
In the last few years West Van’s eye has been blackened by some well-publicized cock-ups, such as the insanely costly vaudeville of the police chieftancy and the stupidity of last summer’s dog bylaw fiasco – to say nothing of pulling the plug on Vera’s hamburger stand.
But I suspect many West Vancouverites pay little attention to such marginalia. Indeed, one of the painful discoveries of life is that notwithstanding the universality of our democracy and of public education and literacy, the percentage of the electorate actively concerned with political life is probably hardly greater than it was in the 18th century, when the monarchy and aristocracy airily ran the show.
What does tend to hit the citizenry between the eyes is the likes of a Canadian Federation of Independent Business study showing that between 2000 and 2006, British Columbia’s biggest municipal over-spender – the most bloated porker among 65 community pigs – was (the envelope, please) West Vancouver.
The calculation was based on combined population and inflation growth, 15.8 per cent in West Van’s case, and town hall spending growth, a rich 62.1 per cent. That put in the shade third-highest spender North Van District (at 15.2 per cent and 43.1 per cent respectively) and seventh-highest North Van City (21.8 per cent and 50.7 per cent).
Port Moody, an unlikely suspect for second place, was fully 22 percentage points behind West Vancouver in spending growth, more than a third less. As horse races go, that might translate as 15 lengths behind the “winner.”
West Van’s Interested Taxpayers Action Committee (ITAC) could deservedly crow: “Told you so.” ITAC has relentlessly exposed the reality behind town hall’s slick Dorian Gray portrait. As in Oscar Wilde’s great story, ITAC’s knife, plunged into the handsome picture, has revealed the ugly truth: A smug, insensitive bureaucracy whose $100,000-a-year-and-up madarinate is metastasizing, uncontrolled by timid or toothless – or complicit? – politicians.
Mayor Goldsmith-Jones protests that the 2000-06 period includes a time of “ambitious” recreational expansion. True, though the appropriate adjective is not ambitious but outrageous.
The Gleneagles centre was unnecessary, ill-planned behind the architecturally hailed façade, and is grossly underused. The 22nd Street community centre is eons beyond the original cost estimate and scandalously slow, completion (this spring, the website still states) now predicted for fall – coincidentally in time for November’s elections and a smashing ribbon-cutting by you-know-who?


Municipalities must admit, and subdue, their irresponsible spending
Vancouver Sun
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Connect the dots between these news stories: Nearly a third of British Columbians spend more than 30 per cent of their income to carry the cost of owning a home.
Vancouver property taxes jump an average of 14.2 per cent.
Municipal spending in British Columbia is increasing at double the rate of inflation and population growth.
The picture that emerges when the dots are all joined is a portrait of a beaten-down homeowner nickel-and-dimed into the poorhouse. Increasingly indebted mortgage-holders are having their pockets picked by local governments, which then spend the tax dollars without much accountability or regard for their citizens’ financial straits.
Indeed, when confronted with evidence of their excessive spending, mayors insisted to the media that they were fiscally responsible, that they were investing in infrastructure, that they were responding to community needs, or that energy costs were to blame.
They slammed a report that exposed and meticulously analysed their spending patterns between 2000 and 2006 as “slanted,” “biased” and “out of touch with reality.”
But, as that study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business deftly demonstrates, it is local politicians and their officials who are out of touch, spending at a rate far greater than any increase in citizens’ ability to pay.
Total operating spending by B.C. municipalities soared by 36 per cent over the period covered by the study, while the combination of inflation and population growth increased by 20 per cent.
The result was over-spending of more than $500 million-money that should have been left in taxpayers’ pockets.
Of the 28 municipalities with a population over 25,000, not a single one held spending to the rate of inflation and population growth.
Municipalities are always whining about their finances, but the amount they collected in property taxes grew by 33 per cent between 2000 and 2006, revenue from the sale of services (such as water, sewage, recreation and transportation) increased by 83 per cent and contributions from senior levels of government more than doubled.
Municipal leaders appear unwilling to address-or even acknowledge-their irresponsible spending. Voters should make this a priority issue when civic elections roll around in November.
While federal and provincial governments are hardly models of restraint when it comes to spending, at least their fiscal follies face scrutiny by auditors who report their findings to the public.
There is no watchdog over local government spending. There should be. All municipal spending should be subject to a cost-benefit audit so taxpayers can be assured they are receiving value for their money.
Moreover, spending increases should be limited to the rate of inflation and population growth.
Otherwise, we’ll all be taxed out of our mortgaged houses and homes.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
Canadian Federation of Independant Business Report:
British Columbia Municipal Spending
Matthew Armstrong, Economist, Western Canada
Laura Jones, Vice-President, Western Canada
With few exceptions, operating spending at the local level in BC has grown at rates that greatly exceed population and inflation growth since 2000. These spending increases have been financed through substantial growth in property taxes, user fees, and transfers from senior levels of government.
The first comprehensive review of British Columbia’s municipal finances reveals that growth in government operating spending has consistently exceeded population and inflation growth in most municipalities across the province in recent years. In fact, just 3.8 per cent of BC residents live in a municipality that was able to keep spending growth below population and inflation growth between 2000 and 2006. Further, there is a wide difference in the level of operating spending per capita, even in municipalities with roughly the same population.
