Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wiggle Room

What a celebration we had. They really sweated it. Through sheer hard work, grim determination and even accusations of being dysfunctional, this Council did it. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY IN WINDSOR AT LAST!

The headlines almost took your breath away. Why, one would almost think that 2006 was an election year for the Mayor and Council with the great results.

Oh my, it is an election year! This must mean that this was an election year Budget.

You may remember some of the headlines and what the stories said as I shall point out below. But you know, there was just something there that bothered me. I could not pin it down. Councillor Lewenza started the doubts creeping into my mind and then it happened....the real truth came out. It was the "wiggle room" that did it, and the Arena, Eddie's Achilles heel for re-election.

It is going to take you a bit of time to read through all of this mind you...I have to take you through a lot of details to show you what I mean.

First the good news that we are supposed to remember in November as we put an "X" on the ballot:

City tax increase under 1%: Hike among lowest in province
Roseann Danese 02-03-2006
  • "Property taxes in Windsor may rise less than one per cent this year, adding about $25 per year to the average tax bill and making the hike among the lowest in the province.

Planets align for Francis
Gord Henderson 02-18-2006
  • "Buoyed by a successful Super Bowl partnership with Detroit and presiding over a city debt that's in freefall, Francis's position becomes more unassailable with each passing day.

    On Monday he and a council that's agreed to try to patch over its differences will bask in the glow of a remarkable budget presentation. If they do nothing else this term, our feuding civic elders will be able to point to one spectacular achievement, a stunning turnaround in the city's finances...

    Three years ago Windsor was a fiscal basket case. But through zero-based budgeting, hard work and relentless belt-tightening, it has engineered a stunning comeback

    And now that the city has financial wiggle room, Francis appears set to invest some of that freed-up capital, not to mention his accumulated political capital, in fulfilling a city dream. At a strategic planning session tentatively set for next Saturday at Willistead Manor, Francis will make a pitch for the city to get behind building a new ice rink for the Spitfires.

City gives taxpayers a tiny bit of a break
Doug Schmidt 02-21-2006

  • Mayor Eddie Francis and city council applauded themselves Monday night for delivering something most Windsorites haven't seen in a long time -- a tax break...

    For the average local homeowner -- with a property valued at $150,000 and hit by an average 2006 assessment hike of 3.44 per cent -- the total city tax bill this year dips slightly to $2,595 from last year's $2,601...

    "It was an incredibly gruelling process," Coun. Ken Lewenza Jr. said of the months of "incredibly passionate and incredibly emotional" budget talks...

    "It was unprecedented," said Francis, who thanked councillors and city administration for the hundreds of hours put into the budget process on top of their regular duties...

    "We have a budget that works ... it's a compromise," said Coun. Dave Brister, who headed council's committee looking at the operational side of the budget...

    Brister said the budget was "acceptable" to those who demanded spending restraint, while one of his fiscal polar opposites, Lewenza, described the budget document as "great news for the community" and something he can justify to his own constituency."

And then the Star Editorial

  • "City budget: Putting taxpayers first

    As municipalities across the province give in to inflationary budget increases, Windsor appears to be in a league of its own -- the city has not only held the line on taxes, but actually provided a tax break.

    Is this something to celebrate? Absolutely...It's a good start -- one that only puts increased pressure on future councils to be just as - - and even more -- vigilant.
    The city didn't get to the point of actually being able to roll back taxes -- even providing a few dollars of relief for the average homeowner whose assessment from the province increased 3.44 per cent -- by accident."

Whew, all of that good news but something stuck in my mind. It was the "wiggle room"

The story started changing and getting better and better. In that February 3 story, Councillor Lewenza at least was honest about how the marvellous result was achieved:
  • "But Lewenza said there's very little wiggle room in the budget and taxpayers should not expect to see the frugality of the last two budgets repeated next year. "This is probably the last go- around," he said, adding that there will be either higher tax hikes next year or a reduction in services."

A few days later, "very little wiggle room" turned into "wiggle room" to build an arena in Henderson's column....HUH!!! What magic trick caused that to happen? How did "very little" allow extra money to be found?

