Passing waste reduction savings on to New Westminster taxpayers

We were duly impressed by recent waste reduction news out of Port Coquitlam that John Ashdown drew our attention to.

It seems that a year after introducing “two leading-edge waste-reduction programs,” Port Coquitlam residents are now sending 26% less garbage to the landfill and they’ve saved $165,000 in the process.

Port Coquitlam’s new pickup schedule has also saved “9,600 litres of diesel fuel” and prevented “about 98 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases” from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Even better, Port Coquitlam residents are now looking forward to another zero increase in garbage rates for 2011.

Okay, pinch me. Where can the envious masses here in the Royal City sign up for that waste reduction program instead of the one where we get dinged with yet another increase in our solid waste fees this year?

Yes, it’s true that New Westminster’s waste output has been reduced by 48% (from 367 tonnes to just 188 tonnes) owing to the city’s new garbage scheme — as reported in the December 22, 2010 Newsleader. That part’s not so bad and we are impressed with the reduction of waste.

But what do the overtaxed citizens of New West get for all the hours they’re spending sorting their garbage? Surely we should be seeing some sort of savings or benefits being passed on to New Westminster taxpayers similar to the ones seen in nearby Port Coquitlam?

Alas, no… What we’re apparently getting is an $11 increase in our solid waste fees this year.

Moreover, according to a December 8, 2010 article in the Record, the chair of the city’s environmental committee (Councillor Cote) says the city’s new ‘clean green’ waste pick up service (intended to keep yard waste from landfills), and the addition of a new vehicle to the city’s fleet, have increased emissions by 57 tons.

(NOTE: see above where it states that Port Coquitlam’s new pickup schedule saved “9,600 litres of diesel fuel” and prevented “about 98 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases” from being emitted into the atmosphere.)

So: No apparent decrease in fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions, and no apparent decrease in labour costs in New Westminster! What gives?

Again, we are impressed with the reduction of waste in New Westminster, but we would also like to see some savings passed on to the city’s taxpayers.

About half of Port Coquitlam’s reported $165,000 in savings in 2010 reportedly came from reduced labour, equipment and fuel costs, while $82,000 came from averted landfill disposal fees.

Considering Port Coquitlam’s inspiring results, and the savings they’ve passed on to taxpayers, we’re obviously doing something wrong here in New Westminster.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore explains his city’s impressive results as follows: “We were able to achieve these successes because our residents got on board with the programs…. We’re working together to save money and at the same time provide a positive environmental impact.”

Well, New Westminster residents certainly appear to be on board with waste reduction.

(NOTE: See above where it states “New Westminster’s waste output has been reduced by 48% (from 367 tonnes to just 188 tonnes) because of the new garbage scheme….”)

So now, in addition to a reduction in waste, what New Westminster taxpayers want to see are some money savings and the positive environmental impact.

Port Coquitlam, and their Mayor Greg Moore, seem to have to figured out how to make waste reduction work and pass savings on to taxpayers. Why can’t New Westminster?

Voice could not have said it better: D. Brown’s letter in the Record

D. Brown’s letter in Saturday’s Record has raised many of the same issues Voice has been raising for the past several years.

While we do not know who D. Brown is, nor is he/she known to Voice, we could not have articulated these issues better and we fully agree with Brown.

For example, D. Brown points to the fact that “The city is piling on residential units at an astonishing rate, yet is not balancing that with infrastructure to support them.”

Of course, one of the consequences of expanding the city’s population without increasing public infrastructure, as Brown states, is the meagre allotment of swim times and skate times “suitable for school children” on weekdays, which Brown says “compares very poorly to other municipalities’ leisure centres, such as Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Delta and Vancouver, which are available, in part or whole, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

The 37-year-old Canada Games Pool, is the most used facility in the city. Fourteen thousand children a year take lessons there.” (from D. Brown’s letter in the Record)

D. Brown also comments on the Pier Park and states: “The city has seen fit to commit to $53-plus million for a riverfront, perimeter road/rail-hugging park that is looking more and more like a taxpayer-supplied amenity for the Larco towers that will be built between Sixth and Eighth streets.”

