Tuesday, April 11, 2006

London briefs

Updates on some local stories recently covered here. According to the London Free Press, public opposition — abetted by much-appreciated coverage from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — has made council balk at receiving tickets for the leadership convention at the Ivey School of Business featuring Rudolph Giuliani. The city will still be unnecessarily contributing the $10,000 of local taxpayers' money, but by declining the tickets council is avoiding at least the appearance of graft.

Only four other councillors joined [David Winninger] in opposition -- Susan Eagle, Sandy White, Bill Armstrong and Paul Van Meerbergen -- when others proposed a compromise: The city will spend $10,000, but the 20 tickets received in return would go to city staff, not politicians. "I'm going to pay for my own ticket," Coun. Bernie MacDonald said.
As David MacLean of the CTF puts it, "we'll take what we can get," but it's a sorry reflection on the part of many councillors that they needed to be shamed into backing away from such naked contempt for taxpayers. But we — not the councillors — are still out of pocket for $10,000 for an event that would have occurred with or without council's remittance.

Public opposition has also been cited — and was amply demonstrated by letters to the editor in the Free Press — for council backing away from plans to spend $200,000 to repave a section of Oxford Street near the Hunt Club in time for its hosting of the CN Canadian Women's Open, despite the fact that the section is scheduled to be dug up in five years for a $9 million upgrade.
"I've received more calls on Oxford than anything else," Coun. Cheryl Miller said. "People say we don't want to hurt the bumpers on those expensive cars and we won't undo the perception that we are paving this for the golf tournament."

That view was shared by others. "It looks like we're cherrypicking (road projects) and in this case cherrypicking for a golf course," Coun. Joni Baechler said.
Note to council: people are generally quite happy to have city roads fixed — and there's more in London that need fixing than should be — but they understandably expect priorities to be established based on the people who are actually paying for the fixes and not to be treated like roadies in the circuses that council is always promoting.

Nevertheless, it appears that council is merely deferring the issue counting on the general fatigue and media ambivalence towards stories that surface a second time around — council did not decide the matter but only voted to "seek further study," whatever that means.

In other London news, taxpayers will not be getting any more of their money back from last year's "surplus."
Two community groups will share most of the $300,000 remaining from a $9.8-million 2005 surplus. Council approved a board of control motion to give $200,000 to the Children's Museum for upgrades and $50,000 to London Community Players to upgrade the Palace Theatre at 710 Dundas St. Another $50,000 will go into a reserve to revamp council chambers.
Nice to see that they're looking after themselves. While they play noblesse oblige with the surplus, they ought to be reminded that, as Jim Chapman put it:
This supposedly "surplus" money isn't really surplus at all. It is tax money that we paid to the city beyond what it had to spend to meet its obligations. It may look like a bonus on the city's books, but every dollar of it represents money plucked from the pockets of hard-working Londoners.
Budget chief and Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell has convinced city council to keep any tax hikes over the next three years to the inflation rate or less. The resolution is not binding on the new council to be elected Nov. 13.
After the board of control patted itself on the back last week for its moderation in calling for tax increases of 4.4 per cent next year and 3.8 per cent in each of 2008 and 2009, and after increases of 5.9, 5.3 and 2.95 per cent in the last three years, an expansion of local government at the inflation rate might almost seem tolerable — unless it is read for what it is, that council's plan for the next three years puts Londoners no farther ahead.