What Councillor Lewenza was saying, it appeared to me, was that this Budget was all phony. It was being kept low--frugal was the word-- and that AFTER the election, in the next Budget, we would get hammered, higher taxes or reduced services. Is that how we got Fiscal Responsibility---through games playing? Did you see that in any of the subsequent stories quoted above? NOPE! The caveat disappeared just like the "very little" with the "wiggle room."

It could not last long. And it did not! You cannot hide the truth. The Star story yesterday came out and the levees broke just like after the big storm. The real story came out. All of the bad news was to come. Just look at what Councillors say now:

  • "City's budget shortfall $7M
    Department overspending a chronic problem, councillor says
    Roseann Danese, April 12, 2006

    In what one councillor described as an "habitual" problem, municipal departments overspent their budgets last year by $7 million, according to a city hall report...

    Twelve of 19 city departments could not meet their budgets in 2005.

    "We have to look at the culture of the corporation. Coming in with deficits every year is not OK," [Councillor Halberstadt] said.

    Halberstadt said that over the years the city has used the revenue from corporate accounts as "padding." That extra cushion won't be there in 2006 and departments need to live within their means, he said...

    Coun. Joyce Zuk said she believes council hasn't given city departments enough money.

    "It's a huge red flag for council when that many of their departments are not living within their budgets," Zuk said.

    "One snowstorm blows your budget? To me that's not good planning."

    Zuk said the city cannot sustain tax increases of less than one per cent when wage and salary increases amount to three per cent annually and services such as 311 are increased.

    "That model is not sustainable in the long run," Zuk said.

    Coun. Ron Jones said his colleagues on council "need to be realistic" when the budget is set.

    "We beat up on our department heads on a regular basis because they do not come in at the budget we had set," he said. "I think sometimes we want to look good in the paper, we want to sound good on the radio, by saying 0.98 (per cent budget increase). But we've cut really, really close to the bone."

Can you actually believe what you are reading? This is an absolute disgrace. It is Financial Irresponsibility! I, at least, congratulate these Councillors for being straight about it now but that should not excuse their conduct at Budget time.

Where was that magnificent CITISTAT system that allowed Eddie to win the election and that would have shown budget problems right away, not 3 months after year-end? Where were the remarks of Councillor Budget in the story to explain the issue or will we have to wait until after he runs to Gord Henderson to save him again? Where were the controls that he should have ensured were in place given his financial background ? Where were the Budgeteers to ensure fiscal responsibility for more than just an election budget?

Is this something that the City's Audit Committee should be investigating forthwith? Would a Board of Directors of a private company allow this to continue? Can you imagine if the City was actually operating a border crossing as a business! And you wonder why I support private enterprise!

Oh there had to be a reason for all of this financial manoeuvering and there is. I heard yesterday that there are enough votes on Council to build a brand new arena in the east end. Several sources told me about it and I was told that the cost was over $50 million. So much for local arenas, refurbishing the Barn and trying to save a few bucks.

Arenas wiggle don't they at election time?

Windsor's "Big Dig"

It should be interesting as DRIC works out the numbers for the cost of the new border crossing. We have already heard numbers in the multi-billion dollar range and that is without a tunnel.

A reader sent me this story which I found fascinating and one that I thought I should share with you, especially in light of the Michigan hearings and the desire by Windsor Council to have a huge tunnel built.

If this is really the case, then to be blunt about it, how much extra would taxpayers have to pay out over quoted numbers if Governments built a new crossing including, shudder/shudder, a

The Next Big Dig?
There's a reason big public projects almost always overshoot their budgets.
by James Thayer

IT'S THE UGLIEST THING north of Los Angeles and south of Juneau. Dirty, noisy, homely from every angle, and so massive it is visible from space. For 50 years it has ruined the downtown waterfront. Seattleites now have an excuse to be rid of the cursed thing, and many are desperate to do so.

It is the Alaskan Way viaduct, an elevated portion of State Route 99, and it handles 110,000 vehicles a day, the second busiest north-south corridor in the city. Northbound traffic is on the top level, southbound is on the middle tier, and at ground level are parking spaces, perpetual shadow, and puddles. The viaduct blocks the water view of scores of downtown buildings, and is a physical and psychological barrier separating downtown from the Elliott Bay shoreline.

