Aurora Citizen

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Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

Has Anything Changed For The Better?

Posted by auroracitizen on January 9, 2010

This article was originally published in the Era Banner in May 2008 shortly after Councillor Grace Marsh resigned because of the toxic environment that the mayor had allowed to flourish in her first year as Mayor. We thought it interesting to revisit some of the media comments back then to see if anything had changed for the better as Mayor Morris gained some real experience managing people. The emphasis is ours.

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Time to get tough: Mayor

Aurora May 01, 2008
by Teresa Latchford

Phyllis Morris vows to get tough at council, enact strict code of conduct

Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris will bring in a strict code of conduct next week to get things back on track at council, she told The Era-Banner yesterday.

Last Thursday’s sudden resignation of councillor Grace Marsh only reinforces something needs to change — and fast.

Ms Marsh quit the job, citing council’s dysfunction as a situation she could no longer tolerate.

While the mayor admits she needs to improve her leadership skills and take back control of proceedings, it’s difficult when some councillors refuse to follow rules.

“I’m still determined to bring decorum back to the table,” Mrs. Morris said. “I’m fighting back: I’m not going to be polite anymore.”

Meetings — plagued with angry outbursts, accusations of wrongdoing, threats and a complete disregard for the mayor’s rulings, have forced her hand, she said. “Grace is a loss, she is very intelligent and could balance the issues,”

Mrs. Morris said. “It’s an unusual situation, someone leaving council, but it’s not the end of the world.”

This is not the way Mrs. Morris envisioned her tenure at the helm of the community’s political scene.

During her election campaign, Mrs. Morris pledged to end the “dysfunction” at the council table — a situation for which she openly criticized former mayor Tim Jones.

However, this council, which began in 2006 — just 18 months into its four-year term — is bogged down by personality conflicts that are worse than ever, leaving little room to serve constituents.

A code of conduct, however, should help things run smoother, the mayor said.

“If there are consequences attached, some may think twice about their actions.

It is hard to enforce procedure when, at the end of every meeting, a grenade is thrown in that requires legal action.”

There are times when she feels she doesn’t have the respect of councillors who continue personal debates after a ruling has been made.

As leader, however, residents and fellow councillors could look at the dysfunctional meetings and question her leadership abilities. “The fact is I’m staying and when people challenge me, I’m going to fight back,” she said. “I have taken more abuse than anyone.

Some want to see this current council succeed, but others are determined to see it fail.”

Councillor Wendy Gaertner agrees the mayor is not respected and admits some councillors could behave more appropriately.

Mrs. Morris has improved control of meetings by enforcing procedure, but not every councillor wants to play by the same rules, Mrs. Gaertner said.

“It’s not the head of council, it’s the council members,” she said last week in response to Mrs. Marsh’s resignation.

This council does get things done, despite the fact the budget, which was to be completed by December 2007, was not finalized until April 2008, CAO John Rogers said.

It is staff’s duty to make recommendations to council and it is their prerogative to accept or reject the courses of action, Mr. Rogers said.

He doesn’t feel there is a lack of direction to staff. In fact, there is a running priority list that includes seven years worth of issues, created by council to let senior staff know what projects and issues should be dealt with first.

There are always points of discussion that we need to allow,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes longer than expected.”

One of the most important accomplishments on which council has come to agree this term is putting up significant funds for the Heritage Centre renovations (old Church Street School), Mr. Rogers said. It has been in discussion for several years and this council made the decision.

“There are many things council has accomplished that aren’t readily seen,” he said. “Infrastructure is one, like improving roads and watermains in the area.”

Since its term began two years ago, council has also endorsed the urban wildlife park, headed the downtown core revitalization project, launched the heritage district study for the southeast quadrant and abolished a bylaw that provided a loophole for council to meet without including the public or media.

Council also created three new citizen advisory committees focusing on arts and culture, trails development and graffiti abatement, Mrs. Morris said.

“This is not a slow-go council. The majority of council members don’t go out and negatively attack each other.”

A special council meeting earlier this week saw politicians declare Mrs. Marsh’s seat vacant.

A motion to fill the seat via a byelection was defeated after a 4-4 vote. Another motion that suggested an appointment to the position was deferred to the next council meeting.  

“We want people to hear and know about the resignation and allow council to reflect on the choices they have,” Mrs. Morris said.

“We didn’t want to be rushed or pushed into a decision, which is what it felt like.”

In two weeks, council will be presented with more detailed information about the procedural choices to complete the appointment.