This mirrors the central point that Voice has been trying to make over the past several years; i.e., that during the last eight years the city has slowly but steadily been turned into a bedroom community.

There has been a clear and dramatic increase in density in the city accompanied by the steady erosion of jobs. This has resulted in a shift in the city’s tax base, and what used to be a consistent tax-producing commercial-industrial base has been converted for the most part into multi-family housing which requires a significant increase in costly public services and amenities.

And as D. Brown points out, these public services and amenities, including those vital to children and families, have not kept up with the increasing densification of New Westminster.

Ironically, it was the announcement of a New Westminster Children’s Charter, and its juxtaposition with the strain being placed on New Westminster’s only public indoor pool, that occasioned D. Brown’s letter.

While we reserve judgement on the new Children’s Charter until we see whether it translates words in concrete action, as Brown points out in his/her letter, if things don’t change in this city “the playroom at McDonald’s could be the major recreational facility in New West” and our children will be adults by the time urgently needed school replacement projects are completed.

Chris Bryan editorial is a “must read”

Chris Bryan’s editorial about Voice (and the evolving New Westminster political scene) in the October 28th Newsleader is a must read for anyone interested in local political affairs.

As Chris Bryan points out, not only is Voice alive and kicking and “a force to be reckoned with in 2011,” Voice is actively gearing up for the next civic election which is now just a year away.

To paraphrase an obvious and famously apt quote attributed to Mark Twain/Samuel Clemons: Reports of the death of Voice have been greatly exaggerated; and it’s pure wishful thinking on the part of those with an interest in maintaining the status quo here in New Westminster to imagine that Voice is dead.

And, as more and more people are starting to point out, holding elected officials to account, raising important issues and challenging the status quo are essential to the political process and not “negatives” as some would have it.

However, as Chris Bryan very correctly points out, Voice was just a year old at the time of the last civic election, and like any young, vital organization Voice is always learning and evolving and we appreciate any and all feedback.

After all, Voice is based on the premise that the community’s interests are best served when a diversity of views and opinions are brought to bear on issues and a broad public consensus is achieved. And what we’re ultimately striving for are the optimal solutions that flow from open and transparent public processes that have accountability and “value for money” as key guiding principles.

Chris Bryan’s passion for New Westminster is readily apparent, and as always, Voice is open to feedback and critical analysis of our organization and our actions in the community because that which does not kill us makes us stronger.

Voice New Westminster Director Mike Walmsley’s Letter to the editor of The Record

I’m outraged to read, “More city staff hit the $100,000 mark,” July 3. The Record.

In the last 18 months many jurisdictions have been looking at ways to cut costs while New Westminster is eager to increase them. From 38 to 72 city employees now in that special “$100,000 Club”! What are we thinking in New Westminster? Where does this insanity stop? Frankly I’m tired of the argument that you have to pay to get good people. I don’t feel that New Westminster gets its money worth. More and more companies continue to do more with less as do many governments and government agencies while we dole it out hand over fist. Hey, come work for New West where the “liv’in is easy”!

On the same train of thought, my electric bill keeps telling me we “enjoy the lowest electrical rates in North America!” How can this be without any economies of scale? Look at the wages we pay the top exec’s in that department of more than $805,000 in 2009. Or if you like more than $2,200 per day; a staggering sum before we even think of adding in the “front line” employees and equipment costs and replacement. This includes a General Manager and two Managers, an incredulous fee for a city the size of New Westminster. Talk about kingdom building! Is that sum with or without benefit? What are the extra costs of expense accounts? A Human Resources Department that sees the top two ranking individuals pulling in more than $300,000 a year. For that kind of money I would expect better managed labour contract negotiations and settlements to keep us more in line with other jurisdictions. A Purchasing Manager that makes $20,000 more than the yearly average identified by PMAC (Purchasing Management Association of Canada) reports for a qualified individual with a university degree and a CPP (Certified Professional Purchaser) designation from the PMAC.