To view the report, visit:
WV tops list of BC Spenders
Business organization puts District of North Van in Second
Raphael Lopoukhine
Special To North Shore News
Friday, June 06, 2008
The North Shore municipalities ranked in the top six for fiscal irresponsibility, according to a small business industry association, but a public policy professor said their benchmark is “not reasonable.”
The District of West Vancouver ranked number one for having the largest “Fiscal Responsibility Gap”, the District of North Vancouver ranked second, and the city ranked sixth out of 28 British Columbian municipalities with populations over 25,000.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) compared expected cost increases associated with population growth and inflation to government spending increases between the years 2000 and 2006. It found that 96.2 per cent of all British Columbia residents were living in a municipality whose
spending had increased faster than the rate of inflation and population growth. On average, municipal spending was rising 1.8 times faster than population and inflation growth would justify, according to CFIB. West Vancouver’s spending was 3.94 times, the District of North Vancouver was 2.83 times and the city was 2.33 times above CFIB’s benchmark.
“When is it going to stop?” said Laura Jones, Vice President of the Western Canada division of CFIB. “If it is okay for municipalities to spend almost double what population and inflation growth would suggest is reasonable over the past six years, what are we going to see in the next six years?”
But the CFIB’s tactic of benchmarking population growth and inflation to spending is “not very reasonable for answering the kind of question they are posing,” said Jon Kesselman, a tax specialist and professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University.
Kesselman said real incomes from wage growth and career advancement have grown faster than the rate of inflation. Therefore people have more income to spend on things like household repairs, education and travel, but as well more money to spend on community services like policing, street repair, and community centres. “So the benchmark doesn’t allow for that,” he said.
Connecting the Consumer Price Index to the cost of running a municipality is also unreasonable, said Kesselman. The CPI is determined in large part by the cost of manufactured goods, many of which are manufactured in Asia. The low cost of labour there has kept down the price of those goods, and in some
cases even pushed them down. But because running a municipality is so labour intensive, it benefits lttle from that trend, so its costs should be expected to rise faster than the CPI, he said.
“When you look at the general consumer price index, it is a mix of the cost of those tangible goods and then a wide range of services – your barber, your accountant, your gardener – where the prices of those services are rising more rapidly than those goods,” said Kesselman.
“Similarly the cost
to supply local services like maintaining and staffing your community centre, which is up to municipal spending, is going to rise faster.”
A more useful alternative to CFIB’s analysis would be a comparison between services provided by municipalities, said Kesselman. But that would be more complicated and time consuming.
Jones said she respects Kesselman’s work, welcomes a debate about municipal spending and encourages others to advance the debate further with their own investigations.
The report also placed the District of West Vancouver at the top of the list for per capita spending for municipalities over 25,000 people. They spent $1,853 a head, while The City of North Vancouver was eighth with $1,218 per capita and the district ranked 12th, spending $1,122 per capita.
Regardless of CFIB’s ranking, West Vancouver’s municipal spending tops the list for comparable municipalities. The report cited a recent Vancouver Sun article by Don Cayo picking up on a charge of reckless spending on catering by ITAC, a West Vancouver Citizens taxpayer watchdog group. West Vancouver’s Interested Taxpayer Action Committee said spending $33,000 on catering is indicative of West Vancouver’s over spending ways.
CFIB’s inclusion of the catering costs is indicative of the limited scope of the report, said West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones. ITAC, the Vancouver Sun, and CFIB never bothered to check the other side of the balance sheet. $8,300 of the $33,000 was spent on lunches for birthday parties, which in turn brings in revenue in the form of fees to hold the parties. It is similar to citing the $10.4 million spent on West Vancouver’s transit network, which is in fact repaid by Translink, she said. But that consideration is not evident in CFIB’s review.
The rise in spending these last six years is reflective of a period of increased spending on such things as replacing West Vancouver’s recreational facilities, but this is not reflective of the council’s long term vision, said the mayor. For instance, the West Vancouver Police with be creating a foundation to help raise funds because they “know they can’t keep coming back to the taxpayer year after year,” said the mayor.
© North Shore News 2008
Study bashes reckless city spending
Budgets are growing faster than population
Bruce Constantineau
Vancouver Sun
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Goldsmith-Jones said West Vancouver also began a new program to provide its own water supply and mandated water meters to promote conservation, measures which also raised costs.
“We added recreation services that were long overdue and set out to be in charge of our water supply and there is a Goldsmith-Jones said she agrees with the need to contain municipal operating costs, noting West Vancouver has a fiscal sustainability task force and a finance committee with five citizens as members.
“We agree you can’t just assume that people can continue to pay,” she said.
Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini said running a city is similar to running a public business, with residents as shareholders and council being accountable for the bottom line.
He noted city staff originally asked for a tax increase of 8.5 per cent this year, but cuts were made to reduce the increase to 3.5 per cent.
“The first year I came into office there were 20 city departments,” Trasolini said. “We eliminated four departments and turned them into two, which cut more than half a million dollars from operating costs.”
The CRIB study recommends a complete review of current municipal spending and passing laws to limit spending and taxation to population and inflation growth.
