Budget 2015: Nanaimo RCMP contract

Monday, September 29th is the upcoming eTown Hall meeting where you can ask questions regarding the City of Nanaimo’s budget. The Nanaimo RCMP contract is the second largest budget item.

Policing costs account for 17% of tax dollars collected in Nanaimo. In 2007, there was a 6.7% increase in funding to the Nanaimo RCMP. Currently the City of Nanaimo provides the Nanaimo RCMP with $19 million and that is slated to increase to $20 million per year. In addition, the Nanaimo RCMP has asked for $6.6 million to help upgrade and renovate their police station.

Public Communication
What is the point of using social media when there is only partial information given out. An example below shows a tweet from September 3rd describing the perpetrator of a serious assault incident that occurred on August 17th.

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Tweet re August 17, 2014 assault

How is this information adequate for the public to be of any help? For this same incident, a Crime Stoppers re-enactment video was later made with the Nanaimo RCMP spokesman narrating. This gives the impression that Nanaimo Crime Stoppers is a division of the Nanaimo RCMP which it is not. There should a disclaimer somewhere so that people are not mislead.

Why has the RCMP come to rely so heavily on Crime Stoppers and other volunteer organizations?

Outsourcing Police Work
Before 1950, British Columbia had its own provincial police force with very few detectives. They contracted most detective work to American companies.  When the RCMP took over the responsibility for policing the province, the BC Provincial Police’s “E” Division was absorbed into the fold.

Here we are in 2014 and there are many volunteer organizations at the RCMP’s disposal. These include auxiliary officers, C.O.P.S. (Citizens on Patrol), Speedwatch, Blockwatch and a few others. The biggest group amongst these is the U.S. based Crime Stoppers.

Crime Stoppers – Who runs it?
Crime Stoppers started in the mid-1970s in the United States as a grassroots organization with the idea of helping small-town police forces that had few resources at their disposal. The U.S., unlike Canada, has had a long history of vigilantism and DIY justice – posse groups hunted down alleged wrongdoers (including runaway slaves) and lynched them.

The idea is that an ‘informer’ contact Crime Stoppers with information about criminal activity.  The person who passes along information is protected by the rule of informer privilege so if the case goes to court, the tipster will (hopefully) remain anonymous. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, the identity of the informer is supposed to be unknown to everyone including the Crime Stoppers’ agent who receives the call.

On the Nanaimo Crime Stoppers website, it states “A Tipster’s ‘Anonymity’ is protected by law, in a Supreme Court of Canada decision known as R. v. Leipert.”

Despite this rule, Crime Stoppers exercises its own judgement when passing along the information it receives. In the case of Richard Leipert, the Greater Vancouver Crime Stoppers Association provided the entire tip sheet to the trial judge who viewed the document and then redacted certain information before passing it along. Last May, it came to light that a similar situation arose in Miami, where it was revealed that the Crime Stoppers there emailed the tipster’s information to the prosecutor.

When a detail as innocuous as the time of the telephone call may be sufficient to permit identification, it doesn’t make sense why all that information was being recorded by Crime Stoppers in the first place.

Police Work or Public Relations?
Why would the RCMP have a member working at a store opening? Could the store not hire its own security for the event? Is this the best use of our taxpayer dollars?

CabelasCop Budget 2015: Nanaimo RCMP contract
RCMP at Cabela’s store opening

Vigilantes on Vancouver Island
When the police keep promoting volunteers as crime fighters, it’s no wonder that some people have been motivated to solve crimes or investigate them as they see fit.

NR socialmedia Budget 2015: Nanaimo RCMP contract

Will Vancouver Island go the way of Montreal where the Mafia had its own helpline? On March 14, 2014, the Charbonneau Commission heard the following recorded conversation between Terry Pomerantz and Mafia boss Vito Rizzuto. Pomerantz phoned him after he realized his brand new Cadillac Escalade was stolen. Apparently, Rizzuto had the vehicle recovered and brought back to Pomerantz the next day.

