City needs to tighten its own belt

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I write to support those others who have expressed concern about the City of St. John’s budget. The path that the council has chosen is not sustainable and drastic changes are desperately needed.

The province and the city are in a recession, the end of which is nowhere in sight. Businesses across the province are closing and those that are not are reducing costs where ever possible. Each homeowner and taxpayer is doing the same. Things are bad out there and are going to get worse.

As municipal taxpayers, we get distracted by the property assessments, as if our taxes keep rising because our assessments are rising. This is not the case. Does anyone believe that if your property assessment declined your city taxes would decrease?

Our taxes increase simply because the council keeps increasing spending. Spending by city council has increased by more than 50 per cent in the past seven years. And that is going to continue. The council recently signed a new collective agreement with its unions, giving an increase of six per cent in each year. In rough numbers that means payroll costs for the city will increase by approximately $30 million in the next two years of the contract. And that is only if they don’t add more people to the payroll, as is the custom.

If you don’t like the increase this year, wait until next year. The mayor and council will reply that they recently reduced the head count through a reduction of management positions. Obviously, given the announced tax increase, those small changes were not enough. Not near enough.

It is time for the council and the mayor to show leadership and make choices that will reduce costs. Not contain costs, not reduce the rate of growth, but actually reduce costs in a substantive manner. Do what each household and business across the city and province are doing. Delaying the pain only increases the pain later.

Earlier this fall, I watched as city workers planted bulbs in front of one of the city buildings. Two trucks, six workers. Two men to drive the trucks, two men to dig the holes and two men to drop the bulbs in. Throughout the whole operation there were four men standing around watching two guys work. We all know that this is not an uncommon sight in the city.

Where else but in the government would this happen? Who can afford this?

I know I can’t, and I can’t afford to have others spending my money in that manner.

The mayor and the council have to tackle the issue of productivity. Low productivity is the result of poor management and leadership. If they can’t manage to do that, then services should be contracted out. Throughout the province and country, contracts are getting reopened and changes are being made because of the unprecedented conditions. The council cannot simply carry on as if things are OK.

I realize that this opinion will rile many people, but the situation is dire. Drastic changes have to be made.


Dave Crosbie

St. John’s property owner



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Recent comments

  • Frank Holden
    January 22, 2016 - 12:51

    This topic has spilled from local government waste of money, labor and materials to the topic of unions. That's natural spillage. Unions, like governments, become wasteful when they're not answerable to anyone.Governments should be directly answerable to us. When unions only protect their own they're as bad as wasteful government. We have only our vote to hold governments answerable and our votes are useless.. What wasteful unions do is just as damaging to the public good, to the common welfare, yet we don't even have a useless vote with unions. When any social institution is not answerable to the public good, you should expect it to become wasteful and self indulgent because it has the power to do so. The first major union movement wanted "one big union" of all workers, so unions and the public good would be the same thing. Well, the Yankee government/police busted all the Industrial Workers of the World, (the IWW) offices in one night a century ago. In Britain, unions of all kinds have been set against each other and against the public good by political "Labor" parties who have always betrayed labor and the public good once in government. The theme here is: Governments and their rich masters/profiteers don't mind wasteful unions any more than wasteful government because the public is made pay for the waste, not the rich profiteers. So long as it comes out of our pockets and keeps us a fragmented society and fragmented labor force they're fine with it. Lana Payne probably never did non-union, low paying work under abusive bosses. She doesn't write about "one big union" either, so government and rich profiteers are happy to have her as part of their propaganda machine. It's the only solution to crooked government, crooked unions and profiteers, and that's why nobody talks or gets to talk about "one big union." And why must we use politicians' and media euphemisms like " mis management," "squandering, " " incompetence," "mistakes were made," "poor fiscal planning," as if those in power were well-meaning idiots? When you loot the treasury, squander someone else's money on yourself and your friends, lie about your intent, conceal your actions, leave office richer than you should, you should be taken to law and prosecuted. Courts and lawyers have very precise, un euphemistic procedures for lying about and theft of other people's money and property.

  • Jayne
    January 22, 2016 - 09:45

    The bulbs you referred to being planted....well when they are dug up the workers throw them away, and replant new ones each season, throughout the City. Who can afford that? Why doesn't the City plant Perennials ONLY, in that way they are planted once and apart from some fertilizer or adding soil, they wouldn't need 6 workers to supervise it. Look at the money that would save in costs, labour, gas, etc....throughout the City, several times a year. Time to use common sense, not antiquated ways of doing things.

