Thursday, May 26, 2005

Silly little town…

One of the underreported shortcomings of government is the inability to account for what an individual's compulsory purchases — euphemistically called taxes these days — actually pay for. When I go into a store, I know what I am paying for. When I pay taxes, I've barely got the slightest idea what I am paying for — it all goes into giant playpots for politicians and bureaucrats to dispense for someone else's vote or their own pet projects without my consent. But in London, city council has a plan to let you know where some of the municipal loot — again, revenue is a euphemism — is going. Being London, its no surprise that it may soon be going to enforcing even more controls on what people can do with their own private property — euphemism #3. From the London Free Press:

London city councillors want the city to tackle student-housing problems — with revenue from a beefed-up parking bylaw.

[…] For it to work, the city would have to pass a bylaw letting private lot owners ticket illegally parked cars. The extra revenue would be used to hire bylaw enforcement officers to clean up problems at student housing, such as noise, parking and property standards violations.

"We want to put the money we get from parking enforcement into hiring more bylaw enforcement officers," [Councillor Bernie] MacDonald said. "Then we'll go to zero tolerance on bylaw enforcement — no more two weeks to conform." MacDonald said the changes will force student-housing landlords to keep their properties clean. "And if they don't clean them up in 24 hours, we'll come back and clean it up and slap the cost onto their tax bills," MacDonald said.
But even where we know where the money is going, it's still not what we paid for! Fines are supposed to be punishment, not funding projects.

Not to belittle the problems of residents living near student-housing, but threats and extra bills are hardly an incentive for landlords to invest in their property. It may, however, force landlords to raise their rent, punishing students and moving the problem into other districts of the city — if the demand for temporary throwaway housing for irresponsible student tenants exists, it's going to locate somewhere. It's not an easy problem to solve, but whether it's an issue of eyesores or property values, I've never quite figured out how people have a right either not to be bothered with ugliness or to someone else's valuation of their property. If it's a case of garbage being thrown onto someone else's property, well we already have laws to deal with that. Do we need another diminution of property rights to compensate for the difficulty of enforcing existing property rights?

And how are unintended consequences going to square with the city's apparently good intentions? I don't think the city is concerned with that — one municipal government problem always breeds another excuse to butt in. For example, why does the city need to pass a bylaw allowing private lot owners to ticket illegally parked cars?
Earlier this year, business owners complained they weren't able to hire towing companies to remove illegally parked vehicles from their properties.

Towing companies said it's not worth it for them to yank vehicles from private property because under London's bylaw, drivers are allowed to demand impounded vehicles back for free.

Maybe city councillors can be persuaded to stay on taxpayer-funded vacations — let's make it a year-long annual vacation! One thing I will willingly pay for is for councillors to do absolutely nothing at all. Also from today's tattler:
Nine of 18 city council members will make the trip to St. John's, Nfld., next week for an annual [Federation of Canadian Municipalities] conference that has drawn the ire of ratepayers.

[…] Last year the city sent 12 council members to Edmonton — the second largest contingent after the host city — at a cost of $17,000 to $20,000. It was later revealed none attended a session on budgets despite on-going budget woes and threatened double-digit tax hikes for London.

In 2001, 15 council members travelled to Banff, Alta., for the conference at a cost of about $40,000, and returned to charges that some didn't attend most events.
This is truly a remarkable article for the absolute emptiness of the quoted justifications for attending by the councillors — it sounds like a giant hippyfest with good food for municipal lobby groups. Interestingly, all the hard-core socialist councillors are going — Susan Eagle, Sandy White, Harold Usher and David Winninger. All of it would make fascinating quoting, but by all means go and read it here at your own sensible citizen peril. My message to councillors — STAY THERE!
In other London news, the London Free Press gives more unpaid advertising space to the busybody Urban League of London — they're promoting a concept that sounds like it's straight out of lifestyle magazines, Imagine London:
London should discard board of control and design more and smaller wards based on "communities of interest…"
What are "communities of interest," you ask? No idea, it has something to do with long hyphenated names, but is otherwise left undefined. This is always a suitable strategy when it can be anticipated that policies must be changed later on for political exigency. All I know is that if George Sinclair, Sam Trosow or Gloria McGinn-McTeer are among my geographic neighbours, I'd like to opt out of their "community of interest."


jd sweeney said...

Sweeney says, "community of interest wards were defined back in Sept 2002."
That description encompassed communities of common economic interest ...and did not encompass feuding neighbourhoods.

MapMaster said...

Ah, well I should have done a bit more research before posting that little rant. Thanks for sending me that way. I'm afraid I just do like to say negative things about the Urban League.

I do agree with eliminating board of control and reducing councillor numbers. And the idea of redistricting wards based on some common interest sounds appealing, but it also sounds like an excuse for gerrymandering. In any case, common interests based on economic status are not necessarily any more real or relevant for governance purposes than geographic proximity. At least, I daresay that's true in my case. But I suppose the proposal is probably no worse than the current situation.