Inverted Pyramids Topple
Why does it appear like the RCMP has few resources to do the actual ‘work’- are all of the funds going to support the top ranks?

We are starting to see the introduction of private prisons in BC for the first time. How long will it before Harper makes the RCMP obsolete? It will be a sad day when the RCMP is gone from small towns. It was a great idea to have a cohesive unit working to solve crimes across the country.  With only so many tax dollars to go around, isn’t it just a matter of time before a private company is going to move in?

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Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting

This Monday, September 29, 2014 there will be an hour long eTown Hall meeting starting at 7:00 pm where the public can ask questions about the City of Nanaimo’s budget.

Here is a look at Nanaimo’s tax increases. According to the City’s finance manager the 6.1% increase in taxes for 2017 is for the $80 million dollar water treatment plant and the 6.5% increase in 2007 was for extra staff at the RCMP. The $100 million conference centre costs have been spread out.

TaxIncreases Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting
Nanaimo Tax Increases from 2005 to 2018

What is our biggest expense? You can see that wages and benefits are the largest portion of the pie chart below, at 47%. The second largest expense is the RCMP contract at 17% of the total operating expenses. The policing contract costs Nanaimo taxpayers just over $19 million per year and will increase to $20 million next year.  Since 2008 it works out to an increase of almost $7 million.

Expenditures2014 Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting
City of Nanaimo Expenditures 2014

Service supply contracts account for the third largest City expenditure.  One of the problems is that the City has sole source contracts.  Without allowing other companies to bid, taxpayers are not getting the best deal and this leads to inflated project costs.

Taxes are projected to increase every year over the next five years ranging from 1% to 5% for asset management of roads, sewer, and water.

OperatingCosts Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting
Operating Costs for Nanaimo

You can see that the debt has increased significantly since the City took on building the convention centre. This space unfortunately has been underused with empty retail spaces. The City built a new administration building in 2011-2012 at a cost of about $18 million.

DebtperPerson Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting
Debt per Capita in Nanaimo

Below are some projects scheduled for the next 5 years. You will notice that the Colliery Dams project is not listed. If it goes ahead this will be another multi-million dollar project, and to date taxpayers have spent $2.4 million in consultant fees.

Projects2014 Nanaimo tax increases & budget: town hall meeting
Nanaimo Projects 2014

Other items that are not included in the financial plan are the Port Theatre expansion, waterfront development, property acquisition, recreation or heritage planning.

One problem is that there has been no accounting of the total cost of ‘aiding’ developers. Two new hotels in downtown Nanaimo will receive 20 years tax free.  Nanaimo City Hall bloggers have estimated that the new Hilton Hotel will cost taxpayers over $21 million dollars. What about the other hotel next to the conference centre?

In other instances, developers wanted fines waived, or free pedestrian crosswalks like the one on Terminal, or sidewalks in industrial areas or water and sewer hook-ups like those in Linley Valley and Upper Lantzville.

On a side note, Councillor McKay asked council for $10,000 for the upcoming Zero Waste Conference. There were no grant applications filled out, and no request for public funding was made by the organizers. But council approved the request anyway.  Even Councillor Greves joked “are we writing a cheque to McKay?” Yet at the same time other non-profits had filled out applications for small amounts of money and were turned down. Very strange.

People complain we don’t have money to purchase parks or support the arts but if we look at the generous handouts that select groups and individuals are getting, it is not an even playing field.

The City of Nanaimo has an annual operating budget of $160 million. The target is to present the 2015-2019 financial plan to the new council in December 2014. Go ahead and ask your financial questions on Monday, September 29, 2014. Call 250-754-4251 or tweet @cityofnanaimo, facebook cityofnanaimo, and get some answers.

Save Georgia Park in Nanaimo – act now!

