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How not to spend $400,000



What would $400,000 buy today? A very nice house, for a start, maybe even a waterfront home. You could buy a http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/04/02/8403479/index.htm probably the fastest car in the world. You could pay the salary of the President of the United States for one year. Or pay the salary of Hugh Laurie for a single episode of the TV show, House.

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You could buy the filly of a famous race horse.

If you're feeling charitable, you could match the federal government's aid in September to hurricane-battered Cuba. Or you could match the Inter-American Development Bank's emergency aid to hurricane-lashed Haiti last month.

But let's look at what it could do for the community of Collingwood.

It could refurbish and upgrade Collingwood's aging Contact Centre for one thing, and give it a breath of life. It could rebuild Centennial Pool and give it another 25 years of life. It could rebuild the BMX/skateboard park and make it world class. It could pay for the Canada Day fireworks for the next decade.

It could buy 12 Smart Cars (plus applicable charges and taxes) for town bylaw and staff so we would have a really good Green fleet for municipal use instead of the inefficient, gas-guzzling SUVs we're so eager to buy (council approved buying yet another of these bloat vehicles, Monday). It could buy seven or eight Prius hybrid vehicles for the same use.

It could construct a kilometer or more of sidewalks, or rebuild most of the damaged sidewalks in town.

Four hundred thousand dollars could put the Humane Society over the top in their fundraising drive to build the new animal shelter. It could fund a much-needed subsidized spay-neuter clinic for the next 10-20 years.

Four hundred thousand dollars would be significant seed money for another desperately-needed housing project in the rent-geared-to-income category.

It could build soccer pitches, baseball diamonds, a new lawn bowling green, new trails.

It could furnish the new library and help modernize its collection. It could remake the downtown and fix the heaving brickwork.

Based on our 2008 budget, $400,000 could pay for the entire cost of council, including salaries and expenses, for a year, or pay the entire human resources budget PLUS the information technology budget for 08, or it could pay for the accessibility committee PLUS bylaw enforcement PLUS animal control PLUS property standards PLUS crossing guards for a year. It could pay for our parking PLUS the ACTS bus PLUS traffic control PLUS all the works and engineering studies budgeted for 08. It could pay the contact centre's budget PLUS all of our trails maintenance for the year PLUS the skateboard park PLUS Heritage park budgets. It could pay 80% of the bloated economic development budget or 80% of the cost to run the bus service. Or 60% of the cost to run Centennial Pool for a year. It could pay 48% of our 08 levy to the NVCA.

Or it could go into the pockets of lawyers to fight a losing battle against the boards of education over their right to levy development charges.

Guess which option Collingwood chose?

Yep. Fighting educational development charges has cost us $394,755 to date. In 2006 we spent $70,098; but in 2007 we almost tripled that to $209,564. Already in 2008, this battle has cost $72,380 and there's no end in sight for the bleeding of tax dollars into what is evidently a lost battle. Unless, of course, we simply throw in the towel and admit it's a lost cause.

And to date we've received as compensation for that expense...? Nothing that anyone in town can boast about, anyway.

The fight is about whether boards of education can add a development charge on new growth. That money would ostensibly fund the cash-strapped boards, but since boards of education seem to spend a lot more money embellishing their board headquarters and padding their ranks with highly-paid superintendents more that they spend on schools and teachers, I personally doubt the wisdom of giving them more tax money to waste in their self-enriching efforts.

When we first took on this challenge, there were eleven Simcoe County municipalities willing to share the costs. Now there's just us.

This battle was a favourite of then-councillor-now Mayor Chris Carrier. Councils of the day agreed that Collingwood should ante up and take a place in the righteous legal challenge among our peers. The thought was that an additional development charge would slow and even stymie growth. After all, development charges just get passed along to buyers, making the cost of housing even more expensive and further from the reach of the young families and workers. Not to mention that Collingwood's development charges are going up almost every year to help cover our own municipal expenses.

But over the years, everyone else has walked away from the table. Last week's letter to council from the City of Orillia said Orillia was backing out. That left us alone in the fight.

And that's when I asked for an accounting of costs to date, and an open, public discussion about why we're still in the fight when our supposed allies have all fled the battlefield. The mayor, however, seemed reluctant to have this discussion in public. I believe we should debate it openly because, after all, it's almost $400,000 of TAXPAYERS" money we've spent. Don't taxpayers have the right to know why we've spent $400,000 of their money on a lost cause and why we may continue to do so?

As noted in The Enterprise-Bulletin, the mayor's reaction to my request for a public debate wasn't favourable:

Chadwick said council needs to get an update "if there's any reasonable point in continuing this fight if we're the only municipality left."

He also asked that council be allowed to have that debate in public; Mayor Chris Carrier indicated the discussion had been going on behind closed doors, and any debate about continuing the challenge would likely be in camera.

How's that for open, accountable, transparent leadership?

What does everyone else know about this fight that Collingwood doesn't seem to know? (Other munciipalities, that is - our taxpayers know nothing because they've been kept in the dark about this expense).

Could it be that, mid-way through the fight, the other communities woke up to the fact that the Ontario Municipal Board ruled in favour of the right of the boards. School boards, the OMB ruled, are entitled to make housing more expensive and difficult to afford. Maybe everyone else realized there was no hope of winning this fight and decided not to put more money into a lost battle... money that could be used for a lot of other things we need a lot more than we need rich lawyers.

I seem to recall - and the former mayor backed me up on this - that the previous council capped the expenses in this battle at $50,000. We're EIGHT times that amount. We've spent more in each of the last two years than I recall the former council approved in total. And we could be in debt for a lot more unless we pull the plug right away. How did it get to $400,00? I don't recall council approved that additional $350,000 expense - I'll have to go back over the records and minutes to find out if and when a blank cheque was subsequently approved.

