Bad decisions

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It’s easy to take potshots at city hall. Every time something goes awry, we all love to pounce on it — editorialists included.

It’s not an easy job, juggling the business of a bustling metropolis. We can’t expect perfection every time.

Nonetheless, you have to wonder what’s going on when an entire chamber of councillors — let alone administrators — appear unaware of the laws that govern their decisions.

St. John’s councillors backed off Monday on a number of budget cuts announced last month. Among them, a cut to arts grants and the elimination of a reduced mill rate for homeowners without water and sewer.

The first was a simple miscalculation. Annual arts grants of $200,000 — chicken feed by national municipal standards — were slashed in half. The public outcry was unexpected.

But the latter change in mill rate was simply against the law — the City of St. John’s Act, to be precise, which states the tax rate for those not on city services must be less than that of other homeowners.

You can understand how a new young whippersnapper on council might be unfamiliar with this requirement. But it boggles the mind to think more senior members and city bureaucrats were unaware, or simply overlooked it.

The whole budget, in fact, was a bit of a botch job. It ignored obvious sources of savings — especially staffing levels and pay hikes — in favour of token nips and tucks they hoped no one would notice.

And the knee-jerk decisions don’t seem to stop there.

It now appears the city may abandon its negotiations with former premier Danny Williams to buy land in his proposed Galway development for up to $400,000 an acre.

Concerned about the price, councillors opted instead to issue a request for proposals, making it a competitive process.

Of course, the city would also have the option to expropriate land if push came to shove.

The city wants the land to build a fire hall and depot to service the new farflung suburb.

While it may eventually become a going concern, however, there’s no reason to think Galway will be taking off anytime soon. Real estate numbers indicate higher end housing sales have stalled, which could have a domino effect on housing across the board.

It makes the one-off negotiations with Williams seem premature and poorly thought out.

St. John’s citizens need to be reassured their leaders are savvy enough to look before they leap.

Lately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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Recent comments

  • Time for recall election?
    January 07, 2016 - 08:39

    What is the legal process to hold a recall election for the mayor and council? I guess we cannot trust the city councilors and administrators to know the law on recalls?

  • John Smith
    January 07, 2016 - 06:25

    The review the city had done indicated that a depot and fire hall was necessitated by the growth in the west end of the city....before Galway was ever thought referred to Southlands, Kilbride and Goulds....Mr. Williams has invested a 100 million of his own money bringing previously inaccessible land, which was of such a high elevation that no one would touch it, to usable status. Mr. Williams did not go to council, they came to him. The city saw that they could buy land zoned commercial, in a serviced area, and went after the end it still makes the most sense to buy and build there...not for Galway...but for the rest of the west end of the city.

    • JEROME
      January 07, 2016 - 10:16

      John Smith you are such a PC troll, do ever consider what you write. When O'Keefe speaks Danny backs him up and vise versa, it is obvious what is going on here. Mount Pearl has a fire station, Paradise is going to get one, isn't that enough to cover the vacant streets of Galway. And besides Southlands and Galway should be part of Mt Pearl especially if St. John's has such a hard time servicing them. I pay enough in Taxes now I don't need to pay more to cover this foolishness, I may be different for you as you are on the PC's payroll. Do you ever consider that your offspring may actually read the crap you write, please show some respect for their sake.

  • Ron
    January 06, 2016 - 18:09

    Cutting the arts funding was not a mistake. The entire $200,000 should have been cut. This money goes to a select few who give it in turn to their friends for silly mundane projects that could not possibly get funded elsewhere. Cutting the money will not mean the end of arts in the city as the arts community tried to say as 99% of artists do not avail of these funds and survive nicely on their own. The cutting of the sewer lateral funding was a serious mistake as it could mean that some people especially seniors could lose their homes as a result. A major cut that should have been made was the elimination of all but essential travel for councillors and senior staff. 99% of this travel is simply not needed and accomplishes nothing except to provide these people with a free holiday at the taxpayers expense. This applies especially to trips to warmer climates where someone makes a presentation to them by reading a bunch of overhead projections that they could just as easily read themselves on line. I hope that the Telegram keeps a close eye on money that the council gives via various means to the Galway development. The purchase of land that they recently tried to push through is only the first example of which there will likely be many. Giving money via indirect means through subsidization will be one area that we will have to be constantly on alert to prevent.

  • Alice can't afford to live here anymore !
    January 06, 2016 - 14:05

    It's easy to take pot shots at City Hall because they so consistently make such dumb mistakes. This is a council lacking intelligence and drunk with power. An even half-smart council would have anticipated the need for facilities to the west and bought land, as Danny did, dirt cheap from government. This council's lack of acumen is nowhere more in evidence than in this most recent budget and the conscious decision to once again stiff property owners at a time real property values are falling, the economy is tanking and the cost of living is soaring. Mind you, putting a wet-behind-the-ears councillor in charge of the budget process pretty much says it all. By the time the bad decision-making by the Tories, NALCOR and City Hall work their way through the economy, we'll all be packing for the mainland.

  • Anon
    January 06, 2016 - 13:48

    Before or during council's approval for galway, why was it not considered then that municipal services would be needed for that area and act accordingly to acquire the land, instead of after the fact?

  • Bill
    January 06, 2016 - 12:21

    The issue with the land is that the Mayor thought he could go directly and negotiate with Willams and circumvent the RFP process. It is his arrogance towards taxpayers that is so disgusting. So as they have flip flopped on some of the budget decisions, they will now do the RFP, but I would suggest to you that it will be written so that Danny's land will be the only one to meet the requirements.

  • Sparky
    January 06, 2016 - 09:35

    It makes the one-off negotiations with Williams seem premature and poorly thought out. Council thought they could process this transaction very quickly by trying to push it through in the Christmas Season. Finally someone thought to complain and I hope the journalists at the Telegram keep on top of this as Counil pretends to view the RFPs.

    January 06, 2016 - 07:22

    In 8 yrs what I pay the city has doubled, what did they do with the money, this council is like the provincial PC's spend like there is no tomorrow, now look where we are to. Increasing taxes are not the only solution, reduce your expenses. O'Keefe is not the man for this job. And of course , Galway , buy land before the price goes up, hasn't O'Keefe been following the real estate market, prices are on the way down, oil development has been stalled and who knows when the price will go up again, plus demographics shows that the baby boomers will soon be retiring and downsizing where they live. This council should be replaced, bring back Andy Wells, the only mayor that actually fought for the taxpayer.

  • Spaz
    January 06, 2016 - 05:20

    Now that the Mayor is quoting Bart Simpson in chambers why doesn't O' keefe, Galgay, and Williams "get bent".