Several major concerns were raised by some councillors and the public about the land deal for the proposed Hilton Hotel which will occupy 10 and 28 Front Street and use up 60% of Georgia Park.  City staff has recommended that the City lease the park to the developer at no cost for an estimated 80 years.

Four key requests from the developer for the new Hilton Hotel are:

  • Increase in density (doubled the building area) [approved]
  • Increase in height (from 25 to 35 storeys) [approved]
  • Purchase the laneway for $475,000 [to be approved at September 29 council meeting]
  • Lease 60% of Georgia Park [to be approved by AAP or referendum or council]

While some councillors mulled the idea of a referendum on the issue of ‘leasing’ the park, Staff said that a referendum is not required, it’s too late to bring it forward for the election and even if a referendum was held, the City wouldn’t necessarily base their final decision on it.

Here is how it went down at the last council meeting on September 8th:

Bestwick:  … the park portion must go to referendum..?
Swabey:  … it would be up to council if you want to go to referendum or AAP [alternative approval process]
Johnstone:  … the laneway was not designated for traffic…
Staff:  … lane was dedicated in 1937 … to provide access to rear of a building…
Johnstone: …but for this particular purpose?
Staff: …the applicant is proposing to purchase the lane and consolidate it with the lot
McKay: … when disposing of a roadway there is no requirement for elector assent…am I correct?
Swabey: … there is no requirement for electoral assent
Kipp: …we do have to go to the public…my key thing is anytime we dispose of parkland we go to referendum and I don’t like AAP…I am concerned that we are selling the laneway before we give them the parkland…it’s not in the right order…
Pattje: …we are getting something that has four portions to it but in three separate portions; last week we had the height and  density. Today we have the laneway.  Next the parkland…which should go to referendum…all connected…like Kipp said it’s [backwards]…
Swabey: … the lane purchase if we authorize it tonight wouldn’t be closed…
Ruttan: …What is our pleasure at this point?
Bestwick: …if this laneway doesn’t pass 3rd reading tonight we can bring it back? …
Swabey: …if you turn down the bylaw [sale of the lane] tonight then the applicant would have to go back to the drawing board…
Ruttan: …motion seconded  by Anderson…motion before us is to [sell laneway] passes third reading.

In favour: Councillors McKay, Anderson, Johnstone, Bestwick, and Greves and Mayor Ruttan. Opposed: Councillors  Kipp, Brennan, and Pattje.

Discussion continued after vote passed to sell laneway:

Kipp: …throughout this process I never received a financial analysis.  What are the development cost charges; what is the taxation loss/cost, what do they get for lift?… What I have estimated is that this project will cost us $2.8 million in DCC costs; $10 million in taxes; the lift of 10 storeys is worth about $11 million for the extra 11 storeys we approved through rezoning…So what are the social, environmental, and financial components to this project? …
Swabey:  …we have had this discussion many times…
Johnstone: … can this council make the decision to go to a referendum or AAP process?
Swabey: … council can make a motion…
Johnstone: …this is such an important decision…I [will] be putting forward a notice of motion that the issue of the Hilton Hotel be brought forward to the electorate by the referendum process rather than the APP process…
Ruttan: …[warning] you will have to deal with staff to make sure if it works…
Brennan: …I move that the issue of the financial report issues that Kipp mentioned be reviewed by the development review committee.
Bestwick: …as chair of the Development Committee we will put it on the agenda tomorrow…
Swabey: … this request will not affect the Hilton project
Pattje: … I like the ‘sound’ of Johnstone’s motion …I will ask my question for the third time…because I have not received an answer…Why do people think a referendum tagged onto the November 15th election is NOT in the works because it is too late
Swabey: … in order to do it [referendum] and not make a mistake, we have to come up with the question…; we have to advertise…;  hold public open houses and road shows; …but I don’t think we can do it before the November 15th election… a referendum is possible at any time…the cost can be charged back to the developer… I would like to do it right and not have it fail…
Bestwick: … we should speed up the process and have it on ballot November 15th… then we don’t have to charge the developer for the question? ….
Swabey: …  that’s another point I didn’t mention we shouldn’t be doing the referendum until the rezoning is completed…so the [referendum] needs to wait…First council needs to decide on the land use…get on with the [sale] of the laneway and go to AAP… the land use is driving everything.. there is no sense doing a referendum and finding out that the public doesn’t want the park to be sold but you have already approved the rezoning application or vice versa you have to take the land use to a certain point…
Bestwick: …based on what you said then shouldn’t we be doing the referendum first?
Swabey: …the land use is the most important decision it involves the [sale] of the laneway and [sale] of the parkland so you need to be… you wouldn’t want to get ahead of yourself and have the land use to happen and then go out and see if you want to lease the parkland….
Bestwick: ..we don’t decide, isn’t it up to the electorate?
Swabey: … NO – it is up to you the council, even if it goes to referendum it is still up to council on what you want to do, it doesn’t matter how the public votes, it is just your way of gauging what the public thinks, [referendum] it is not mandatory
Mckay: …do we not have to have all the bylaws adopted concerning this project prior to six weeks before general voting day?
Swabey: …I am not aware of that.
Brennan: …point of order…this is a notice of motion… not the time for discussion. No one has any answers.
Ruttan: …Where are we? [laughter]