Goldsmith-Jones said if municipal governments had controlled spending during the study period, B.C. property taxes would be about 17 per cent lower than now.
She agrees there may be extraordinary circumstances requiring local governments to spend more money on pressing issues, but excessive spending patterns can’t be maintained. “If you spend more than inflation and population growth over time, where are we going with this? When is it going to stop?”
Population in 2006: 44,272
Growth in operational spending 2000-2006: 62.1%
Growth in population and inflation 2000-2006: 15.8%
30,120 population in 2006
44.2% Growth in operational spending 2000-2006
39.5% Growth in population and inflation 2000-2006

Other large municipalities, as ranked worst to best Spending Pop., infl. growth growth
North Van District 43.1% 15.2%
Prince George 33.8% 13.0%
Port Coquitlam 50.0% 19.7%
Vernon 46.9% 19.4%
North Van City 50.7% 21.8%
Victoria 35.0% 15.9%
Chilliwack 56.1% 25.6%
Penticton 44.0% 20.7%
Vancouver 35.8% 17.4%
Richmond 36.7% 18.1%
Coquitlam 31.8% 16.4%
Saanich 31.4% 16.3%
Surrey 52.3% 28.0%
Kelowna 50.9% 27.8%
Langley District 41.6% 24.4%
Burnaby 27.4% 16.4%
Campbell River 31.4% 18.9%
Kamloops 29.2% 17.6%
Maple Ridge 53.6% 32.9%
New Westminster 21.4% 13.5%
Langely City 29.6% 18.8%
North Cowichan 31.0% 20.7%
Abbotsford 33.9% 22.7%
Delta 21.4% 14.6%
Mission 28.6% 22.4%
Nanaimo 25.3% 20.8%
Source: Canadian Federation of Independent Business
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
The Canary in the Coal Mine?
Vallejo has been unable to balance the books since downturn in real estate market
A Californian town in the oncebooming Bay Area became the latest victim of America’s property crash on the weekend when its elected leaders declared bankruptcy.
The fate of Vallejo – official motto: “City of Opportunity” – has sent shockwaves across the country as scores of other local authorities also struggle to balance the books in the face of slumping incomes.
Councillors took the drastic step because falling property tax revenues mean they can no longer pay the generous salaries negotiated for firefighters and police officers during the flush years.
Fearful of contagion, municipal officials across the U.S. are looking with nervousness at the precedent-setting experience of Vallejo, a city of about 120,000 people 30 miles north of San Francisco in a region that was once synonymous with economic prosperity.
The childhood home of Perry Mason and Ironside actor Raymond Burr has crippling debts of $16 million and no cash in the bank.
It had already cut funding for old people’s homes, libraries, museums and street repairs in an effort to cover its payroll, and its hard-pressed citizens now face reduced police and f ire response teams as officials try to renegotiate their debts.
“Everything is going to feel the impact,” said councillor Joanne Schivley. “We’re way past cutting the fat. We’re cutting the bone now.”
Residents even sought divine intervention, holding a prayer service before a recent crisis council meeting, but to no avail.
During the 1850s, Vallejo was briefly the capital of California, and it became a thriving naval town. Its naval shipyard closed in 1995 but house prices soared as the San Francisco area boomed.
Vallejo’s municipal leaders signed off on exorbitant wage deals for emergency services workers, whose salaries and benefits account for 80 per cent of the annual $89 million budget. The police captain earns more than $290,000 and a sergeant takes home pounds $235,000. The average firefighter earns more than $168,000 and 10 senior officers were paid more than $195,000 each.
But a crippling 26 per cent was wiped off the value of house prices in Vallejo over the 12 months to March, sharply reducing takings from property taxes. Some residents have had their homes repossessed, while others are withholding tax payments as they demand that their homes’ taxable values should be cut to reflect the downturn.
“I had hoped that even at the 11th hour and 59th minute we could come up with an alternative,” said Mayor Osby Davis. The filing on Friday, seeking so-called Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, buys Vallejo some time to try to re-negotiate its debt payments.
“Chapter 9 bankruptcy is very uncommon,” said Lisa Fenning, a former bankruptcy judge in Los Angeles.
“Many municipalities are facing heavy salary and pension commitments which they might not have revenues to support. This could be precedent-setting.”
Muffins a metaphor for investment return
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Dear Editor:
As the North Shore News has profiled West Vancouver’s Interested Taxpayers Action Committee in various articles, a response from me seems in order.
Passionate and highly skilled volunteers are, and always have been, an important part of our community. That ITAC is zeroing in on the municipal budget is welcome. In some ways, ITAC has pointed out the obvious-that West Vancouver has no industrial tax base, and very little business sector-and therefore the homeowner bears 92 per cent of the burden for the provision of revenue to run the municipality. This should be a wake up call to all municipalities, as long-term regional infrastructure projects threaten our limited ability to pay based on taxation of an asset.
ITAC also focuses on salaries, but presents a misleading picture in that it reports an annual salary along with benefits-a true picture of the cost to the taxpayer, but an inflated amount in terms of what public expectation would be for a reasonable salary. Our services are consistently rated very highly by the public. To ITAC’s credit, they have raised the very real need to demonstrate to the public that these salaries are justified. The taxpayer invests in our staff, and our staff produce results. It is up to council to ensure that this is reported properly.
