Did Mike And Ed’s Vye Rd Gift Kill The YMCA Deal?

By April 10, 2013Mike Archer

By Mike Archer. With all due respect to YMCA president and CEO Stephen Butz and father Banman who dutifully and piously read Butz’s letter to the citizens of Abbotsford, the use of Mark Taylor’s untimely and tragic death to explain away the deferral of a massive multi-million dollar project that has been nearly a decade in the works is insulting to the taxpayers and residents of Abbotsford and to the memory of Mark Taylor.

As one commenter said on Abbotsford Today, “89 people working as managerial staff at city hall make over $100,000 according to another local paper but none of them could do whatever it was Mark Taylor would have done to bring the Y here.”

Butz’s reference to a ‘revised critical path’ leaves little doubt this project has simply been put on hold with Mark Taylor’s death being used in a cycical, cold and manipulative manner by Butz and Banman in order to explain the decision to put the project off until either the political heat dies down or the City can cobble together the money to give to the YMCA.

The opportunity of getting any more funding out of the provincial government will disappear with the Liberal Party’s move to the opposition benches next month.

The always elusive truth is more likely to be found somewhere other than carefully targeted press releases. Why, for instance, if the letter was dated March 28th did Banman not offer Thiessen the courtesy of informing him of its contents earlier rather than using it in such a theatrical manner and shutting Thiessen down at a public meeting.

To read Thiessen’s prepared statement to Council simply click here.

As is so often the case in Abbotsford politics, the truth is more likely to be found in our empty bank account.

With much fanfare a couple of weeks ago federal MP Ed Fast and provincial MLA Mike de Jong came to Abbotsford and presented Mayor Bruce Banman with a gift with strings attached.

Much like Ed Fast’s last gift – the two new federal overpasses over a federal highway which Abbotsford taxpayers had to pay for – the Vye Rd overpass came with similar strings.

Out of the $25 million total cost of the project, Abbotsford taxpayers are on the hook for $8.3 or 33%, up from our $600,000 or 7 % back when the deal was first worked out in 2005.

That Vye Rd overpass deal was originally worked out back in 2005 because of the need to address safety concerns at the railway crossing. The safety concerns are still there. The project has been hanging around for seven years waiting for council to address the deadly issue and now the price has gone up and we’ve run out of money. This is referred to as Municipal Planning in Abbotsford.

Since our DCC fund is in deficit to the tune of more than $12 (thanks to Ed’s last gift) many who watch Abbotsford politics have been wondering just how such a cash-strapped city can go on accepting such costly gifts while gifting millions of tax dollars to the private sector at the same.

Councillor Dave Loewen

Councillor Dave Loewen

As ‘professor’ Loewen would likely tell his students – ‘The math just doesn’t add up’

One of the main reasons people are opposed to the YMCA proposal is that, in addition to the principled objection to financing private sector growth with public money (which is strictly prohibited under the Municipal Charter), the City of Abbotsford simply doesn’t have the money to give away.

YMCA Project BudgettingBudget documents reveal that the City has been quietly tucking money away in its financial plan in anticipation of their preferred decision to approve the YMCA project.

(Much like the $300 million for the new water supply you rejected by a factor of 75% – 25% in a referendum is still in the City’s long term financial plan. Please read the definition of ‘postpone’ at the top of the page)

In the five year financial plan approved in 2012 it states:

“ Specifically, $8.75 million has been earmarked in 2015 and the remaining $8.75 million is in 2016. In order to accommodate this project in the Five-Year Plan, the General Capital Budget in all areas has been reduced in years 2013 through 2017.”

“The effects on the General Capital Budget include project deferral, reprioritization of projects over the Five-Year Plan and elimination of some projects.”

This is what the City has been doing with taxpayers’ money for over a decade – the necessary funds to upgrade, maintain and improve our water, sewer and road infrastructure – all necessary if the city is to grow and the tax burden be spread around among new residents, new businesses and new taxpayers – is being diverted to vanity projects, risky and costly ventures like Plan A, George Peary’s Abbotsford Heat contract, and private sector developments like the YMCA proposal with $17.5 million taxpayer gifts attached.