Questions raised by public:

Public: …will the sale of the laneway be considered prior to the lease of the parkland?
Staff: …we have had 3rd reading of selling the laneway already and it passed tonight.  So the laneway will be consolidated with the property. That will get final adoption by the next council meeting. Then we would bring forward the draft lease agreement for Georgia Park. Then council would decide if it is to go to AAP or referendum.

Public: So the sale of the laneway would be passed before the lease of the park would be approved?
Staff: Yes …

Public: So if the lease of the park falls through and the developer cancels the development then we will have increased the size and value of his property by the sale of the laneway, and by passing rezoning increases of floor and height areas? Would there be a covenant that would revert back to what it currently is if the development doesn’t happen on this property within a specified number of years? We have increased the value of the property.
Staff: …no sunset clauses, not possible.
Public: … not a good deal for us …

The City of Nanaimo could just as easily add the laneway to Georgia Park and make the park bigger. The terrible news is that we are about to lose 60% of a public waterfront park.  Let us Save Georgia Park. Parks are for the people.

This is an election year— email mayor&council@nanaimo.ca let them know you want to keep parks public and/or start a petition and help Nanaimo Save Georgia Park.

Loyd Sherry speaks out about Georgia Park

You know trouble is on the horizon when former City of Nanaimo Councillor Loyd Sherry has to come and speak to council. The last time Sherry addressed council was two years ago regarding the Colliery Dam issue which has become a major public relations disaster and  a financial boondoggle.  Now we have Georgia Park ready to be given away.

The following are the main highlights from Sherry’s presentation to Nanaimo council on Monday, September 8, 2014:

“…You are proposing to close a lane and dispose of it. Does the community know what’s happening? I look at this laneway and it butts right up next to the park…If you have a big building next the park, it creates a big shadow in the park and something that should be considered.

LSherry 204x300 Loyd Sherry speaks out about Georgia Park
Loyd Sherry: Nanaimo’s longest serving Councillor with 31 years continuous service 1980 – 2011

“…I understand that the developer wants to get the laneway so that his building can encroach into the laneway. If that is true then when will there be a public hearing [for the laneway disposition]?”

Swabey: “…The public hearing was last Thursday and we have to be careful about crossing over into the land use issues…”

Sherry: “I am not talking about what happened last Thursday. I am talking about what’s coming down the road. My understanding is that the laneway has a different legal description that is another subject than last Thursday. So therefore, it is a different kettle of fish, it should (without clarification from Victoria) require another public hearing.  If this is the avenue that this council is going to take.