ITAC has recently focused on $33,000 spent on sandwiches for staff and volunteers in 2007, which is cast by ITAC as a metaphor for unwise spending of tax dollars. A basic analysis of this shows:
– $8,300 for children’s lunches at catered recreation centre birthday parties. While we spend this on providing lunches at birthday parties, we charge much more than that to parents wishing to host a party at the community centre. Birthday parties are a major revenue stream, and serve to subsidize other programs. Line items in budgets need to be compared to the revenue side of the ledger in some cases.
– $7,200 for lunch during live-fire training for fire department. This training exercise saved about $300,000 in Justice Institute training costs and allowed a film crew to produce a fire safety video.
– $9,600 for Monday night council meetings (seven members of council, eight to 10 staff). A simple dinner provided primarily so staff can work a 12- or 14-hour day straight through, and so that members of council can begin work at 5 p.m.
– $2,200 working group sandwiches to accommodate our volunteers who are meeting either early in the morning or over the dinner hour. An example of the return on this investment would be the $220,000 granted by the provincial government in May, for childcare in West Vancouver, as a result of the Child Care Services working group.
– $4,500 for various meetings or events such as library board meetings (5-10 p.m. once a month), police chief swearing in (morning coffee and cookies), food for emergency response volunteers. One can imagine the importance of our volunteers for those in need of safety, security, and compassion when residents can’t go home.
– $1,900 for staff training and meetings when our staff work through lunch.
– Total: $33,700.
This budget amount should be a metaphor for significant return on investment-for everyone from our staff, to our elected officials, to our volunteers, and to the citizens we serve who are participating in programs, volunteering, or being protected by public safety professionals.
It should also demonstrate that without understanding the value of an investment, dollars themselves don’t necessarily tell us very much about what’s going on.
We value our volunteers and community activists tremendously. Michael Lewis, for example, is a member of ITAC, and also a member of council’s finance committee, along with four other qualified, independent, community-minded citizens. Our public processes seek to include all points of view, and strive to foster constructive participation that the community and council can benefit by. Bring on the scrutiny, and help us to do an even better job of providing value for tax dollars.
Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, mayor
District of West Vancouver
© North Shore News 2008
Trevor Lautens
Special To North Shore News
Friday, May 16, 2008
West Van’s Interested Taxpayers Action Committee (ITAC) just can’t stay out of the news. When the downtown press takes notice, sit up.
Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo recently used a good deal of ink describing ITAC’s pursuit of fiscal prudence at West Vancouver town hall, where, ITAC luminary David Marley has calculated, “between 2000 and 2005, the number of (municipal) employees earning more than $75,000 rose from 41 to 139, or by an incomprehensible 339 per cent.”
Power of the press: ITAC’s Plucked Goose blog-site, Marley noted, “had its biggest day ever, 686 visits, on the Saturday following publication of Cayo’s column. We’re now at 7,353 visits since inception some 50 days or so ago.”
If mayor and councillors aren’t getting the message, they must be musing about retiring undefeated in November-or hoping that no credible challengers will step up to the electoral plate. One name mentioned is ITAC member Michael Lewis.
© North Shore News 2008
Citizen watchdog groups keep tabs on City Hall
oversight In the absence of any formal process, community activists are leading the way
Don Cayo
Vancouver Sun
Friday, May 09, 2008
Municipal politicians often boast that theirs is the most accountable kind of government.
And no doubt there are special opportunities for give-and-take with voters in small towns where you’re apt to run into the mayor or a councillor having coffee, at the bank, or picking up a video.
But formal oversight to keep governments honest and the politicians and bureaucrats on their toes? The case can be made that municipal governments are the least accountable of the lot.
When did you last see a sweeping assessment of spending in your municipality along the lines of the report that federal Auditor-General Sheila Fraser released earlier this week in Ottawa? Or the tightly focused special report from John Doyle and his staff on aboriginal child care in B.C.? Probably never.
That is, unless you live someplace like Vancouver, West Vancouver or a handful of other cities where sophisticated citizens’ groups have sprung up to fill the void.
The Vancouver Fair Tax Coalition is drawn from the business community, and it takes a highly disciplined, research-based approach. They don’t speak out all that often, but when they do, it’s with the authority born of knowing at least as much, quite possibly more, about their subject than the people in City Hall.
Similarly, in West Vancouver, the credentials of the volunteers who serve on the Interested Taxpayers Action Committee-most of whom are retired, with time on their hands (see list on this page) – is enough to chill the blood of a spend-thrift politician.
But this group differs from its Vancouver counterparts in two ways: First, they are homeowners, not business people. And their style tends to be populist.
They, too, do real research, but they usually dispense it in bite-sized pieces. Lawyer David Marley, especially, speaks out often through a stream of e-mails and a new blog. And, although his subject is serious, his tone is more apt to be saucy than sombre.
