Saturday, November 7, 2009

All Politics Is Local, Ottawa Edition

There's lots going on in Bytowne these days, and little of it is encouraging.

Spending is out of control at city hall.  Tax increases and special levies are on their way, much of them hidden; all the better to hide the ineffectual leadership of the city.
The city’s budget for next year appears to be headed toward increases far beyond this year’s 3.9-per-cent tax increase. As of Tuesday, the property-tax increase from various departments stood at 3.26 per cent, but that doesn’t include a two-per-cent special levy for fixing infrastructure, or the library or police budgets. The police budget is expected to add about one per cent to the tax increase.

A major increase in fees is proposed with the transfer of waste collection — blue box, black box and a new green-bin compost-collection program — onto the garbage collection bill, which is part of the annual property-tax bill. If council approves this change, the current tab of $86 for garbage would see the addition of $41 for recycling services and $68 for the green bin, bringing the total bill to $195.
Because there's nothing better in the middle of a recession than a tax hike.

So, what are we spending all this money on, that is prompting the tax increases?  Well, for one thing, "Green Bins".  The city will now collect biodegradable substances that we used to throw in the trash.  It sounds great - and, no doubt, it has its benefits - but it appears that it wasn't really thought out that well.  It's going to cost a mint, no one can opt out of it, and we're on our way to having a garbage gestapo:
City homeowners will not be able to choose not to take part in the green-bin program. In fact, the city is hiring five inspectors to see that waste that can be recycled is kept out of landfills.
The cost of the green bins will be added to residents' utility bill, so that the city can keep the tax hike as low as possible.  This is such a neat trick that they've decided to shift the cost of all recycling programs from the regular tax bill to the utility bill (though don't expect to see any corresponding property tax deductions).  The genius behind this (from a gouge-the-taxpayer standpoint) is that residents tend not to notice (or, at least, complain) about increases to these special fees.  That's what they've seen with the water and sewage bill.  It regularly gets hiked by 9% a year with nary a peep from the citizenry.

But, you may ask, there must be more that is driving the need for these explicit and implicit tax increases?  Well, there's transit.  The operating costs of OC Transpo far outstrip the revenue that it generates.  For some reason, this isn't seen as a problem with their business model, but as an obligation to be foisted on the rest of us through increased taxation.  OC Transpo is so horribly managed, that they were proposing to raise rates by 7%.

This rate increase was suppose to keep the increase in the city's transit budget at a mere 12.7%.  However, the conventional wisdom of the city's Transit committee is that it is unfair to expect riders to pay anywhere close to the actual cost of riding the bus.  The 7% fare increase is out and the burden on the city will now be rising by 16%.

(This seems like another good argument for getting the city out of the transit business.)

Police and emergency services are getting more expensive, too, but surely there can't be much to complain about when we're wasting resources (and risking lives) with a pointless war on drugs.

'Luckily', with all the problems we're having with our budget we have the province and the feds wasting money in Ottawa, as well.  If nothing else, it's nice to see all three levels of government working so well together.

Thankfully, there is a tiny bit of good news.  Councillor Alex Cullen had presented a motion to have all landlords licensed by the city.  Despite his conviction to this awful idea, the rest of council voted against it:
He argued it would make bad landlords comply with property standards for fear of losing their licenses. Opponents cited the cost and ineffectiveness of licensing as reasons to vote against it. Instead, the committee passed a motion by Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes that encourages the city’s bylaw officers to work with community groups in pro-actively inspecting problem rental properties.
 See, there are some good things about Ottawa.  Like Emjay:

And Capital Sound performing at Winterlude:

(Yeah, I'm kidding.)

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