One choice involves welcoming John Gallo, first runner-up in the 2006 municipal election, to join. The next meeting to discuss the vacant seat is May 13.

Posted in Budget, Code of Ethics, Leadership, Media, Town Council | 4 Comments »

2010 Budget Highlights – Part 1

Posted by evelynb on January 5, 2010

The town budget for 2010 is an election platform for the Mormac regime. Anyone contemplating a run for office should study it well. Supporting documentation is as important as the figures. Hopefully, the Library will keep the 2009 budget on hand for comparison purposes.

An interesting picture emerges of the effect of changes in the administration. Like…are you better off ?

Council completed lengthy deliberations last Dec. 8th, when the Mayor triumphantly announced hard work and success in achieving a “low” tax increase.

The completed document, I am informed, will not be ready until after January 26th.The Bylaw will not be passed until early February.

It’s believed to be good economic strategy to complete a budget before year-end. There’s a head start on contract awards. Council met two full Saturdays and several extra evenings to that end. If the Bylaw isn’t passed until early February, we will have lost that advantage by a month.

There’s more. Keep the calculator handy.

You already know about the $100ks for the Arboretum to plant trees. They still have $20Ks left of last year’s $50Ks. That means a group of well-meaning non- elected residents have $120Ks to spend however they see fit in 2010. $80Ks have already been spent and little to show for it.

In 2009, immediately after the new CAO joined the administration, $95ks was allocated for a re-organisation study. One might think it wise to learn how an organisation functions before determining what or whether change is required. Not in the Mormac regime.

Financial impact from re-organisation adds $231ks to this year’s budget. Four new management positions are created. Changes in salary grids are another consequence.

An additional $231K is being transferred to management of the Church Street School facility. We didn’t hear what was done with the first $300K. Not much of anything it seems. This year’s transfer is over half a million. Add $140K for operation of the building ,heat and light and maintenance etc and we have three quarters of a million additional annual burden for something that gives no sign of being needed let alone profitable.

We are handing over $50ks once again to the Aurora Historical Society to do with whatever they fancy. They are an organisation of fifty-nine members. A few years ago they committed to raising a million dollars to restore Church Street School. Now they need the town to keep handing them $50k every year to keep doing whatever it is they do.

$290K of the surplus from 2009 is tucked into an account to “stabilise” next year’s tax rate. That means, we pay extra this year to make next year’s tax rate look better.Over $300Ks filched from anticipated supplementary assessment not yet on the books, shows on the books as actual revenue. The $600Ks combined substantially improves the bottom line.

$100K is still in 2010 budget for the rotting, mouldering, crumbling shack that was the Petch family abode which still sits, after more than six years, at the side of Leslie Street south of Wellington. For nothing, we obtained an expert opinion that it could not be moved in one piece. Councillor MacEachern was sure that wasn’t true. As the town’s representative on the South Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority,the Councillor convinced the Chairman and Manager of that body to accept the building on Sheppard’s bush property as long as no trees had to be removed in the transfer.

After more than $2Ks was paid to get a new report; the building would have to be taken to pieces, mouldering boards replaced with vintage but not rotten . Then the Ontario Heritage Trust exercised their authority and declared the structure would no longer be authentic and they didn’t want it. Financial resources, staff time, Council deliberation, metres of print and paper were expended on the exercise before it was finally, apparently, not laid to rest.

After six years of fruitless ruminations about what if anything can be done with it, we still have a $100Ks in the budget to do it. $8ks was anonymously donated in addition.

I’m not finished with this election platform of a budget. All kinds of sugar plums dance in my head that you need to know about but will not necessarily be a comfort to you.

Posted in Budget | 8 Comments »

2010 Budget Delivers 2.82% Tax Hike

Posted by auroracitizen on December 13, 2009

Budget deliberations continue, but Mayor Phillis Morris has indicated it’s a done deal. Taxes will increase 2.82% — translating into an additional $30.00 (based on $300,000 home) out of your pocket next year.

Did you get a raise last year to cover this increase? In fact, did you make less in 2009 as a result of cutbacks?

It is interesting to see what “additional benefits” we will receive from this budget.

At a time when people are losing jobs and being asked to cut back in all aspects of their life — it is amazing that this Council has the gall to increase taxes at all. Particularly in an election year.

Even the Region decided to forego a tax increase this year out of respect for the economic downturn we have all experienced.

So what’s up with Aurora?

Councillor Buck has identified a number of items that she feels aren’t warranted. What about you?

We have always had a soft spot for the Library, it seems like an important service to our children. But this year their request for more dollars was declined. Not so historical societies and arboretums — they received more.