But such activist groups share similar roots-deep frustration at their community’s governance process. No auditor-general-like watchdog has a mandate to ferret out and expose municipal spending foibles and follies. Those in charge have little reason to fear being publicly fingered by anyone more credible than the coffee-shop grumps for bad planning, bad management, or stupid spending priorities. It’s too easy to hide behind the excuse, “It’s the way we did it last year.”
The people who run our cities, towns and districts are never, ever required to spell out and defend the connection between money spent and the value provided.
So here’s a look at these two groups, plus some thoughts on a possible way forward for other communities where frustrations aren’t bad enough-yet-to spawn their own watchdogs:
There’s something about muffins and volunteers.
But if you’re envisioning guys in shirtsleeves munching away as they strategize at the kitchen table, you haven’t got a handle on West Van’s Interested Taxpayers Action Committee. These guys don’t eat muffins, they count ‘em.
And they choke on them when the tab for muffins and other snack-time items reaches $33,705 worth from a single supplier in 2007 alone. That’s up from $32,287 worth the year before, all bought at public expense for District of West Vancouver staff.
David Marley, a lawyer and frequent ITAC spokesman, has made these muffins an iconic issue for the group’s crusade to rein in municipal spending.
Like Alberta in its ultra fat-cat heyday, West Van has lots of spending to rein in. Its per-capita expenditures are the region’s highest by far – $1,901 in 2006, compared with $1,433 in Vancouver and just $703 in Surrey.
With its puny business sector and no industrial base to do the heavy lifting on the tax load, the owners of West Van’s pricey homes are left with huge tax bills.
And just because the homes are worth an average of $1.4 million, Marley points out, it doesn’t mean all the occupants are rich. A lot of genteel poverty is disguised by nice facades, nice lots, and some extremely high-income earners who drive up the average income figures. But he has parsed the most recent Census figures and found, for example, that half the community’s seniors-nearly 800 households-live on less than the stipend paid to councillors.
His poverty comments don’t extend, however, to district employees-a favourite target. Their wages and benefits account for 80 per cent of district spending, says group member Garrett Polman, and the cost of a growing cadre of bureaucratic heavy hitters is soaring.
The number of employees who earn $75,000-plus a year has gone from 40 in 2000 to 134 in 2007 – even though police used to be on that list and now they aren’t counted. And individual managers have in the last five years enjoyed raises ranging from 25.54 per cent to 67.07 per cent, with the average being 38.89 per cent.
“Like the debt in the ‘80s,” Polman said, “the cost of these salaries takes away the flexibility of the politicians. It’s why we’re seeing a 3.5-per-cent tax increase, plus huge increases in fees.”
In comparison with North Vancouver-a community sprawled over similar geography-police costs are 37-per-cent higher despite only a slightly higher crime rate, and fire protection costs are 36 per cent higher, he said.
Marley said this is the third budget cycle his group has scrutinized, and it has no plans to let up. It has two other goals, as well:
“We’re hoping to encourage copycat groups in other places.
“And we want to make this issue [curbing of spending] the key issue in this year’s election.”
When I was researching some Vancouver property tax issues 15 months ago, I was astonished to learn that when a new condo tower is built, the net loss to the civic treasury often adds up to $1,000-$1,500 per year per unit.
Judging from my e-mail, a lot of readers were just as astonished.
Plus-and this isn’t astonishing, it’s astounding-the counter-intuitive math I presented in The Vancouver Sun seems to have been news to City Hall, as well. All those years of growth, all those condos, and nobody ever figured out that-from a revenue perspective-the costs of the city’s showcase development have substantially outweighed the benefits.
Nobody, that is, until Paul Sullivan, Norm Stickelmann and Rob Fitzgerald came along. They’re all heavily into real estate and property tax issues in their day jobs-Stickelmann with Terasen Gas, Fitzgerald with the Vancouver Port, and Sullivan with his own company, Burgess Cawley Sullivan and Associates. And they form the three-man technical committee for the Vancouver Fair Tax Coalition, a broad-based group of neighbourhood Business Improvement Associations.
It was their math, not mine, at the root of that eye-popping expose I wrote last year. And it illustrates one of the two key themes that, the group believes, are slowly, slowly starting to sink in at City Hall.
The first is what they call “tax topography”-the art and science of figuring out, before any dirt is moved or concrete poured, what the tax implications of any given development might be.
This isn’t always obvious. If a $40-million condo tower replaces a ho-hum business block worth, say, $100,000, it seems a no-brainer that city coffers will gain. Except that the tax rate on the old business building, plus the valuable land it sits on, was at a rate six times higher than what the condo-owners pay. And consider that the little businesses in the old building consumed few city services, while the condo-owners will use a lot. Ergo, the city’s revenue drops, its costs soar, and tax bills for the rest of us inch up to cover the shortfall. This happens over and over and over.
The coalition’s other big issue is that the business tax rate is six times higher than the residential rate. This is way out of line with the rate differential-usually two to three times-in most other municipalities. And, judging from the rate of business failures and vacancies in high-priced neighbourhoods like Yaletown, it’s way beyond the ability of most businesses to pay.
City budgeting generally follows a simple schedule. First, council figures out what it wants to do in the coming year and what it will cost. Then the provincial assessors tell them how the tax base has changed thanks to the addition of some new buildings and the re-evaluation of old ones. Then City Hall calculates what tax rate is needed in each category-residential, business, industrial, etc.-to raise that much money.