In 2001 the viaduct was damaged by the Nisqually Earthquake, which registered 6.8 on the Richter Scale, and which was centered 50 miles south of Seattle. Repairs cost $3.5 million. No one claims the Alaskan Way viaduct will survive the Big One, which is forecast for sometime between tomorrow and the year 3,000. More precisely, engineers say that in the next 10 years there is a 1 in 20 chance that an earthquake will cause the viaduct to fail.

Seattleites are well aware of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that pancaked Interstate 880's Cypress Street viaduct in Oakland, causing severe traffic disruption for the next decade. Something must be done. The Seattle mayor, the construction industry and unions, and Washington State transportation bureaucrats favor the most expensive remedy: tearing down the viaduct and building a tunnel along the waterfront. The Department of Transportation's website--helpfully available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Tagalog--says the tunnel "takes advantage of a 100-year opportunity to open up Seattle's waterfront."

HISTORY SUGGESTS that these estimates are a deception designed to gain early support for a project that will turn out to be much more expensive.

Completed in 1869, the Suez Canal cost 20 times more than early projections, and three times more than estimates compiled the year construction began. Figures for the Panama Canal are murky but the project, completed in 1914, cost somewhere between 70 percent and 200 percent more than pre-construction estimates. The Sydney Opera House was first estimated at $7 million. When it was finished in 1973 the Aussies were looking at a $102 million tab.

Boston's notorious Big Dig, which put some of Interstate 93 beneath the city, took 20 years to complete and cost about $14.6 billion, the most expensive road project in U.S. history. The original estimate: $2.6 billion. A money sinkhole, the project ruined careers, sprung intractable leaks, and has now roused federal prosecutors.

The San Francisco Bay Area has its own ongoing financial calamity, caused in part by low initial estimates. The bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland was built in the early 1930s and today carries 280,000 vehicles a day. The Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the bridge, and most experts agreed it needed to be replaced before another substantial earthquake rattles the region. In 1997 legislation was passed funding the new span, which was expected to open by 2004 and cost $1.7 billion. Construction on a replacement for the bridge's cantilever portion began in January 2002. Oakland residents--many of whom have long thought that their city got stuck with the butt end of the original bridge--wanted a signature look, so a lovely suspension bridge was settled on. As of today, a mile of the bridge juts out into the bay, and stops. By the time it is completed in 2012, it will have cost $6.3 billion. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom summed it up: "It's a fiasco."

At the Mixing Bowl in Springfield, Virginia, 400,000 vehicles a day come together on Interstates 95 and 395 and the Capital Beltway. During public hearings in January 1994 the price tag for the Mixing Bowl--a jumble of ramps, bridges and cloverleaves--was put at $220 million. Today $676 million is the latest guess at a final cost. The project might be finished next year.

Time and again promoters of big public projects use low-ball estimates to seduce a gullible public into supporting a project. How does this happen? An important study has concluded that the best explanation is "strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying."

BENT FLYVBJERG is a professor of development and planning at Aalborg University in Denmark, and is founder and director of the university's research program on transportation infrastructure planning. He has twice been a visiting Fulbright Scholar. He and his colleagues studied 258 transportation projects from different eras and different regions. Among the questions they hoped to answer: How common and how large are differences between forecasted and actual costs? Are the differences random or is there a pattern to the differences that indicates other explanations?

The study looked at several possible explanations for cost overruns. The first were technical reasons, and includes mistakes made due to inadequate data, honest errors, and inexperienced forecasters. But if technical reasons were the main cause for the disparities "we would expect a less biased distribution of errors in cost estimates." Significantly, forecasts are heavily biased toward underestimating the final costs. And there has been little or no improvement in forecasting as the decades pass. Gross underestimation today "is of the same order of magnitude as it was 10, 30, and 70 years ago"--which suggests that technical errors are not a significant cause of poor initial estimates.