  • Trail Walker 07
    January 22, 2016 - 08:47

    They also cut the budget for the Grand Concourse Authority in half. These guys have an eight person maintenance crew who looks after almost all the walking trails, memorials and green spaces in and out of the city, keeping them safe, clean and well groomed both winter and summer for all residents to enjoy. How many city workers do you think it will take to do the same job as the GCA has done for so many years? More than eight and at way more higher salaries I'll tell you that and if the city decides to send it out on tender Im willing to bet that the cost for the city will be a lot more. It is a disgrace and an insult to the late Paul Johnson who started the Grand Concourse and have done so much for this city. I always hear the city barking about "Keeping St. John's Clean And Beautiful" well nobody done that better than the Grand Concourse and our beloved Mayor should know this more than anyone. Things like this is the reason I don't vote anymore because at anytime without any public opinion they can just pull the rug out from under you. Makes me sad to be from St. Johns when stuff like this happens.

  • Sam
    January 21, 2016 - 18:25

    Great summary of how poorly the city council's has managed the affairs of the city. There is no real leadership among them and they have this idea that they can keep going back to the well (tax payers) every time they run into a financial issue. They show no regard for the average person in the city and service is somewhere between poor to very poor. Every time we have a snowfall it takes days for the streets to be cleared. On Tuesday I had to stop for someone on Duckworth Street and it was near impossible for cars to pass in either direction. And as for the workforce, they know just how easy they have it and don't expect any change in attitude until you change the management team. Council has been running scared of taking on issues involving the union and feel that they have to pay extra every time they want to make changes. Overall employees with the city are paid among the highest in the province and their pension and benefits are over the top.

  • Eric
    January 21, 2016 - 17:23

    Cheers Dave. I fully agreed. As a former self employed business owner,when times are tough u cut back on things that if not needed anymore. Doc Okeefe explanation on the business assessments increases was pathetic on tv last nite. There is a process to challenge the increase he said. Well I did challenge a property tax assessment and as per usual nothing was done. As one person mentioned a couple of wks ago. We elected people to govern for our best interests and then when elected they tell us without any consultation what they r going to do. They, city councillors are our employees not our dictators.

  • Observer
    January 21, 2016 - 10:38

    Yes, and everyone of those guys "planting" bulbs is probably making $93,000 a year! Remember THAT little gem of information from Councillor Puddister that seems to be getting lost in all this discussion? The city's budget is way out of whack because they are having to pay these outrageous salaries on the backs of us taxpayers. Drastic change? Fire the whole lot of them next time round and bring in fresh visionary thinking that focuses on how cities of today actually work, are vibrant, open and transparent and fiscally prudent.

    • Donna J.
      January 22, 2016 - 11:28

      $93,000 a year? What is your source for that "little gem?"

  • Working to live
    January 21, 2016 - 09:18

    I’ve worked in non-union and union shops and of the two, productivity was lower in the non-union shops. Poor wages, no benefits, some jumped-up petty tyrant shouting the odds – and we’re skilled workers! If management doesn’t respect us and ignores our grievances, why should we respect them for the few dollars they give us? I guess we could work our arses into the ground, but for what thanks? That’s where self-respect come in. Countries that have high rates of unionised workers routinely out-perform the United States where private unions are virtually non-existent. They also enjoy a much higher standard of living. Likewise, workers who are better compensated are happier, stay longer and are more dedicated. Back in America, the share of wealth increasingly flows to the top while all workers work harder and receive less – but there’s no one to organise them…

  • steve
    January 21, 2016 - 08:39

    The only solution is a mass demonstration and everyone refusing to pay the stupid increases.I say stupid because anyone with any sense would never sign a 20 percent increase in salary this day and age nor would they think a 15 percent increase in property tax is o.k. Stupidity and waste is St.Johns city hall. The mayors salary to start.They WILL I GAURANTEE vote themselves yet another raise.

  • jerome
    January 21, 2016 - 08:12

    Concerned, yes union productivity is a concern, for all areas, private and public. We talk of the entitlement of our politicians, the unions have entitlements too. I feel unions have their place in society and have done great work, but for all of us to survive they also have to be productive. A friend that worked in Alberta , that worked as a welder, would brag about doing nothing on the job site and would only go thru 10 welding rods a day. Another worker that left my employment to work with health care, told me after she got the job, she felt so bad getting paid for doing nothing, most of her time was paid for going to and coming from breaks and lunch. She was even told by the union not to work so hard, because she making the other older workers look too bad. We all have to work for a living and that includes increasing productivity, if we are ever going to afford to live here.

  • Concerned
    January 21, 2016 - 05:17

    David... The issue of productivity in this province, particularly the union productivity has to be addressed for us to survive. You give one simple example which everyone has experienced or can relate to. Take that occurrence and apply it to our major construction sites such as Bull Arm or Muskrat Falls. People are making salaries well beyond their experience/education level, and they are extremely unproductive. This is hurting all our industries. Yet we dedicate air time and newspaper space to Lana Payne, who will preach the benefits of unions in the province. The strength of the unions in Newfoundland and Labrador will lead to our downfall. They need a rude awakening. If they are making 100 grand a year, they should be expected to put in a honest days work. Not hide and seek for 5 grand a week.