I think we should bite the bullet, admit it's a lost cause and pull out before we waste any more taxpayers' money. But we should also investigate how this escalated from $50,000 to $400,000, too.





Yes, 400k does seem like a lot of money at first and for a little town of collingwood and a global depression, even a smaller amount would hurt. But let me tell you something else, you could also look at this glass half full. For it is only 400k. Here in Barrie we are already being sued for 3.2 million for out of control NIMBY'sm (IDA). If Northern Ethanol keeps getting attacked unjustly by those same type of NIMBY's then you can see another 200 million put against us after the OMB hearing. That makes your 400k look like 5 bucks worth of gas as Barrie looses that money, its jobs, its businesses and increased cost of living. Scary isn't it

400k does buy a lot, somethings are just not good ideas at all even without such controversial decisions that the mayor has made.

It could buy 12 Smart Cars (plus applicable charges and taxes) for town bylaw and staff so we would have a really good Green fleet for municipal use


That is true. However, if you ever go into a Mercedes dealership, you will quickly learn that those "smart" cars are well over valued and very costly to ensure. Putting you over the 400k mark.


instead of the inefficient, gas-guzzling SUVs we're so eager to buy (council approved buying yet another of these bloat vehicles, Monday).


Yet changing those SUV's to ethanol, propane and CNG as long as keeping them around longer as well as their cheapness on parts, labor and insurance turns those "has-guzzling suvs" into enviromentally friendly green fleets WITH savings!


It could buy seven or eight Prius hybrid vehicles for the same use.


Not even close. You will need to higher electrical engineers as well as IT technicians to diagnose any and all shorts and or malfunctions on the computer and its electrical components. It costs 7 times more GHG emissions to build them as well its 8 times more expensive than a regular car! Not to mention it STILL will use regular gasoline which then in turn means having all the same problems as a regular car. Don't forget that after a 100k you will need to replace those batteries, how will you get them out? Where would you get the new ones? How would you dispose of the old ones with the amount of toxins that are in those batteries and electronics? If anything. I IMHO I find hybrids and the electric car gimmicks of something pretending to be green when it is in reality far from it.

There is a lot you can do with 400k and I will agree nearly all of your suggestions beats filling up lawyer(s) or politicians pockets. But when spending any money, thoughts, calculations and the reality of any product and or service offered has to be balanced and carefully weighed.
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Ian Chadwick
Oct 05 2008 09:41 AM
You can pick apart my choices, but I don't think you argue that spending $400,000 on lawyers over a lost battle is a waste of money - especially when it was originally capped at $50,000.

I, of course, will fight to avoid buying ANY SUV or similar vehicle using public money without a significant justification for not selecting something more environmentally friendly. I don't see why the public should support a vehicle that is not the most fuel-efficient, or one that has one of the worst safety records (if not THE worst) of all types of vehicles on the road, and on top of it, one that has received mediocre to bad reviews in the automobile media.

You can pick apart my choices, but I don't think you argue that spending $400,000 on lawyers over a lost battle is a waste of money - especially when it was originally capped at $50,000.


I agree, money lost is money lost....

I, of course, will fight to avoid buying ANY SUV or similar vehicle using public money without a significant justification for not selecting something more environmentally friendly.


Indeed. supporting hybrids or non converted SUV's are a bad idea. supporting SUV's that have been converted and thus not dependent on regular gasoline as well as being cheaper for parts and insurance does benefit the citizen as well being more environmentally friendly.


I don't see why the public should support a vehicle that is not the most fuel-efficient, or one that has one of the worst safety records (if not THE worst) of all types of vehicles on the road, and on top of it, one that has received mediocre to bad reviews in the automobile media.


I agree. Yet another reason not to go for those hybrids! I have known that the smart cars do have a good track record when it comes to safety like some of the SUV's, light cars and trucks.
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Ian Chadwick
Oct 05 2008 01:37 PM

Indeed. supporting hybrids or non converted SUV's are a bad idea. supporting SUV's that have been converted and thus not dependent on regular gasoline as well as being cheaper for parts and insurance does benefit the citizen as well being more environmentally friendly.

Well, yes, converted SUVs are better than regular gas-guzzlers, and I'd support converting existing SUVs over. But I don't think tax dollars should go into buying an SUV in the first place, and paying even more to convert it to somewhere near the fuel effiency we could have had by buying a more sensible vehicle. In effect, we're throwing money after money already poorly spent. We have to get out of the SUV mindset completely. That's what I thought our "green fleet" policy was all about. You cna spend your own money as you see fit, but I think public money should be more wisely spent.

But I was alone in my objections and staff got their SUV.

I don't think tax dollars should go into buying an SUV in the first place,


Your right. Technically you do not need to buy any new vehicle, be it hybrid, smart car or SUV. What should be done is pay off the cars and then maintain them.

The problem is how Revenue Canada and Government spending works. As you know if you finance a car to own. Then you cannot write that off for a "business" thus leasing very large but cheap cars become the option. Further governments will cut your funding if you do not use all of it and not on what it was meant to be spent on.

E.G. You run a hospital and you figured out a way to reduce wait times. Since you have now done that, the government comes along and sees that you have reduced said wait times. Thus they then cut your budget. Now you have even less money than before and the wait times with the less funding translate into longer wait times. The only other option is to keep increasing wait times, which means increased budgets, which in turns means more money for you and you can now pay your staff etc.

What I am getting at here is government bureaucracy is built up on and runs on old inefficiencies and bad ideas. Heaven to bid you do anything progressive and you will be surprised to see yourself out of a job very quickly.

Isn't life funny that way. lol

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