Psychological reasons were also examined. Flyvbjerg writes, "Politicians may have a 'monument complex,' engineers like to build things, and local transportation officials sometimes have the mentality of empire builders." "But given the fact that the human psyche is distinguished by a significant ability to learn from experience," Flyvbjerg notes, "it seems unlikely that promoters and forecasters would continue to make the same mistakes decade after decade instead of learning from their actions."

A more credible explanation for the disparities between forecasted and actual costs are economic motives, both public and private.

TRANSIT PROJECTS compete for funding from the federal government. A low forecast makes a project more attractive and less likely to be overlooked in favor of another city's project. Leonard Merewitz of the University of California-Berkeley, has concluded that "keeping costs low is more important than estimating costs correctly."

And on a private level, promoters and investors may benefit by shading forecasts so the projects will more likely be built. Flyvbjerg says, "Having costs underestimated and benefits overestimated would be economically rational for such stakeholders because it could increase the likelihood of revenues and profits."

Is lying too strong a word? Not according to Martin Wachs, director of the Institute for Transportation planning at the University of California-Berkeley, who in a study in the Business and Professional Ethics Journal showed that "officials on a variety of transportation projects lied to ensure that the projects get built," according to a summary in the Boston Globe. Dozens of officials on a number of projects admitted to lying. "They owned up to the fact that these practices were common," Wachs told the Globe's Raphael Lewis. "But they all said they were common among other companies."

FLYVBJERG CONCLUDES that costs are underestimated in 90 percent of transportation infrastructure projects. For tunnels and bridges, actual costs are on average 34 percent higher than forecast costs, and for road projects the disparity on average is 20 percent. "We conclude that the cost estimates . . . are highly, systematically and significantly deceptive."

And what do these deceptive numbers mean? "[T]hose . . . who value honest numbers should not trust the cost estimates presented by infrastructure promoters and forecasters," Flyvbjerg says. "[S]eemingly rational forecasts that underestimate costs and overestimate benefits have long been an established formula for project approval."

BACK IN SEATTLE, an alternative to the waterfront tunnel exists: replacing the existing viaduct, a project estimated to cost $2.5 billion to $2.9 billion.

Perhaps the local politicians understand that the tunnel's estimated cost of $4.1 billion is a pie-in-the-sky number. The state legislature adjourned its latest session after refusing to make a tough decision on the project. Instead, the legislators voted to let the Seattle city council either make the decision itself or (in a rare double punt) allow city voters to choose between the tunnel or the replacement viaduct.

The mayor and a number of council members support letting Seattle voters decide. No state or local politician wants to be tarred in some future race with "He voted for Seattle's Big Dig."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is It Worth The Ride To Acton

If you have been in the Toronto area, I am sure that you will have heard that radio commercial for the Olde Hide House, the store that sells leather goods. It's about a 45 mile drive between Toronto and Acton where the store is located and takes about an hour to get there.

The owners just do not sell the "store" but rather something more to get people to come there. "We invite you to visit us in Acton, Canada's Leathertown since 1844 and enjoy the country drive, browse quaint shops and complete your stay with lunch or dinner at Tanners Restaurant."

They sell: "the restored 19th century setting of the olde Hide House serves to showcase the unique leather industry heritage of Acton - the last small town near Toronto."

And then the clincher "In addition to great selection, most items are priced less - often much less - than comparable goods sold elsewhere!"

No, this is not meant to be a commercial for them but to show how that company has been able to market themselves and create a niche in a tough market. And isn't that Windsor's challenge in the face of the Border ID mess, no smoking, the crisis in the bingo industry and the casinos in Detroit just announcing major expansions. How do we convince Americans to keep on coming across?

We are going to have major problems as Allenparkpete mentions. When you also read the Detroit News story below, you may wonder if we can succeed unless we create Windsor as a destination and not just as "Sin City."