“My objection is when you look at that lane there is room beside the development to run a vehicle back and forth. Why does the park need to leased out? Well, because the roadway is going to be taken up by the building. Don’t sell the laneway. You have it right there.  The price that has been suggested of less than a half million dollars …when was the last time they made waterfront property…that property is more valuable than was suggested

“…Bylaw 735 shows the dedication of Georgia Park. That document is in existence. The bylaw has not been rescinded.  Previous councils fought tooth and nail to dedicate parks so they could not be sold.

What is the difference—leasing and selling? Oh, pardon me, we are not ‘selling’ it we are ‘leasing’ it. What is the difference? I heard they were talking about an 80 year lease… I request you do some serious consideration about giving up this lane away…

There is a canoe there [in the park] where did the canoe come from? … At the open house I asked what are you going to do with the canoe? City staff said they would take it down to Maffeo Park.  I find that hard because when the canoe was donated to the City it fronted on Front Street and always has…not hidden away down in the gully by the beach….There were war canoe races in the past and the grass was always full of people… I enjoy the parks… The Gyros created parks… What are you doing? What view is there going to be for people?  …. Previous mayors will roll over in their graves if you go ahead with something like this…”

This is an election year— email mayor&council@nanaimo.ca let them know you want parks for people and/or start a petition and help Nanaimo save Georgia Park.

BC Ferries: profits and problems

BC Ferries is an independent company with a contract to provide ‘ferry services’ for the BC government. It should actually be called ‘Corrigan’s Company’ or something that doesn’t make it sound like it’s a government department.

This spring, Transportation Minister Todd Stone approved $19 million in cuts to BC Ferry coastal routes. Over 3,000 sailings were cancelled. At the same time, BC Ferries introduced a 4.2% increase in fares for the major routes, a 2% increase on Northern routes and reduced the passenger fare discount for BC seniors travelling Mondays to Thursdays from 100% to 50%.

How did these cuts to service and increased fares play out?

Record Profits

In August, BC Ferries announced that net earnings from April to June 2014 were $13.9-million, compared with $4.3-million in the first quarter of the previous year.

These profits have come at a cost.  Coastal communities are being killed off one by one and those in government that are paid to listen are deaf as a post.

Discovery Coast Passage Route

CoastalFerry BC Ferries: profits and problems
Discovery Coast Circle Tour – affected by BC Ferries cuts

On April 28, 2014, BC Ferries discontinued the Discovery Coast Passage Route with direct service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola.

They have taken out the regular sized ferry, the Queen of Chilliwack, and replaced it with the smallest open-deck car ferry “Nimpkish” which can only take 16 vehicles and up to 95 passengers.

Tourists now ride the open waves for 10 hours, arriving in the dark; hungry and stiff because there is no food only a vending machine and nowhere to sit.

If BC Ferries ran the Queen of Chilliwack it would take more passengers (389) and it has amenities. Tourists can sit on a seat or eat in the cafeteria. It has coin-operated showers, recliner seats, an elevator, and washrooms for people with disabilities. The Nimpkish has no amenities. None.

The Discovery Coast Passage route has been used by European tourists, who took the ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola and drove through the Chilcotin to Williams Lake and back down to Vancouver for a circle tour.

According to legislative reporter Tom Fletcher (who normally toes the government line) it was a bleak summer for tourism in the region as a result of the ferry changes. A bus tour of Canadian seniors heading west from Williams Lake was cancelled after 14 years. One tourism operator is considering closing down and other Cariboo-Chilcotin operators lost up to 90% of their business. This has a cumulative effect and soon there will be no operators that can survive.

With the tiny 16-vehicle Nimpkish now on the route, even if every sailing was filled to maximum capacity only 720 vehicles can be carried. That means the traffic level can only reach about one-third of the 10-year average. Two-thirds of the traffic that would have used the ferry in a typical year will now be turned away, unable to visit the region at all.

What does this mean for tourism on Vancouver Island?