So let us know you thoughts. What’s right and what’s wrong with this budget. Where should we be spending less — and possibly where should we be spending more.

Posted in Budget, Community Input | 28 Comments »

Budget… what’s worth it?

Posted by elizabethbishenden on November 6, 2009

The old saying goes “nothing’s sure but death and taxes”…

Soon Aurora Town Council will be looking at the Town’s budget…  and the residents will be looking at their tax bills.  It’s the time of year when we all start defending the programs we love and asking questions about the ones we’re not so crazy about.

Here are some questions going out to readers of this blog:

  • Where are tax dollars being spent well in Aurora? 
  • What seems like an utter waste of tax money to you?  
  • What would you like to see your taxes paying for that the town doesn’t already provide?

Posted in Budget | 10 Comments »

The Facts are the Facts

Posted by auroracitizen on October 15, 2009

Openness and transparency is a bold claim when running for election. It resonates with citizens and we trust our leaders will do the right thing. Tell the truth.

However, all too often we are disappointed as one politician after another steps closer and closer to the line we would all rightly call “a lie” if it wasn’t in politics. In politics they have a special name for it — it’s called spin.

Here in Aurora, Mayor Phyllis Morris has shown herself to be accomplished at the art of spin. Her latest effort is the recent release of legal expenditures that clearly do not reflect those released by the Town in July. These new numbers only having been released after a Freedom of Information request, which the town solicitor confirmed as correct.

Why was a Freedom of Information request even required? I guess someone didn’t believe the numbers released through Council initially. Guess they were correct

A couple interesting spins as noted in the full article in The Banner;

  • “No members of Council had seen the numbers in question until their recent publication.” Are we the only ones surprised that an explosive document like this was released by staff without informing her worship first. Who was on duty when these were released that didn’t see the potential for political repercussions? Heads will roll if it is true. Lesser sins have resulted in great consequences.
  • “She isn’t certain why there was a discrepancy between the new figures and those previously attributed to 2007.” Huh? Isn’t that her job?
  • “Other costs included on the list relate to the price of protecting staff’s reputations, Mrs. Morris added. “That might explain some of the extra costs.” she said.” Might? The basis for the question in the first place was how much money had been spent on this type of issue. You would expect the Mayor to be aware of what she was spending on personal issues of this nature since they were specifically directed be spent by Council. After all it’s only ‘our’ money.

Mt MacDermid summed up the issue quite nicely when he said “I think it’s regrettable when a council cannot get along and solve its differences without going the legal route. At that point, I think that they’ve forgotten who it is that they’re really there to represent.”

“There is no spin here,” Mr. Wilson said. “You can try all you like to spin things, but the facts are the facts.” Well said Councillor Wilson. So how about explaining ‘the facts’ so we all understand them. One must wonder why a Council that claims openness and transparency would release numbers that conflict with numbers released through official channels?

We raised questions in our blog post back in July when the initial numbers were disclosed. Just 3 months later, the appearance of distortion and manipulation is troubling. One again this Council is being challenged on their numbers.

We can’t speak for everyone — but aren’t you just a little insulted that Mayor Morris and Council thinks we are that stupid?

Posted in Budget, Integrity, Leadership, Legal | 8 Comments »

Aurora Coalition Disputes Legal Expenses Town Supplied to The Banner

Posted by auroracitizen on October 14, 2009

Thanks to contributor Richard Johnson for this post. It was also sent to The Auroran.

The most recent ad run by the Aurora Coalition in the October 13th issue of the Auroran raises a number of interesting questions given the town’s legal expenses outlined.

A July 22nd story in The Banner, entitled “Town’s legal costs inching up, but far from record” noted the following:

“The tab for outside legal help up to May 31 is pegged at just more than $86,200 and is estimated to come in below $180,000 by the end of the year, according to a report presented to councillors Tuesday. So far, it marks the highest expenditure on outside legal advice for this term of council, having spent more than $139,000 in 2008, $109,000 in 2007 and just $38,500 in 2006.  But those figures pale in comparison to the $430,000 spent in 2005 and the $659,000 doled out in 2000.”

It has since come to light through information obtained by a freedom of information request filed by the Aurora Coalition that the figures quoted by the town to the Banner in July were apparently $14,000 too low in 2007 and $356,654 too low in 2008. We can also conclude that the 2009 legal fees may well go up by an additional $50,000 above what has been quoted year to date in the numbers provided to the Aurora Coalition so we are actually looking at a total cost for legal expenses of approximately $800,000 over a two and a half year period.