I’m not out to attack individuals for their earnings, but to bring attention to the lack of fiscal control for something as simple as wages and benefits that you and I pay for again and again, everyday. For this we pay over priced senior administrators to tell us that we can expect to pay more and more in the future, including retroactive pay. Where is the control over our tax dollars? I guess the tail really does wag the dog in New West! No wonder they’re all smiling in their newspaper pictures, they’re all laughing all the way to the bank on your dime!

Mike Walmsley, Voice New Westminster Director

When is Municipal Tax Freedom Day?

Coming approximately a month after “tax freedom day” and the same day that New Westminster residents paid their property taxes the News Leader ran a few interesting financial articles.

On p.A4 there was “Council Expenses Mount” which highlighted how our City’s council expenses had “shot up more than $23,000 in 2009 compared to the previous year.” Apparently most of the expenses were the result of 5 members who traveled to China/Japan.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy topped spending with $10,307 in expenses, followed by Lorrie Williams ($8,727), Betty McIntosh ($8,514) and Bill Harper ($8,383), who all made the trip. Mayor Wayne Wright, who led the delegation, incurred $7,133 in expenses, and another $5,151 in expenses stemming from his role as chair of the New Westminster Police Board.

Then on p. A9 there were two more interestingly timed stories, one regarding the number of city employees making over $100K and the other about how the City (read New Westminster taxpayers) will pay for the pier park debt.Apparently we now have almost double the number of employees we had making over $100K in 2008. In 2008 we had 38 staffers making over $100K and we now have 70.

Also on this page was an article on how the City (taxpayers) will be paying for the future debt of the Westminster Pier Park. According to the News Leader, “residential taxpayers won’t be on the hook-directly, at least-for paying down the debt, which will total more than $16 million.” New Westminster council borrowed $8 million to buy the pier property and another $8.3 million to pay our share of the park construction costs. Supposedly the first loan will be paid back by 2014 using development cost charges, density bonusing and proceeds from the sale of city-owned land. Density bonusing permits developers to build higher density on a site in exchange for payments to the City. One has to ponder how much denser our City will become or how much land our City is going to sell off in the next four years in order for us to be able to raise $8 million. The second loan will cost taxpayers approximately $730,000 annually for 15 years. It should be noted that this loan is for the ‘first-phase” of the park. At this rate by the time the vision for this park is fully realized our grandchildren will be paying for it.

What Does Redevelopment Really Cost Us?

Don Cayo, of the Vancouver Sun, wrote an interesting article in the June 19th, 2010 edition of the Vancouver Sun. He posits that, “If Cambie Street grows as hoped, City of Vancouver will lose big bucks.” In the article Cayo states that, “The proposed rezoning of Cambie Street properties served by the new Canada Line may cause economic hardship that erodes or outweighs any potential benefits.” He goes on to state:

To understand why, consider how differently business and residential properties affect the city’s financial health.
About 92 per cent of assessed properties in Vancouver are residential, leaving just eight per cent commercial — a number that is steadily declining as the city increasingly becomes a place to live but not to work.
This relative handful of business properties pays half of the city’s total property taxes. Yet the cost of services they use — streets, police, fire protection and such — adds up to only a quarter of City Hall spending.
Thus for every $2 businesses pay in property tax, the city spends just $1 in return, leaving a 50-per-cent “profit” the city can use to subsidize homeowners. And subsidize they do, spending about $1.50 on residential services for every $1 in residential property tax.

A number of points within this article could just as easily be written about New Westminster. The comment, “as the city increasingly becomes a place to live but not to work,” certainly sounds like our City.

Recently Mayor Wright called himself a “development mayor“. As our taxes continue to rise and our City’s budget increases (by approx. 45% over the last 7 years) one has to wonder how much
New Westminster’s development is costing residents and businesses. Is our current mayor’s vision driving away the few remaining businesses and making our City less and less
affordable for young families and our seniors?