Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Adventure with Garbage

Last spring, garbage collection in my block of Ward 3 was changed to roll-out bins rather than the big bins in the alley.  I had made the motion at council after enduring years of having the bins filled by people not from the neighbourhood using them as free places to dump their garbage, of finding garbage spread around the bins and through the alley, and of finding piles of hundreds of discarded needles next to the bins.

The change has been remarkable - there is much less garbage lying about.  It is a bit of a hassle to remember which day is garbage day versus which day is recycling day, but fortunately for me, Andrea is the early riser in the house, and usually has the appropriate bin out by the alley before I've finished my coffee.  Just so you don't think I'm a total slacker, I usually manage to get the empty bin back to the yard before she comes home from work.

So no more problems with finding the big  garbage bins full with non-resident garbage, or the recycling contaminated with garbage.  We find that every other week pick-up is sufficient for both garbage and recycling for our household - if anything, the recycling bin fills more quickly.

The change meant that the apartment bins behind us had to move to large commercial bins, and unfortunately, non-residents who feel that it's okay for other people to pay for their garbage disposal still take advantage and feel that it's their right to fill these bins.  Just yesterday, Andrea came in from filling the bird feeder to say that there was a truck pulled up to the dumpster of the building behind us, and she was pretty sure that it had Manitoba plates.

I went out to investigate, and asked the couple if they lived in the building, because otherwise they shouldn't be dumping their garbage there.  Not too surprisingly, I was told to mind my own business and not be so nosy - with a few colourful adjectives thrown in, of course.  I told them that it was my business, as councillor for the area,and got the licence number of the truck, which was a Manitoba plate.  With a few more insults and expletives tossed my way, they got into their truck and drove away, while I called by-law enforcement to report the incident and provide what information I could.

This isn't an unusual occurrence.  I've observed at least four different trucks do the same thing, and the building owner has dropped by to complain about the situation.  I appreciate his frustration - he's paying for a bin for his tenants, not for thoughtless people, just as I would get annoyed when my sanitation fees were paying for other people's garbage disposal, often at the expense of my own.

I think that one of the solutions, for the city costs at least, is to move all residents to roll-out bins. Right now a small majority of residents (maybe 60%) have roll-out service.  I know that they are a bit more work for residents, but they help to ensure that the garbage that goes to the landfill has been paid for, either through sanitation bills or by the people bringing their garbage directly to the dump.  It would remove some of the ease with which non-residents can cruise down a back alley and get rid of their garbage for free.

As for my apartment neighbours, I'll continue to be nosy and not mind my own business, and call by-law when I see a suspicious truck.  And maybe I'll suggest to the building owner that he see if the bin can be moved to a less easily accessible spot.  And at council, I'll be pushing for more roll-out bins - they do reduce the amount of garbage in the area, which makes for a nicer neighbourhood.

"Garbage is, always.  We will die, civilization will crumble, life as we know it will cease to exist, but trash will endure." - Robin Nagle

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Setting This Year's Tax Increase

It took two council meetings, but council passed this year's tax rate this past week - an increase of 1%.  I supported this budget, because the proposed loan to the Tourism Board was removed from the budget, where it didn't belong, since it isn't part of the actual budget.  Council will vote on the loan at a future meeting.

While the budget process is still not where I would like it to be, since we only look at proposed new expenditures, not on where our current spending could be trimmed, I think that council did a good job of taking out non-essential increases.  I keep hoping that some year, we'll do a more thorough job, but at least this council looked at the budget before deciding what the increase would be - I've been on past councils where a target rate increase was set before we even looked at the budget, based on how much of an increase was thought to be bearable to residents - that's doing things backward, in my opinion.  I think that the budget should be based on what work needs to be done, and how much can be done within a year, rather than setting an artificial target.

