Columns: Embarrassing Afternoon For Council

By January 22, 2013Hot Topic, Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. Listening to Parks & Rec Director Mark Taylor drone on Monday like the teacher’s voice on a Charlie Brown cartoon I think I finally figured out why most of Abbotsford Council seems to be have such tiny brains.

Maybe they do.

It may be because they have to listen to people like Mark Taylor or it may be that they check their brains at the door with their coats before sitting down to do the City’s business.

Whatever the reason, the performance by the majority of Abbotsford Council and Parks and Recreation Director Mark Taylor after Fred Thiessen’s presentation on the YMC at Monday’s Executive Council meeting revealed a level of thick-headed obstinacy and inability to deal with reality that has become frightening to many in the community.

And it is no longer what the powers-that-be used to refer to as the lunatic fringe which is making noise anymore. The noise is now coming from within the power structure and it is both loud and angry.

Fred Thiessen, who made a presentation on behalf of the Citizens for Responsible Municipal Government (CRMG) can hardly be described as a member of the lunatic fringe.

A successful developer and realtor Thiessen is among a growing list of those within the Abbotsford power structure who have had enough.

If senior staff and politicians were dismissive of those who have been pointing out the financial folly of their ways for the last six years they would be wise not to be so dismissive of Thiessen.

And yet, despite Thiessen’s presentation and an eloquent series of questions and points from Councillor Henry Braun, Abbotsford Council performed like children at a mock elementary student council meeting.

Some samples:

Councillor Patricia Ross

Councillor Patricia Ross

Councillor John Smith: “If we were to accept Councillor Braun’s motion we would be going against what we voted for in December.”

Councillor Les Barkman: “Without all the information before me I can’t make a decision.”

Councillor Dave Loewen: “I can’t support the motion because I think the new City Manager should have a chance to look the file over and tell us what he thinks before we do anything.”

Councillor Simon Gibson: “I’d like to be on record as supporting the part of the motion that agrees to accept the report.”

Councillor Patricia Ross: “I just want to say I’m confused and I think both sides should have their say because that’s democratic.”

These are people who are responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of your money and they are talking about a project that has been in the works since 2005.

Faced with an angry group of taxpayers who was trying to get it through their thick skulls that the City doesn’t have the money for a new YMCA at taxpayers’ expense, nor do its citizens want their money given away to the YMCA because the Parks and Recreation Director can’t do his well-paid job, City Council fumbled and refused to address questions on an issue that has been simmering for eight years.

Faced, for the first time, with actual taxpayers demanding to know what the hell was going on Council dropped the ball, deferred any decisions, refused any answers and looked, quite honestly, like fools.

The man who told us the Plan A projects were on budget and on time (neither was true) and put all of Abbotsford Parks & Rec eggs into one basket – a 7000-seat arena nobody can use and a hockey team which can’t draw a crowd – actually told Council we have a shortage of ice rinks and pools in Abbotsford.

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

This from a man who closed the Matsqui pool because he hadn’t maintained it and didn’t include the Center Ice pool in his figures because usage is not high enough and, as Councillor Loewen pointed out – only members can use it – sort of like the YMCA proposal.

Perhaps the most revealing moment of the meeting came when Councillor Henry Braun pointed out that City staff cannot seem to get their projections right. The entire water shortage-surplus fiasco was based on outdated, poorly enunciated, unrealistic graphs based on faulty information.

We almost sank $300 million into a new water supply we didn’t need because City staff don’t know how to make or read a graph. Their graph had our water needs rising at a 45 degree angle while actual usage was plummeting.

Abbotsford Today Summary of graph presented to Council showing water demand predictions going up to the sky while actual usage was plummeting.

Abbotsford Today Summary of graph presented to Council showing water demand predictions going up to the sky while actual usage was plummeting.

Abbotsford Today Summary of graph presented to Council Monday showing water demand predictions going up to the sky while actual usage was plummeting.[/caption]

Similarly Taylor’s predictions for the demand for Parks & rec services such as pools and ice rinks are based on faulty assumptions made back in 2005 about what the population of Abbotsford would be.

Councillor Henry Braun

Councillor Henry Braun

Braun pointed out that recent census data pegs our population at 133,000. Mayor Banman interrupted to ask that Braun use the ‘latest data’ from the provincial government showing a population of 138,000.