Resource Extraction over Tourism

Why would the BC government want to kill coastal tourism and particularly in the area of Cariboo-Chilcotin? Would it be because there are plans for the world’s largest open pit mine that will take up 90% of the area?

Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park

Nanaimo is about to lose a downtown waterfront park! How could this happen? It is happening because the new Hilton Hotel planned for Front Street needs more space.  The hotel needs 60% of Georgia Park for a loading bay and patio.

You must make plans to attend the Thursday, September 4, 2014 Public Hearing, 7pm at VICC regarding rezoning of 10 and 28 Front Street.  The future of Georgia Park is at stake.

GeorgiaMap Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Georgia Park and Hilton Hotel

Nanaimo Hilton Hotel
At the August 11, 2014 council meeting the rezoning bylaw to lease Georgia Park to the Hilton Hotel passed first and second reading. The bylaw was approved by the Mayor and four Councillors; only Councillor Pattje opposed.

The new Hilton is planned to be 35 storeys or approximately 114.3 meters. This is too large for the existing lot so they must use approximately 925 square meters of Georgia Park.  The hotel plans for 59 parking stalls and will use a parking lot off-site for more parking space. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

The developer, Mr. Koo of Insight Developments, has had a long history in Nanaimo with projects such as Longwood Station, Hawthorne Corner, Origin Retirement community, and soon Linley Valley Drive & Turner Road Plaza.  This proposed new hotel on Front Street will get  a 10 year property tax exemption just as the other proposed hotel behind the VICC.

Why is the builder not being asked to reduce the size of the hotel and not encroach on  Georgia Park?

NewHilton2 Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Developers view of Georgia Park

The developer states it will secure $1.187 million for park improvements but isn’t this for just for the benefit of the hotel and its guests?

Georgia Park—one of Nanaimo’s oldest parks
Georgia Park was dedicated as a public park in 1948. The land was donated by the Gyro Club and Native Sons of Nanaimo.  For generations, people of Nanaimo have enjoyed this public park and its wonderful views of the Salish Sea and Coastal Mountains.

GeorgiaPark Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Sunrise over Georgia Park’s dugout canoe a gift from the Snuneymuxw First Nations

Upon visiting Georgia Park you will see this Squamish dugout canoe, a gift from the Snuneymuxw First Nations to the City of Nanaimo via Albert Wesley.  The canoe was carved from a single giant red cedar in 1922 on the Squamish First Nation Reserve.

GeorgiaParkUphill Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Georgia Park : How could a city give it away its public waterfront parkland?

No busking on the waterfront
What will happen to the first nation carvers, artisans, and  buskers that sit in front of Georgia Park? Will they be told “don’t disturb the hotel guests”? For example, the Pacifica residents have asked that buskers not use the area around ‘The Sails’ because the noise is too much. These highrises will create canyons that affect noise, wind, light, and views.

GeorgiaParkWalkway Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Georgia Park Walkway; public vs private spaces – Will hotel guests come first?

Ultimately, if this Hilton Hotel project is not modified then the City of Nanaimo will lose control of what happens to Georgia Park. This is an election year— email mayor&council@nanaimo.ca and/or start a petition and help Nanaimo save Georgia Park.

What is the future vision for Nanaimo’s waterfront? Remember, back in 2013 when the harbour was to be sold to a developer for $9 million.

If 70,000 people from China are planning to come to the proposed Conference Centre Hotel down the street, how many are to come to the Hilton? Will there be enough space for everyone on the walkway or just those from the hotel? An urban planner comments on twitter:

PacificaHilton Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
Nanaimo’s waterfront – will people come from China for this?

Where will people go for that old 1950s motel experience? Chinese tourists may want to head up to Parksville and pay $150,000 to spend the night in an authentic ‘roadside’ motel. Maybe that’s where the real money is.

50sHotel Nanaimo waterfront deal: Hilton Hotel vs Georgia Park
1950s roadside motel in Parksville; rooms for $150K a night