As I mentioned, the process did take two meetings.  This is because allowing three readings of a bylaw at one meeting requires unanimous consent of all council members, and one councillor wasn't prepared to do that.  I have no problem with that - those are the rules, and it's every councillor's right to ask for a delay.  The reason that he gave was that the police budget has not yet been confirmed, as council refused to accept the proposed budget, and that led to some confused discussion around police budget approval.

So, to try to clear up the process: the police commission submits a budget request to council.  Unlike with other parts of the budget, council cannot tinker with the police budget.  The only options are to approve or not.  Council cannot, for example, say that we aren't approving a specific expenditure.  So if the police submit a budget that includes a set amount to buy new police cars, council cannot say that we will approve only half the number of cars, and reduce the budget accordingly.  What has happened so far is that the police budget has been submitted, and council has returned it to the police commission, saying that we will only allocate an amount that is $200,000 less than their proposed budget.  The police commission then has two choices, to rework and resubmit the budget so that it fits, or not rework the budget, but work throughout the year to manage on the reduced allocation.  The result is the same - they will get $200,000 less than they requested.

We could have avoided this situation by not having the budget vote until after the next police commission meeting, which is tomorrow, at which point the commission will decide how they are going to proceed.  But for whatever reason, it was brought forward before that happened, leading to the potential that someone would object to the process being off-kilter, and someone did.  As I said, well within his rights, and I've done the same more than once, but his concern over the lack of a police budget didn't stop the budget getting unanimous approval the next day, at a special council meeting.  Again, the special meeting wasn't required, as we have another council meeting in a couple of weeks, but special meetings for third readings are a bad habit that the previous mayor started, and maybe some members of council have forgotten that we don't need to be in a hurry all the time - especially about the budget.

Once we had voted, I did not see the need to delay the final vote - the result will be the same whether voted on now or in two weeks.  But the resultant focus of the media not on the budget, but on the delay, is probably a good thing to remember in the future, if we want to ensure that people are aware of the important things, not the red herrings.

"A budget is like a mythical bean bag.  (Council) votes mythical beans into it, then reaches in and tries to pull real ones out." - Will Rogers

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Second Round of Community Meetings

We're now about halfway through the second round of community meetings.  These are the meetings organized and run by the Director of Planning and Development, in which residents of each ward gather to discuss the issues affecting their ward, and perhaps generate some ideas of how the city could deal with these issues.

The second meeting for Ward 3 was held last Tuesday evening.  Unlike the last meeting, for which residents had same day notice, at least this one was advertised well in advance, although I do find it rather inexplicable that the notice in the paper didn't give either the date, time or location, but rather referred readers to the city web-page or facebook page for further information - an extra step that residents shouldn't have to go through.

About 20 residents were at this meeting - a drop from about 30 at the first meeting.  Some of that might have been because this meeting was just to report on what was said at the first meeting, so there was no real opportunity to move forward.  Once again, issues raised weren't anything that I haven't raised at council many times - the need for more visible police presence, concerns about boarded up houses, and concerns about infrastructure maintenance, largely roads and sidewalks.  Unfortunately, no other city staff were there to provide substantive answers.

There will be another round of meetings in the new year, where it is planned for the appropriate city staff to attend.  I hope that these meetings will provide some of the answers that residents should have, and not just result in the same old issues being raised.

I do think that there is value to having these meetings, but they need to be structured to provide more useful information about what the current situation is, and identify opportunities for improvement.  That would give some sense that the city plans on addressing these issues, not just providing an opportunity to vent.  I think that those running the meetings also need to be aware of some of the things that have been tried in the past, not suggest things like Community Watch as though Midtown residents haven't already been there, done that.

I think that the first two meetings had reasonable turnout, but people will not continue to come to meetings if they don't see that their issues are being addressed and their ideas are given consideration.  Their time is more valuable than that.  People have many good ideas on how to improve their neighbourhood; it's up to the city to take action to make improvements happen.

"I think there needs to be a meeting to set an agenda for more meetings about meetings." - Jonah Goldberg