No one ever connects the dots in advance-to say what effect any particular decision will have on revenues, costs and tax rates. So inevitably there’s an additional step in the budget process where everybody slaps their forehead and says, “Ouch!”
No one feels the pain more acutely than the business community in Vancouver. That’s because the residential/business tax rate is split according to a fixed, inflexible and badly out-of-date formula-currently 53 per cent for business and 47 for residents. True, this formula has been adjusted a bit over time. But the total value of residences has soared far faster than the total value of business properties, and the burden on individual businesses has thus ratcheted up, up, up.
Today, the coalition calculates, residences make up more than 83 per cent of the value of property in Vancouver, yet residents pay just 47 per cent of the tax bill.
Besides better planning-knowing and weighing all costs and benefits in advance-the coalition wants to see a far more fair split of business and residential taxes. And it is making real gains.
The city bureaucracy, Sullivan says, was initially indifferent and/or hostile to the technical committee’s tax topography approach. But now it is actively working with them.
And council decided this spring not only to lower the business share of the tax bill from 55 to 53 per cent, but also to continue lowering it one percentage point a year until it reaches 48.
That is still, of course, an arbitrary number. Depending how quickly Vancouver continues to develop and how its balance of business and residential properties unfolds, it’s almost certain to be out of date-unfair to one group or the other-by the time the transition is complete.
The coalition is pleased with the change as far as it goes, but continues to press for tax rates-in Vancouver, and in other communities where the property mix may be very different-to be based on consumption. It proposes that arms-length consumption studies be done every two years to set the ratio, recognizing that the business rate will still, without doubt, be substantially higher than residents pay.
And it’s proposing that the province step in to require all municipalities to start taking the kind of measurement, planning and public reporting steps that Vancouver is, at long last, beginning to embrace.
This, in my view, would go a long way to lessen the need for volunteer watchdog groups. It would mean that political decisions would be made by council members with their eyes wide open in regard to the mix of costs and benefits their communities could expect.
As long as this information is public and the process transparent, it would go a long way to assist voters in giving the credit-or laying the blame-where it belongs.
Visit Don Cayo’s blog at
The West Vancouver Interested Taxpayers Committee brings a lot of high-level skills to the table. Its members include:
– Norman Alban, retired partner in a major accounting/consulting firm and former school board chair.
– Mark Angus, businessman and former mayor of Whistler.
– Alex Baker, vice-president of marketing and sales for a wholesale distribution company.
– Paul Browne, realtor.
– Scott Hean, corporate CFO and former bank executive.
– Steven Kaufmann, CEO of a wood products company.
– Michael Lewis, management consultant and former phone company executive.
– David Marley, public affairs counsel and former trial lawyer.
– Alec Orr-Ewing, forest industry consultant.
– Garrett Polman, retired comptroller for JP Morgan-Chase and former Treasury Board analyst.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
Trevor Lautens
Special To North Shore News
Speaking of turf-protecting, West Vancouver’s municipal movers and shakers are experts.
Notwithstanding a pretty candid backgrounder on municipal taxes by Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones, on Monday council hurriedly passed the budget, even though Coun. Vivian Vaughan was away in Europe and would have returned for the next meeting, and the legal deadline for submission to Victoria is May 15.
That would have given ample time for scrutiny and changes. But town hall clearly wants the public’s annoying challenges out of the way and the tax challengers silenced. Plain, let-them-eat-cake arrogance.
Disgustingly, requests for the municipal remuneration list were stonewalled too. Finance director Richard Laing said it would be released in “two weeks.” That was four weeks ago.
Now, the budget passed, it can’t be scrutinized before passage. How convenient. Laing’s explanation of the delay was just impenetrable bureaucratic flummery. It’s of a piece with the wall thrown up to keep council correspondence shielded from inquisitive eyes.
The finance committee was offered two super-experienced members by the Interested Taxpayers Action Committee (ITAC). No way. Coun. Michael Smith, its chairman, explained that he didn’t choose its membership.
George Pajari, a long-time watcher of West Vancouver public matters, had the toughest words for council: “If the stuff we can see is so misleading, what confidence can we have in the 90 per cent of the budget iceberg not revealed to us mere taxpayers?”
And the top bureaucrats, be sure, don’t give the tiniest damn. They are bullet-proof. The elected council is helpless to control them.
Speaking of the West Vancouver budget, which I’ve avoided as much as indecently possible, the most relentless watchbitch (isn’t that the canine female equivalent of watchdog?) and critic of the process over decades is perennial West Van council attendee and former alderman, as councillors were called in those wickedly sexist days, Carolanne Reynolds.
In comparison, David Marley’s ITAC, a worthy and finance-savvy group whose core members have put up their own money to advertise their criticisms of West Vancouver’s bloated budget and the ducking-and-dodging top bureaucrats, are Johnny-come-latelys.
(Having introduced the sensitive gender issue, I’m obliged to note that ITAC’s core group includes no Janey-come-latelys.)