Allenparkpete strikes again:

"I agree with Sen. Leahy....issuing that card will kill downtown Windsor so we may not even need the two border crossings we have now! Casino Windsor could be turned into a large paintball warehouse between no smoking and the border card...

in all seriousness that border card situation is very worrisome.....I even brought it up with some co-workers here and most of them could not be bothered to fill out something like that....its just not worth their while so for the casual visitor (from Ohio or Pennsylvannia or a southern state) they would never think of getting something like that. So travel to Windsor or Niagara Falls or you name it, would fall dramatically...........Eddie Francis's Keg Restaurant may even go under....!

  • U.S. senator says border ID card plan is a 'train wreck' and should be dropped
    BETH GORHAM Thu Mar 2, 5:37 PM ET

    WASHINGTON (CP) - Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy says the "cockamamie idea" of requiring new identity cards at the Canada-U.S. border will cause mayhem in return for dubious security benefits.

    At a Senate hearing Thursday, Leahy told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he should reconsider legislation requiring people to show a passport or other secure document when crossing from Canada by the end of 2007.

    "We've got an economic and cultural train wreck on the horizon," said Leahy. "I can just see a complete screw up on the border come Jan. 1, 2008. Our closest friend in this hemisphere is going to be, like, what happened? Are we pariahs?"

    "It seems like almost doing something for the sake of doing something, not really to protect us."
Just so that everyone understands the consequences for Windsor, here is a great story out of Detroit that will reflect what many Americans will think if they want to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to come to Windsor:
  • New-world border: Are issues worth drive to Windsor?
    Laura Berman, Detroit News. April 09, 2006

    On a Saturday night in Windsor, the Italian restaurants on Erie Street -- once bustling and lively -- emit a more serene air.

    "There's not much overflow," says Joe Fallea, who owns Il Gabbiano, still one of the most popular restaurants on the street.

    Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the cross-border traffic's been in turmoil. Before then, visitors hopped into their cars without giving border guards or traffic too much thought. After, anxieties ballooned.

    "Right now, I'm stuck in traffic in Windsor, haven't moved for 5 minutes. That's life. You get stuck on I-75, you don't think anything of it," says Fallea, who recently opened Bona, a trattoria, in downtown Windsor.

    His point being: Facing U.S. Customs officials or tunnel traffic bothers us more than everyday traffic jams, even if the wait time is similar.

    Friendly, foreign and near as it might be, Windsor's suffering. First, the September 11 horrors stopped traffic, then a war in Iraq discouraged key casino clientele. "A lot of our Chaldean neighbors stopped coming from (the Detroit area) because it was too difficult," says Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who says he's heard personally from Americans with Iraqi roots who were anxious about crossing. Then there was the SARS scare -- remember that one? -- and the impact of a sinking American dollar.

    The glory days of the dollar that was worth $1.50 in Canada are long gone.

    Now looming is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require Americans to carry passports for any Canada or Mexican border crossing by the end of 2007.

    How many hurdles do you have to jump for a good plate of linguine pescatore?

    After all, only 30 percent of all Americans have passports -- and even the prospect of vitello alla limone is unlikely to provide sufficient incentive for those visitors whose only international travel is the odd Windsor night out.

    Windsor Mayor Francis is lobbying for passage of the "Real I.D. Act" -- a proposed U.S. law that would create a standardized U.S. driver's license acceptable for border crossings.

    Francis argues that U.S. citizens must use the same ID to acquire a passport that won't be acceptable for border crossings.

    A few weeks ago, re-entering the United States from Windsor, I offered the stern U.S. Customs official my passport -- the one I'd grabbed quickly on my way out the door.

    She focused, brusquely, on my friend's driver's license, questioning her birthplace, and even our reason for being in Windsor: "It's your birthday?" she asked, interrogating my friend.

    Yes. But after our eventual release, I noticed the passport I'd handed over wasn't mine. It belonged to my daughter whose physical resemblance to me is slim: She's Asian; I'm not. She's 5, I'm not. Besides, she wasn't in the car.

    So here's our latest border-crossing dilemma: Should you feel more anxious about possible interrogation -- or because Osama bin Laden could probably use a 5-year-old's passport?

    Tough call.

An Icy Relationship

The Councillor who asked why no one listens to Windsor said it properly. Councillor Valentinis said "You hear about the pace of glaciers moving. This has become slower than glaciers."

