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I am forced for the first time in my life to write to the editor to voice my concerns that the city of St. John’s needs to increase the mill rate for residential and commercial properties to meet expected shortfalls in its 2018-2019 budget.
The brochure sent by the city to all households “Our City Our Future” quotes “in order to keep providing all the things residents expect from the city, we have to either increase the mill rate to make up the difference (in lost revenue) or cut programs and services.” Further it equates running the city’s finances to running your household, i.e., if you spend more than you earn, you are in debt.”
Well, isn’t that enlightening?
I take the position that if the city ran its fiscal house as most of its citizens have to do, we would not be the debt we are in, and we would be forced to live within our means. It seems that whenever the city is anticipating a shortfall, increases in taxation appears to be the focused solution. The city is being fiscally mismanaged and many of those with whom I associate, think likewise.
Huge proportions of expenditures of tax revenue are used for a variety of unnecessary purposes or are being used for purposes not principally for the benefit of its citizens.
I would like to highlight some of my concerns and suggestions:
1. How much of the anticipated deficit, funds underfunded pension, pensions that most of its citizens don’t have the luxury of having?
2. What makes up the operating deficit of the city for Mile One at $1.8 million? Turn this asset over to private hands.
3. What makes up the subsidies to Metrobus at $14 million? My bet the bulk is for salaries and underfunded pension debt.
4. When 18 per cent compounded wages over four years was negotiated with its union (ostensibly to eliminate the defined-benefit pension plans for new employees), this increase represents only a fraction of the cost to the coffers of the city, with its commensurate increased pension liability for the employees receiving the 18 per cent, the increased statutory remittances and the increased costs to the health plan. The executive level also received the same increases up until last year. Who would expect to receive those kinds of increases in the private industry?
5. When commercial tax rates disproportionately bear the burden of the tax increase and tax contribution, what makes the city father’s think we can afford to pay substantially more and what is the commercial tax base getting by way of services from the city when compared to the residential tax payer? Water and sewer is provided to everyone, but garbage pick-up is not. Sidewalks are cleared, when cleared, for everyone. The disproportionate rate is not justifiable. We are not banks! We are not the Fortis’s of the world.
6. Discretionary spending must be frozen. We need to control expenditures at every level and within every department. They must be forced to work within a defined dollar amount. Metrobus transfers should be frozen and if that means reduced routes or frequency of its service, so be it!
7. Discretionary spending on a new Mews Centre, bicycle route studies, etc. has to be put on hold until our fiscal house is in order. Though the Mews Centre is a capital works, money has to be borrowed to erect it, the interest on that money comes from current account revenue, and when built it has to be staffed, with additional draws on current accounts. The Aquarena and The Works are underutilized and can be used as a suggested alternate in the short term.
When I first, and for the only time, met with a new councilor upon her election, I asked only of one thing
of her, that she spend our money as if it were her own. In these fiscal down times, I do not think
that is much to ask of our councillors.
Put a halt to “spending.” Perhaps the mantra during the existing and foreseeable economic downturn should be, to reduce superfluous “spending” and “services” and live as best we can within the means we have and without further burdening tax payers, especially the commercial ones.
If we need to cut services to streamline our fiscal house, so be it. Tax payers will understand: Try them.
Denis G. Barry
Ward 4 resident