Reynolds may again run for council in November. Or not. She hasn’t decided. If she ran successfully, West Van would gain its most encyclopedically knowledgeable source of council history and procedures. It would also lose a valuable critic and chronicler.
It would be like watching your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your new car. Now there is a classic sexist “joke” of 60 years ago and a nasty stereotype of mothers-in-law, and I’d be ashamed of recalling it if it weren’t such a revealing example of social history, showing that you’ve come a long way, baby. Or so they say.
© North Shore News 2008
West Van budget to get final reading
Munisha Tumato
North Shore News
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
West Vancouver’s proposed 2008 budget narrowly made it through a second and third reading on Monday night, amidst heated debate between councillors, staff and residents.
The budget, which passed by a 4-2 vote, has come under intense public scrutiny. Several councillors commented that they had never seen such interest in a budget in previous years on council.
Much of the clamour around the budget has been raised by the Interested Taxpayers Action Committee, who are concerned with about they believe is excessive spending on the part of the district.
The operating budget proposes a 6.9 per cent increase in overall spending from last year, with costs going up as much as 10 per cent in certain departments, and a 3.5 per cent increase in property tax. Increases of 9.7 per cent in charges and fees and 13.4 per cent in licences and permits are also proposed.
Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones insisted that the community’s decisions to limit industry and density were the main reasons why residential property taxes are higher than every other Metro Vancouver municipality, and pointed out that the average tax increase in the past three years has been the second lowest in the region.
Many of the residents who spoke felt that tax dollars could be used more efficiently by the district, while staff reports have insisted that a reduction in spending would only affect service levels.
“There’s no point in railing against a 3.5 per cent increase (in taxes) unless you can say what you want to cut out,” Coun. Michael Smith said to councillors who spoke against the increase.
Coun. Bill Soprovich expressed frustration over the district’s consistent tax increases, insisting that the district needed to look at a new way of budgeting, echoing the concerns of ITAC members.
Staff salaries, which account for 80 per cent of the proposed budget, were also a point of contention for residents and certain councillors, who felt they should have access to staff salary numbers for 2008 before deciding on the budget. West Vancouver’s senior staff gets an average raise of 3 per cent a year, and directors’ salaries in West Vancouver are currently lower than both the city and the district of North Vancouver.
ITAC has insisted on having two members with finance experience and credentials review the budget in the five weeks remaining before the May 15 deadline for submitting budget bylaws.
Coun. John Smith, who voted against adopting the budget along with Soprovich, suggested appointing the two extra members to the finance committee, and deferring the vote by three weeks to give them time to review the budget. With the deferral motion on the floor, talks intensified, with Michael Smith calling the suggested deferral an absurd “stalling tactic” for the purpose of political posturing.
The motion to defer the budget readings failed by a vote of three to two, and the proposed budget passed by an equally narrow vote.
The mayor said that discussion would be permitted at the final reading of the budget, which will likely take place at next week’s council meeting.
Coun. Vivian Vaughan was absent at the budget talks.
© North Shore News 2008
Finances to be election issue
Taxpayer group wants to see more cost cutting
Kent Spencer
The Province
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Disgruntled West Vancouver taxpayers say they’re paying through the nose because the city can’t manage its money.
“Instead of cutting costs, the city just looks for more revenue to feed the meter,” David Marley, spokesman for a newly formed group called Interested Taxpayers Action Committee, said yesterday.
The group says it wants to make city finances an election issue during the 2008 civic campaign. Voting is on Nov. 15.
Marley said West Vancouver’s operating budget, on a per-capita basis, is 36 per cent higher than Vancouver’s and 64 per cent more than North Vancouver District’s.
The data was compiled from B.C.’s Ministry of Community Services and Stats Canada.
Marley suspects a bloated, overpaid bureaucracy is to blame. “Eleven senior managers received an average seven-per-cent raise or more per year from 2002 to 2006. That’s 29 per cent over four years,” said Marley, a lawyer who works in public affairs.
He pays about $3,500 in property taxes per year on a 2,400-square-foot property. His taxes have gone up 50 per cent in the past five years.
He said operating expenses this year are going up 10 per cent in engineering and transportation, 9.4 per cent in administration and 9.6 per cent in policing.
“Lots of things are nice in West Vancouver, but so what? Why does it cost so much to run the district? This is not about reducing services. We think things can be run more efficiently.”
West Vancouver is planning a 3.5-per-cent tax increase this year. Council will debate second reading of the budget on Monday night.
Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones said the numbers are high because West Vancouver has its own bus service and police force.
“We need to compare apples to apples,” she said. “We still have a no-call-too-small police department. If your home is broken into, police will be there right away. Our library is one of the best funded in the province.
“The services represent strong community values. People in West Van expect good service.
“The community does not have a tax base from heavy industry. Commercial activity is moderate.
“ITAC represents an important view in the community. But it’s not the only view.”
© The Vancouver Province 2008
Ability of WV’s finance committee questioned
North Shore News
Friday, March 28, 2008
Dear Editor:
I write in response to your March 23 story West Vancouver’s Citizen Finance Committee Won’t Screen Municipality’s 2008 Budget concerning the District of West Vancouver’s finance committee.