Mayor Bruce Banman

Mayor Bruce Banman

The crowd erupted in laughter when Councillor Smith explained that the federal numbers are correct and that the reason for the discrepancy is that the provincial numbers Banman was quoting were estimates used to secure funding for municipalities.

Staff confirmed our population is 133,000.

Here’s the kicker; Braun’s question was this: If our population in 2005 was 123,000 and Taylor identified no urgent need for pools, how could a mere 10,000 increase in population have created such urgency.

Taylor mumbled about figures, percentages and charts for nearly ten minutes before Braun thanked him for his answer. No one in the room, including Taylor I’m sure, had a clue what he had just been babbling about.

Braun is onto something.

Abbotsford City staff have based all of their decision-making on faulty assumptions of endless, boundless growth which has not materialized.

sales dropWe have approved several large housing projects in Abbotsford which have never got off the ground because there is no one willing to purchase. We have deferred all of the infrastructure necessary for development to occur and raised the development costs so high that developers aren’t building in Abbotsford.

Just look at the Economic Indicators for building permits and housing starts in Abbotsford. Developers are passing Abbotsford by and so is the much vaunted population growth on which all of staff’s projections and decisions have been based.

This is not a trivial misunderstanding. This is a complete divorce from reality on the part of the senior City staff and the majority of Council.

Put bluntly … these people do not know what they are doing!

Braun was correct to urge the tearing up of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the YMCA until someone can be found, either in the bureaucracy or at the Council table, who can understand basic accounting and realize that, in the memorable words of Councillor Moe Gill, “We simply don’t have the money,” to be giving $17.5 million to the YMCA and forgiving about $800,000 per year in taxes.

Oh ya. That was the other cute little tidbit the newspapers haven’t told you about – the YMCA wants taxpayers to forgive $800,000 a year in property taxes so they can move to Abbotsford and do Mark Taylor’s job for him.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Anne Graham says:

    next time Mark Taylor says we need more ice surface someone should remind him that he cut back the city’s ice rink hours of operation in 2001 in order to force groups to book ice time at Center Ice (a private venture) which was failing miserably, he has never restored the hours.
    I don’t argue that the city could use another pool, but I am leery of building things for 3rd parties, I didn’t build a theater for famous players why should I build the Y a pool? I did build a hockey rink for Global Spectrum and I find they were pretty inaccurate in their original proposal which has proven costly. If our council has 17 million burning a hole in their pocket they should pay off some of the plan A mortgage and tell the YMCA. Sorry not at this time.
    I live in the area of the old hospital, it is already over developed with condos and there is a giant hole for 5 years now called the Brio ( a development that failed because it couldn’t presell) maybe we could all swim in there?

  • Pat Differ says:

    The party is over. The one voice of Mr Thiessen supported by those in attendance and thousands more have had enough of this group. Councillor Braun needs support as well as he brings badly needed business expertise and more importantly common sense to Council. What the people need is more like Henry who actually read what is put in front of him and who actually gets involved in our affairs because he cares.
    Time has come to do something about this group.

  • CW says:

    I wonder if the Y will ask for utility(water/sewer) relief also?

  • Maybe Moe Gill is correct in his estimate that the City would lose $800,000. per annum on taxes they would collect on 66,000 square feet of prime real-estate on the old hospital grounds.

    But that figure does seem a bit too high. A friend calculates the potential for property tax on that size lot, assuming the YMCA would build at least a two-storey building, would more likely bring in $400,000 tax and approximately $20 million over a 40 year life-span.

    But whether Councillor Gill’s calculation is too high, or not, the persistent truth is that the mayor and those who still want to ram through with their barely formulated proposal, are wanting the citizens of this City to hand over an obscene amount of money to the YMCA.

    The very valuable prime land, the outright cash gift of $17.5 M and a minimum $400 K taxes, annually , that would go into City coffers if private business were allowed to set up shop, and compete on a level playing field in our City.

    And all of that outlay, and lost revenue for the YMCA which is listed among America’s wealthiest organizations,….the Y, which with all those incredible subsidies would undercut competing service providers here, some of whom state that they will lose too much business to continue doing business in Abbotsford.

    Mike Archer: You have not over-stated at all when you write,….”This is not a trivial misunderstanding. This is a complete divorce from reality on the part of the senior City staff and the majority of Council.”

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