The "this" is the $50-million underpass construction project that is expected to close Walker Road for two years has been delayed once again.

The project's original plans called for the road to close in January 2005, meaning the latest delay puts it two years behind schedule."

According to the Star, "The project has been slowed by haggling over property compensation, red tape and political negotiations between the city and senior governments."

Well I wondered how many other City programs were delayed or took forever to do or cost extra to do "on time." I said before there just does not seem to be a sense of urgency about anything. Here are some:

  • Tunnel plaza---about 18 months delayed
  • Youth study--to take about 8 months
  • Bus terminal---was supposed to be ready for Super Bowl and just starting now
  • Taxi report---2 years in the making
  • Economic development report---18 months or more being prepared
  • Enwin problem report---who knows when
  • Urban village---no RFP yet
  • Consultants' report on the Summer border minutes--9 months and waiting
  • Arena---who knows when
  • Citistat---2 1/2 year delay
  • Estrin/Schwartz/consultants fees---still waiting
  • Border solution---Oh my goodness
  • Canderel---2 1/2 years and not yet done
  • Huron Church Overpass---on time but at a premium of over $400K

Home Sour Home

Can the news get any worse for this City? Check out the story below.

First we rank at the top of the Jobless rate. Now we rank at the bottom of the list of the house price gains in cities across Canada.

Thank goodness the Mayor told us yesterday on CKLW, in answer to an anonymous but "astute" listener who sent in an email, about those several confidential companies that are bringing all of those jobs to Windsor. The Mayor, and all of us, welcome the day that they will tell us about their investments publicly.

I wonder if that listener was actually the clever Councillor Ken Lewenza Jr who was just kidding around with us. Why don't you remember that he and the Mayor made "the announcement of a "significant investment" by a company they would not name...that will create 200, 250 jobs producing high- tech products." That was back on November 11, 2005. It was "a new autoparts plant in the Twin Oaks industrial park ." Did we ever learn who that company was yet?

Home prices skyrocket
TAVIA GRANT, 11/04/06

Globe and Mail Update

Canadian house prices were 7 per cent higher in February than a year ago, rising at the fastest clip in 16 years, Statistics Canada said Tuesday. For the fourth month in a row, Calgary led the pack.

Higher costs for construction materials and labour were the main reasons why national prices rose, Statscan said. Strong demand in some cities also contributed to the gains.

The 7-per-cent annual gain may put pressure on inflation, said Ted Carmichael, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Securities Canada Inc.

“New house price gains are moving up toward levels not seen since the real-estate boom of the late 1980s,” he said in a note. “The rise in new house prices will gradually feed into the consumer price index for shelter, putting steady upward pressure on core services inflation.”

While prices continue to streak higher, the pace of growth seems to be moderating. February prices were 0.7 per cent higher than in January, down slightly from January's increase of 0.9 per cent.

On a year-over-year basis, prices in Calgary jumped the most, rising 22.8 per cent. “Higher material, labour and land costs, combined with good demand and increased architectural costs, were behind the increases,” the report said.

In Edmonton, prices are 12.5 per cent higher than a year ago. Winnipeg is also seeing a hefty gain, at 9.6 per cent.

The smallest year-over-year gains among the 21 metropolitan areas in the survey occurred in Windsor, where prices were up a scant 0.7 per cent from a year ago.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Mayor And The Governor

I was listening on the car radio today to WWJ (NO I am not that angry at CKLW but I am getting there.)

They reported on the latest poll for the election of the Governor in Michigan. For the second month in a row, the percentages were virtually identical. 43%-43% this month and 43%-41% in the Governor's
favour over Dick DeVos previously..

What the most interesting part to me was the analysis which said that people in Detroit are sitting on their hands and not making a move for the Governor. It would mean that come the end of the election, the Governor may be defeated and would have to depend on her hubby's income from clients like the dysfunctional Windsor Council.

It means again, that Kwame may be, for the time being at least, the most powerful politician right now in Michigan. Just remember what the Mayor wrote on the border and watch how Windsor is treated!

Being A Naysayer

I trust that the Ward 2 Councillors will not be too angry with me now.