As a result our infrastructure deficit has stalled economic growth and we have no money … worse we’re in debt to the DCC fund which, in law, we are not allow to use like a credit card and we must pay back quickly. So we’re left with deciding what not to do this year, next year or the year after …

This is simply not the way you build a city or exercise your fiduciary responsibility to safeguard your friends’ and neighbour’s money.

The gift from Mike de Jong and Ed Fast may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. When those who know how much money we don’t have pointed out to those who have been spending it that we simply can’t afford to give $17.5 million to the YMCA and build Mike and Ed’s Vye Rd overpass, someone had to decide which project to put off. Clearly the more popular mistake was to build the Vye Rd overpass, and this is politics, after all.

We’re broke. And this is what it’s like living in a City that has no money. Even the Vye Rd overpass is going to use up money that is needed to refill our Capital Reserve Fund, repay on DCC fund and avoid adding to the ridiculous tax and water rate burdens we already face.

So; no matter how much Bruce Banman and Stephen Butz want to dishonour the memory of Mark Taylor by claiming his tragic death is the reason they’ve had to push back the $17.5 million giveaway, the fact we’ve run out of money for them to spend appears more likely to be the real culprit in this sordid affair.

Maybe this will lead to a better calibre of politician in Abbotsford. When Patty and Simon and Dave and John discover they’ve spent all the money and there’s no more fun to be had writing cheques, maybe they’ll retire and leave room for the two generations of councillors it’s going to take to clean up their mess.

[And I get accused of not being able to find the silver lining … ;)]

*Thanks to Lily Kaetler for her research
** To watch the video of the meeting at which Fred Thiessen was shut down click here.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Fred Thiessen used the word “disingenuous” in the few moments he managed to get in – rather than the full 10 minutes, (and most worthy) presentation he had prepared to present to council.

    Fred was being most kind in using such a polite description of what Bruce Banman had just done to him. As has been the norm for the entire YMCA and City of Abbotsford dealings, this was a sneaky, low, manipulated, and calculated move.

    Nothing prevented Banman from letting Thiessen know on March 28th or 29th or 30th that the Steve Butz of the YMCA sent, or delivered a letter to City Hall. But then of course that would have deprived Bruce of an opportunity for drama. A prima donna thrives on the limelight.

    But not only the need for centre stage, there is also the well-established pattern of keeping us who must pay for all the costly, foolish decisions council makes, in the dark. So it would not do for Fred Thiessen to have a copy of that letter, or even know of its existence in advance. Why then Fred would have been able to process this latest turn in the shenanigans of the Y and our ‘leaders’, and adjust his material accordingly.

    Knowledge is power, don’t you know. Must keep the unwashed masses ignorant and outside the gate.

    No, Banman waits till the last moment, tries to make it sound as if this is all over now boys and girls. Your wise and kindly mayor took care of it. Go on home now. Move along.

    That is the odious deception we were supposed to believe and it is a fraud. Only when Fred prodded deeper did we hear Banman admit, contrary to his first assertion, that in fact the legally, binding MOU was still in place.

    The operative sentence from our less than straight-talking mayor was, “The proposal for the YMCA will not be moving forward, ………AT THIS TIME.’

  • Richard Peachey says:

    “Why, for instance, if the letter was dated March 28th did Banman not offer Thiessen the courtesy of informing him of its contents earlier rather than using it in such a theatrical manner and shutting Thiessen down at a public meeting.” I agree 100% with your pointed rhetorical question. This was both a total lack of consideration for Fred Thiessen AND a cynical use of the situation as an opportunity for drama. When the mayor received that letter from the Y, he should have immediately issued a carefully prepared press release to inform all of us, and his office should also have contacted Thiessen directly to spare him the time and expense of preparing his speech and running those expensive ads in the local print media.

  • wintershades says:

    “strictly prohibited under the Municipal Charter”. Like Plan A !!!!!

  • BCGuy says:

    It appears there are currently only a few who deserve to sit on council, the rest need to be turfed at the earliest opportunity. Mayor Banman has done a 180 from what he told the taxpayers during election time. This shows us that he can not be trusted either. I hear he drives a shiney new yellow Mustang convertible. Did he sell off the beloved truck to buy it? Remember him saying he would continue driving the truck even if he was elected as Mayor…what happened to that Bruce?

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