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.