I confess. I live in South Windsor. But it's not my fault. No one told me when I first moved to Windsor that living in this part of the City was verging on a crime and would "tag" me forever. I just liked the house, that's all.

I read an interesting comment the other day that came from someone who should know better. "People do not bad mouth the West end and quite frankly if they do they live in South Windsor and are ignorant!" So there!

So daring to feed the stereotype, I will again risk losing friends by saying that Ward 2 Councillors Postma and Jones have made a big mistake by trying to make Sandwich a heritage area. It will mean that 2,616 buildings will become part of a huge bureaucracy that will impact property owners every time they may want to do something significant with their buildings.

But more importantly, they will lose for Sandwich a lot of good-will from other parts of the City.

Today's Star reported:
  • Heritage owners may see tax dip
    Lee Palser, Windsor Star

    ESSEX - Kingsville owners of heritage properties should soon be eligible for an added break on their residential tax rates.

    The County of Essex will likely approve a recommendation from its corporate services committee that it reduce taxes for such properties by 40 per cent of the usual county levy, matching the town's own reduction.

    Kingsville's bylaw affects eligible heritage property owners, who are required to make annual applications to receive the tax reduction.

    The town's chief building official confirms the eligibility of the property.

    Eligible owners within the industrial-commercial or multi-residential property classes are able to make application for reductions annually for a maximum of five years...

    Kingsville has identified 14 eligible heritage properties for 2006. If county council adopts the bylaw and all eligible heritage property owners applied for the reduction of the county portion of their taxes, it would mean lost revenue of about $3,900."

I have no idea how property taxes in Kingsville and Windsor compare but just using the Kingsville numbers, taxpayers in the rest of the City may have to pay almost three quarters of a million dollars for that historic designation in Sandwich every year. I do not think that will go over well in the east, south and north Windsor, never mind the rest of Ward 2.

No one argues against making Sandwich an area where investors should come for new development purposes. No one argues against making Sandwich an area where tourists should come to learn about its history. No one argues against designating key buildings in Sandwich as historic. But everyone should oppose a proposal that makes little sense.

In reality, and no matter how much it is sugar-coated, it is merely another misguided tactic in the border war since properties are impacted where a Twinned Bridge might be built one day. It is that obvious as well.

An Equal Opportunity Media Critic

It's not my fault if the Star makes it so easy to go after them. For example, I have written twice already to the Star about making corrections to an error in a Henderson column and a Star editorial.

You know what they say in the paper:

  • "The Windsor Star corrects all errors of fact as soon as possible after they are identified. The Star also publishes clarifications of information that could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. If you know of an error, please call 255-5743 at any time."
I know I emailed rather than phoned but I did email the Editorial Page Editor after all. I told him that the statement that the "estimated $759 million, for a border truck route that includes a six-kilometre tunnel" was incorrect.

I even gave them the correct information from Dave Wake of MTO to make it easy for them:

  • "We do not know the cost of a tunnel at this time. The figure quoted in the Windsor Star is an estimated baseline cost of at-grade construction."

Still no correction that I have seen.

However, I did not want the Star to think I was just being negative to them. It's CKLW's turn now.

I heard a commentary by Rob Shervill, the Assistant News Director/Morning News Anchor of CKLW the other day that was so one-sided that I could not believe it. Obviously, he had read a newspaper article or two and might even had read my BLOG about the Lansing hearings and the Report of the consultants retained by the Ambassador Bridge. I wondered, though, if he actually had read the Report that he was so negative about.

In the ninety seconds, his language certainly let everyone know his position. "Moroun's mega-million dollar monopoly," "fire-power of two paid consultants," "infrastructure Armageddon," and the topper "How stupid do they think we are?"

After listening to Rob, I think I should ask the question: how stupid does Rob think his listeners are. Perhaps we can have CKLW do an AM 800 News Poll question. I'll help you, dear reader, complete the survey after I let you read some of his comments and make a few remarks about them:

  1. The Bridge Co. owner feels "ignored" since DRIC has ruled out twinning the Ambassador Bridge. Actually, he should be pretty happy about it. He is no longer tied to a process that is being attacked for not working properly. The Bridge Co is outside of it and probably should never have been part of it since it is an existing crossing.