It also turns out that the 2008 charges of just under $500,000 are only eclipsed by one other year (i.e. the year 2000) as noted in the Banner’s story, so these legal expenses are in fact closer to setting a record than what was suggested this past July. Putting aside how the town could misquote such basic financial numbers for expenses incurred on 2007 & 2008, one has to look at what the legal expenses incurred for outside council were spent on.

By way of example, the Town of Markham spent approximately $750,000 on legal costs over a two or three year period in order to ensure that the Province, Hydro One and the OPA followed the Planning Act by exploring all possible alternatives before power supply infrastructure was imposed on Markham and Aurora. Those fees potentially saved home owners in York Region tens of millions of dollars in potential negative real estate valuation impacts, not to mention saving the Province’s tens of millions of dollars. Markham’s efforts contributed to indentifying a better financial, technical and environmental power supply solution than what was initially imposed by Hydro One, who had not explored all possible alternatives. Markham’s legal expenses were well spent in my view, even if Aurora eventually worked against the viable alternatives proposed in the end which may well result in new transmission facilities being installed in Markham and or Aurora (but that’s yet another sad story for another day).

From my perspective, justifiable legal expenses incurred through the conducting the town’s legitimate business should be contrasted by politically motivated and groundless legal expenses, however given the secretive nature of so much of what our current Aurora Council does behind closed doors these days, and given the apparent spin that so much information emanating from the Mayor’s office appears to subjected to, we will not likely be able to ever know what expenses may have in fact been frivolous or politically motivated. It should also be noted that by the time the Mayor and her supporters have defended themselves against additional litigation that may be undertaken by Councilor Buck and the recently fired Integrity Commissioner that the Mayor has gone to great lengths to discredit, the total legal charges incurred as a direct result of this council could well be far higher before this term is all over.

Posted in Budget, Code of Ethics, Guest Post, Integrity, Legal, Town Council | 37 Comments »

Political Spending

Posted by auroracitizen on June 21, 2009

There has been considerable coverage of politicians spending habits lately. The Toronto Star reported on Sat that 20 Cabinet Ministers and backbenchers will resign or retire in Britain after expenses were made public.

Here in Canada, only 4 of 37 MP’s contacted agreed to disclose detailed information on expenses.

Closer to home still, Auroran’s have had difficulty getting details on legal expenditures. However, it appears that legal bills continue to escalate. Even when totals are made available, getting clarity on what matters they were incurred to deal with are still murky.

Around the world politicians are being held more accountable than ever for their spending habits. Should it be any different here in Aurora?

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Posted in Budget, Town Council | 13 Comments »

Council Expenses: What are we getting in return?

Posted by auroracitizen on March 15, 2009

It was good to see that Council is not using their full expense allowance — in fact they have voted to reduce the allowance for the coming budget year.

However, it was interesting to note that the bulk of the expenses submitted were for attending conferences. One must wonder what value the town receives from having Councillors attend these events. It has been a trend that seems to have come into vogue this term. An examination of past terms would indicate that generally Councillors did not attend these events — yet in 2008, in addition to the Mayor, Councillors McRoberts, Granger, Wilson, Gallo all attended. Why?

And why are Councillors McRoberts and Gallo attending in 2009? Why can’t the Mayor attend on behalf of Council and report back any new learning that is appropriate?

Private sector business is cancelling travel, meetings and conferences, yet our politicians are still attending. It would be interesting to know what value was received by the town for these expenses. Or is this a perk of office for their own personal development? What do you think?

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Posted in Budget, Town Council | 9 Comments »

2009 Budget Priorities

Posted by auroracitizen on March 4, 2009

Everyone is tightening their belts. Luxuries are being cut back. Essential services re-considered. Each of us is re-evaluating what we can cut with the least impact on our families and our lifestyle.

The Town of Aurora should be no different. As Councillors review the budget, they should be evaluating where dollars can be saved, cut and re-allocated to provide the highest level of valued service to the community.

And this where the issues arise. What services are valued above others. Each of us have differing viewpoints, but what should drive the decision-making process.

  • Services that impact the most residents.
  • Impact the most vulnerable.
  • Those that scream the loudest.
  • Most recently appeared in front of Council.
  • Represent the largest voting block.

As Council deliberates the cuts, they should be actively seeking public input. After all, it is our money they are spending.

Call the Mayor and Councillors. Let them know what you think.

Make suggestions here for discussion. Let us know what you think.

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Posted in Budget, Community Input | 17 Comments »