Friday, April 11, 2008

Petty politics

The situation with the Library Board keeps getting more interesting all the time. I really hope the Mayor, Councillor Brister and Councillor Lewenza keep up their assault on this issue. The more they do, the more they expose themselves.

Let's look at the Mayor's latest comments:

Reached on Thursday, Mayor Eddie Francis stressed that the surplus isn't new money, and has already been earmarked to pay for such things as Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims by firefighters and expected tax reductions as a result of tax appeals.

"It was well understood during the budget negotiations of two months ago that there was going to be a surplus. But it was equally understood that there were costs that had yet to be allocated," Francis said.

According to Francis, Halberstadt knew all this and had a responsibility to communicate it to the library board, since Halberstadt was a part of the budget deliberations.

To start, we'll leave aside the fact that Councillor Brister is also a member of the Library board who we would assume has the same responsibility that the Mayor assigns to Councillor Halberstadt alone.

Let's look at the Mayor's assertion that "Halberstadt knew all this and had a responsibility to communicate it to the library board. "

Yesterday's Windsor Star article
on the surplus had several quotes regarding the surplus from other Councillors, speculating on various uses for this new found money. I didn't see any mention from any of them that the funds were all allocated already.

Councillor Postma:
"A tax break is an option, but you always need to look at the level of service and priorities," said Coun. Caroline Postma. "Before I say tax break I need to look at projects we're working on and make sure we are on the right track with things."

Postma pointed to planned tourism promotions or projects aimed at boosting downtown that council may decide on soon. They will likely require money from last year's surplus.

Councillor Valentinis:
"(A tax cut) is an issue of debate for council to undertake," said Coun. Fulvio Valentinis. "But our (reserve funds) have also been consistently below where they should be ..."
My favourite, City Treasurer Onorio Colucci:
The budget surplus may wind up being used for a handful of unexpected expenses, but most of the money should remain in the city's "rainy day" reserve account, suggested city treasurer Onorio Colucci.
Funny, the one thing I can't find any of these people saying is that all this money has already been allocated. Not even a hint. You would expect that at least the City Treasurer would have made this very clear. Councillors Valentinis and Postma are not rookie councillors, why are they under the impression that this money hasn't been decided upon yet?

The A-Channel's report from yesterday includes the same sort of quotes, with the Mayor even chiming in about concerns regarding the Library's CEO - but nothing about the surplus all being spent. Councillor Brister is more concerned with "messaging" and the fact that the Library Board"defied" Council's direction.

The Star's online edition of this story has some additional material that didn't make the print version.
Indeed, Halberstadt said a board report on the library system's financial conditions indicates the current level of operations aren't sustainable past this year. "It can be handled in 2008. But beyond, we're looking at about a half-a-million-dollar shortfall a year."

Halberstadt said the library board's formal request to reverse the funding cut was sent to city administration on Thursday, and it will likely be discussed by city council at Monday's meeting.

Halberstadt said the library board also sent on Thursday documents regarding library budgets since 2003 - something the city has asked for.

But on Thursday night, Francis said council has yet to see that information. "Council asked for detailed, line-by-line numbers. We, as a council, have not seen those numbers yet."

Asked why it seems City Hall is frequently at loggerheads with the library board, Francis said the city has its own frustrations with the board's lack of information-sharing.

"There are a lot of events over the past two years that have raised a significant amount of concerns among myself and members of council with regard to the operation of the library. And to date, our concerns have not been answered."

The bolded part would almost be funny if it wasn't so sad. The concept of this Mayor complaining about lack of information sharing is akin to Attila the Hun complaining about being called aggressive.

The Library Board recently passed a City-mandated audit with flying colours. The Mayor speaks of a "signficant amount of concerns" with regard to the operation of the library. What are all these concerns and why haven't we heard about them before? If these concerns have occurred over the last two years, why didn't Council take action when appointing new board members?

Library Board members are appointed by a majority vote of Council. Is the Mayor saying that year in, year out, that Council has been appointing the wrong people to the Library board? This running battle with the Library goes all the way back to the previous Council. Is each and every board member appointed the problem and not Council?

The City's base funding to the Library has decreased almost $1 million dollars over the last four years, while adding another branch and demanding that services not be affected. We could only wish that the same due diligence was equally applied across all City departments. Maybe if all this scrutiny had been applied to the WUC over the last four years we wouldn't be getting screwed in that area.

Could the Library Board have balanced their budget this year without cuts? Yes, but only by drawing their reserves down to dangerously low levels, a choice they obviously refused. With the year after year cuts demanded by the City, it's probably a wise choice to hold onto those reserves, especially when this is a contract year for the Library.

The Mayor and Council are of the opinion that the Library Board should expend most of their money in reserve, as this is what Council has consistently done themselves.
"(A tax cut) is an issue of debate for council to undertake," said Coun. Fulvio Valentinis. "But our (reserve funds) have also been consistently below where they should be with respect to our peers."
That's certainly the understatement of the year.

Gord Henderson, The Windsor Star Editorial Board and anyone else who wishes to can join hands with Mayor Francis and the rest of Council and sing Kumbaya Windsor to their hearts desire - I've had enough.

PS. here's some help for City Council - word is they've been desperately searching for the last six months or so.

Edit: Schnurr's Sound-Off with more on the surplus - The truth? What truth? Mayor Francis at it again

I particularly loved this part:

And the Mayor’s statement on AM800 appears to contradict his 2006 Inaugural Address at which he stressed the importance of increasing our reserves to $112-million by 2012.