The district’s director of finance is quoted as saying that council’s recently appointed finance committee will not be able to provide commentary on the operating budget proposed for 2008 because they “didn’t feel prepared” to do so. This is nonsense. The district’s tax bylaws are not required to be filed before May 15. The committee currently comprises two councillors and two residents who have served since last June. They should require little or no time to get up to speed. The newbies have had plenty of time to do so.
Which begs the question: Why are people appointed to such a committee if they lack the education and experience to “hit the ground running”? West Vancouver is full of able and skilled, retired and semi-retired business and professional people who would be able and willing to serve effectively and immediately on the district’s finance committee. Indeed, on Feb. 11, the Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee offered council the volunteer services of two highly qualified West Vancouver residents for service on its finance committee. For reasons undisclosed, neither individual was asked to serve.
The district is proposing a 6.9-per-cent increase in its operating budget, which involves a 3.5-per-cent tax rate hike and double digit increases in various fees, licences and permits. This at a time when the Metro Vancouver inflation rate is less than two per cent and the district’s population growth has been essentially stagnant for the past five years or more. This is unacceptable.
Council next considers the district’s operating budget at its Monday, April 7 meeting. I urge West Vancouver residents to contact the mayor and councillors beforehand and let them know you oppose such an inordinate increase in spending and taxation.
David O. Marley
West Vancouver
© North Shore News 2008
Trevor Lautens
Friday, March 28, 2008.
North Shore News
Will District of West Vancouver voters get steamed up enough over the proposed 3.5-per-cent tax increase to get on their hind legs and storm town hall?
OK, no tumbrels, no guillotines, no tar, no feathers. West Van’s Interested Taxpayers Action Committee (ITAC) no doubt would be gratified if an overwhelming number of citizens just visibly joined its crusade to pressure town hall into putting its budget on a strict diet and its fiscal house in order.
ITAC’s most prominent front-man, David Marley, is speaking tactfully but supportively to one valuable prospective ally: Coun. Vivian Vaughan, who recently announced her candidacy for mayor. One-term incumbent Pam Goldsmith-Jones said months ago she would declare her intentions in June.
In a carefully phrased message to Coun. Vaughan after her declaration, Marley wrote: “During your term to date on council, you have often stated your concern over the district’s financial administration, along with its capital and operations budget. You have acknowledged the fiduciary obligation of council to protect the public purse. I look forward to hearing your proposals for making improvements to the current unacceptable approach to these matters. . . . It speaks well of you to ‘step up to the plate.'”
It’s not inconceivable that ITAC could be the queenmaker in November’s elections. Not that ITAC appears to be partisan. (In conversation over an ale Marley praised Goldsmith-Jones’s intentions, implying they’ve been thwarted.) I suspect it would back Minnie Mouse if she met its standards of fiscal responsibility.
ITAC is urging the electorate to “vote for candidates who will commit to restoring fiscal discipline” to town hall. More immediately, it urges residents to e-mail mayor and councillors and “insist” that they not pass the proposed 2008 budget, which would raise taxes 3.5 per cent.
It’s early days, but ITAC’s aggressive advertising campaign-underwritten by just 29 West Van residents (ITAC is discreetly soliciting donations) and timed before town hall’s expected release of its “schedule of remuneration” on April 1 and council’s budget debate April 7 – has been as subtle as a clenched fist.
In its first nine days of operation ITAC’s an amazing 1,872 hits.
For the silly goose who hasn’t read or digested the ads, ITAC states that in 2006 – figures for 2007 aren’t available-on a per-resident basis, West Vancouver’s operating budget was higher by these percentages than that of other municipalities: City of North Vancouver (47), District of North Vancouver (64), City of Vancouver (36), and the average of the other 20 Metro Vancouver municipalities (86).
Yet for 2008, West Vancouver proposes to raise its operating budget by 6.9 per cent, thus requiring that tax increase of 3.5 per cent.
Those figures should be measured against Metro Vancouver’s inflation rate for 2007, among Canada’s lowest at just 1.3 per cent (if you can believe Statistics Canada’s figures, and flatly I don’t, but let town hall’s wielders of sharp pencils make that case).
The numbers also should be measured against West Vancouver’s almost static population growth in this decade. Any whine about explosive growth stoking municipal expenditures won’t wash.
Marley minced no words about that. Addressing Mayor Goldsmith-Jones, he wrote: “. . . please, Madam Mayor, no more bleating about the rise in the cost of asphalt and gravel to justify increases in operating budgets. As you and your fellow council members know full well, 80 per cent of DWV operating budgets are consumed by employee remuneration. Plus, ITAC’s analysis shows that, in recent years, the top 15 per cent of DWV (staff) income-earners have taken home fully 25 per cent of the total remuneration paid by district taxpayers. It’s not neuro-surgery to figure out where cost-savings can first and foremost be made.”
Get off the fence, Mr. Marley.
And by the way, there’s not a ghost of a chance that Marley (little Christmas Carol reference there to help you remember the name) will run for council himself.
Other ITAC members are Scott Hean, Alex Baker, Michael Lewis, Steve Kaufmann, Paul Browne, Garrett Polman, Norman lban, Alec Orr-Ewing and Mark Angus. Any of them thinking of running?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: