Friday, May 30, 2014

Ross Buchanan writing for the

May 30, 2014

“I have seen the enemy, and he is us.” Pogo

I love White Rock! No doubt, that is why I care so much about our community and why I am so concerned with what I see happening. In my opinion, White Rock is the most desirable place to live in Canada. White Rock is a special place and because of that we need to be doing whatever we can to preserve and protect it from the threats that could destroy it. One of the major threats to the future of White Rock is the runaway, out of control spending that The Bottrill & Baldwin Boys create and cultivate at The Bunker on Buena Vista.

More and more, people are asking me, “Why do we even have a City of White Rock?” The push to amalgamate with Surrey is getting stronger and stronger and what seems to be driving people that direction is that they are no longer willing to pay the huge tax premiums that they do to fund the irresponsible local government in White Rock. Without a doubt when it comes to spending at City Hall we are our own worst enemy. In talking with some politicians and staff it is as if they just don’t care. 

Nobody can tell me what anything costs, whether it is the cost of the renovations to the new council chambers or the cost of funding special events. The City Management tells me that they do not have those numbers. When I hear that, I find it bizarre that they don’t even bother to count what they spend. Must be nice. Sure not the way that I run my own affairs. I guess they don’t have to worry about controlling costs as all they have to do is increase the tax rates and presto, there is more money.

Perhaps even worse than the fact that nobody seems to care about controlling costs is that fact that the city works really, really hard to limit the financial information available to the public. The City of White Rock is one of the most secretive local governments that I have ever experienced. The culture of the organization is such that they will do anything to go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible to block access to the answers to even the simplest of questions. A simple question that requires a brief answer and would be promptly and pleasantly attended to by other local governments becomes a war of resistance from within the bowels of City Hall whenever a Citizen tries to get an answer to anything.

To me, it is obvious to see just how “politicalized” city hall has become. In my opinion members of the management team at city hall will do whatever it takes to ensure that the current mayor and former City Manager stays in power. 

They block access to information to protect the current mayor and former city manager who has rewarded them with a very sweet ride. When talking with management at city hall they don’t even try to hide the fact that their priority is all about keeping the status quo at city hall rather than what is best for the Citizens of White Rock. Anyone asking questions, especially about costs, is instantly seen and treated as an enemy of the regime. 

All efforts (and I mean all) are taken to avoid revealing information to “outsiders” who may threaten what they have happening. An astute observer of local government pointed out to me the management team at city hall is very well “taken care of!”

But what about the Citizens? What happens when the members of a management team of a local government become politicalized and are committed to keeping the ride going? For the management team The Gravy Train at city hall has been a great ride and under the control the then City Manager and now Mayor it has been especially rewarding. If anyone does decide to run against the current mayor in the fall, rest assured that they will not be just competing against Baldwin but they will also be competing against a highly politicalized management team at city hall who desperately want to keep the current mayor, who built the system the way that it is during his 23 year career as city manager, in power.

In all of my years of consulting in the public sector I have seen very few administrations that even come close to the paranoia that prevails at White Rock City Hall. Few local governments are more secretive than the City of White Rock and I am told that few are as punitive to those who dare violate the unspoken rules of the internal corporate culture of keeping a very tight lid on information. 

Employees tell me that saying anything to anyone “on the outside” can be “career limiting”. One employee I spoke with talked about a culture of fear that poisons the workplace. “They make everyone super, super paranoid about saying anything to anyone about anything” said one of the employees at City Hall. “I have never seen anything else like it anywhere else.”

When someone works so hard to keep financial information secret I am left to wonder what it is that they are working so hard to conceal from the citizens who fund the city.

My concern is that if we don’t get our financial house in order at White Rock City Hall then the more vulnerable White Rock becomes to a movement to be swallowed up by Surrey, and I would sure hate to see that happen.

For those of you who think that property taxes are double in White Rock when compared to Surrey I have to tell you that you are wrong. But we do pay a 51% Tax Premium over and above Surrey to live in White Rock. Yes, that is correct. For the 2013 Property Tax Rates as reported by both White Rock and Surrey on their web sites we pay a 51% tax premium in White Rock. I know that many of us are willing to pay some premium but I wonder how many people see the justification for a 51% Tax Premium. Yes, I am prepared to pay more for some services, but when you look at some of the line items in the expenses, especially the compensation awarded some of the members of the management team and compare them to other similar communities you really have to wonder don’t you?  

This spring the mayor called the increase in property taxes for 2014 of 2.36% “noteworthy”. Baldwin went on to declare "It will be the first time we have ever reduced taxes as a result of growth." What is this guy thinking? How can a 2.36% increase in taxes be spun as a tax reduction? It appears that among other things the current mayor may be arithmetically challenged, delusional or deceitful. 

A tax increase of 2.36% is another $400,000 from the pockets of the Citizens of White Rock. What is with the funny money and the false and misleading claims of a tax decrease? Whatever happened to being honest and open with people? City Hall is demanding that the Citizens of White Rock give them another $400,000 over and above last year’s property taxes of about $18 Million. $400,000 is not a decrease. 

When you take a look at what some of the members of the management team at City Hall are pulling down in compensation compared to other communities of this size you will see why they need to grab the cash.

The Civic Worker Strike got me thinking about garbage collection. Just a quick look at the numbers shows that in White Rock we are paying a 45% premium per person for garbage collection when compared to our neighbor, Surrey. In White Rock we pay $80 per person a year for garbage removal. In Surrey they pay $55 per person a year for garbage removal. Why is it that garbage removal on one side of 16th avenue is so much more expensive than on the other side of the street? 

Interesting to note that garbage removal in White Rock is essentially a monopoly. Yes, you can have someone else remove your garbage as many stratas are doing during the strike however the current mayor, Wayne Baldwin tells me that “you cannot get a credit on your taxes for it.” 

So I do the work of the civic workers and incur the costs of lost time and transportation when I haul my garbage to the transfer station and yet I still have to pay the city for not delivering a service? This is unlike Surrey where the city does not impose a monopoly on the removal of garbage. You can retain other providers to remove your garbage and you are not taxed for the service provided by the city. Seems fair to me. 

The way it is now in White Rock, where you are taxed for garbage removal whether you use it or not seems like heavy handed, draconian government forcing a monopoly on its citizens and certainly is more about protecting the city monopoly rather than what may be best for the citizens. May be best for the folks in The Bunker on Buena Vista but certainly not right for the Citizens of White Rock.

The ride on The Gravy Train may be wonderful but for those of us out here in reality many people are asking how this has been allowed to develop and under whose watch? I see that garbage is only 3.7% of the Surrey budget compared to 6% in White Rock. In Delta with a population that is just shy of 100,000 people their cost per person for garbage collection is $60 compared to $80 per person in White Rock. What I am trying to understand is what is so special about White Rock garbage and why is it so pricey?

Want to save some tax money? Rather than saving the jobs of very expensive civic workers White Rock council could be like other communities who open the collection of garbage to competitive bids. Based on the cost of garbage collection in other communities it looks like the City of White Rock could reduce costs at the same time as they maintain or improve garbage collection service by close to $500,000. And this is just one example of where huge savings would result in reduced property taxes, if council wanted to act in the best interest of the Citizens of White Rock.

There is a pattern there isn’t there? 51% Property Tax Premium when compared to Surrey. A 45% premium for garbage collection when compared to Surrey. Not only do we have way too much government locally in White Rock but we have very, very expensive government in White Rock.

Every day that this culture of reckless spending of public funds continues at White Rock City Hall is another day that more and more people ask why does this little town of less than two square miles need all of this government and all of these costs. The #1 threat to the future of White Rock is the reckless spending by this irresponsible administration. Each and every dollar wasted from the public purse by this local government just brings White Rock that much closer to being nothing other than simply being the beach in Surrey.

Follow the money.
Of late the mayor seems to be indicating that increased development (stack them and pack them!) is the answer to getting a handle on city finances. No, this is absolutely wrong headed thinking. Certainly misinformed but not surprising when you review who Baldwin took money from during the 2011 Election.

The largest corporate “donation” to Baldwin was from Bose Properties, the Vancouver based Developer ($5000) and the list of people who gave him money includes the “Who’s Who” of big money developers and speculators in this part of the world. 

In my opinion, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Baldwin is trying to shove increased density down our throats. In the spirit of reciprocity he needs to make good on the money he took from the developers and speculators. Especially if Baldwin is counting on more money from his developer cronies in the fall to finance his campaign, retain power and impose his “stack them and pack them” assault on the community. 

Accelerated development may increase the collection of property taxes but it does not cover the increased costs that result from the increased demands on the city over time. The solution is not for the city to demand more property taxes from the Citizens but for the city to get its house in order and become more responsible in managing the public purse in the best interest of the Citizens of White Rock. 

Greed is not the solution for a sustainable future of White Rock. Yes, the Developers win with huge financial windfalls. Yes, those politicians who take money from Developers win. Yes, the management at City Hall wins but what about the Citizens of White Rock?  

If you are concerned about how our democracy is being bought and eroded by Big Money Developers from the outside who are destroying White Rock with their desperate thirst for the huge financial windfalls that the ‘stack them and pack them” kind of thinking provide them then there are no shortage of reasons to pay very careful attention to who the White Rock politicians take money from. Who are the Puppet Masters that really run The Bunker on Buena Vista?

Dance my little darling puppets. Dance!
I love White Rock. To me it is the most desirable community in Canada. And that is exactly why I care so much about whether or not White Rock can even afford to have a future. I hate to see it wasted the way it is with so much reckless spending. In my opinion, White Rock is a great place to live and yes it can be even better but not as long as the reckless and wanton, out of control spending continues at City Hall. 

Despite the best efforts of some people at City Hall to conceal the truth many Citizens are waking up to the reality of what is happening and that the 51% Tax Premium of this irresponsible regime may be just too expensive a price to be able to say that you “live in White Rock.”

In future articles I will examine and explore how “The White Rock Premium” can be sharply reduced and result in responsible management of the Public Purse in a way that respects the Citizens of White Rock and reflects their wishes.

See you on The Beach.

Ross Buchanan

Excerpt published by courtesy Johan Sandstrom, BComm.

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