    He can now demand that the Province and Federal Governments do what is required by starting to spend the $300 million BIF money to fix the road to the existing border crossing, the Ambassador Bridge! That is what the money is for: improvements to an existing crossing.

    While DRIC dithers, he can do what he has to do to protect his business and keep the border functioning properly. If Rob can get Eddie to agree rather than threaten litigation, then we might even get more than a few Windsorites working too to reduce our jobless rate, the highest in Canada.

  2. Rob said that DRIC seems to be leading to a crossing near Sandwich across from Delray. Wow, shall I assume that Rob must agree with that solution since he did not argue against it. Is he supporting the destruction of a community on each side of the river to get a new border crossing where he says DRIC is leading us! Is this one of the environmentally friendly options that Rob talked about later on in his commentary?

  3. Rob claims the new bridge would take away from the Bridge Co.'s monopoly. Of course Rob did not explain how a new bridge and infrastructure costing billions would be able to compete against the Bridge Co. and charge tolls that will take away trucks but that is a small matter.

    As for the "monopoly" charge, had he read the Bi-national materials, he will know that they have shown it not to be true.

  4. Kwame's claim that there was no need for a third crossing "failed to fly." Errr Rob, why do you think there are hearings in Lansing now......that is an issue that has to be dealt with amongst others by the Legislators in Michigan. At least Kwame had the guts to question the spending of billions of taxpayer dollars. The Michigan Legislators are asking the same question too unlike the politicians on our side who seem to be prepared to spend taxpayer billions as they "respect the process" and keep it "meticulous."

  5. The hired consulatants are trying to convince taxpayers that a publicly-funded bridge would take up money that could be spent on crumbling roads in Michigan. I guess Rob did not read that part of their Report that stated that "The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has identified $40 billion in transportation needs for the region in the next 25 years."

  6. Rob says that the consultants claim that only the Bridge Co. can ensure a smooth flow of traffic. Well, they have not done too badly so far. It was the Bridge Co. that claimed that Customs was the problem at the border. For the expenditure of a few million dollars of their money to build a few Customs booths which Customs is now staffing, they were proved right when they ended truck back-ups on Huron Church Road.

    It was an agency of the US Government, not the consultants, who said that "Crossing times at Detroit's Ambassador Bridge port-of-entry, as noted above, were markedly different from others in the sample. Despite the bridge's dramatically higher volume of traffic, generally shorter crossing times were achieved."

  7. Rob goes on and on about toxic fumes, truck noise, belching air brakes and pedestrians dodging trucks that go through amber and red lights. Uhhhh, Rob, it is not the function of the Bridge Co. to build a road to the border. That is Governments' job--you know the Mayor and the Senior Levels, remember.

  8. Rob claimed that there are more environmentally friendly options than the Ambassador Bridge's plan. I do wish he had set those options out and for that matter told us what he thinks the Ambassador Bridge's plan is. If he had done so, then we all could have known the big secret too.

  9. Finally, Rob delivered the coup de grace---there is no shortage of people who are highly suspect of the Bridge Co.'s motives. Oh my...Rob revealed the truth. Well not actually. He ended without telling us the motives. We dare not ask since then we are not part of the "no shortage" group and who does not want to be part of the in-crowd!

In my BLOG yesterday about the Star, I concluded by saying:

  • "...the only alternative right now is for the other media in town to play a proper role in...providing real analysis of what is taking place in this City. After all, they... should be helping us understand what is going on."

Was I wrong?

Monday, April 10, 2006

An Alternative To The Windsor Star

I read the Star because I really do not have a choice for local news and advertisements. I was told by a well-placed politico-type that a very substantial percentage of people get their information from the Star compared with the other media.

If you are talking "local politics" and analysis that I focus on, who else is there? We have Joe McParland who asks tough questions after Council but his show is limited in length and I am usually ready to fall asleep by the time it is on since it takes place after Council. (Yes meetings are that boring!) His show, Council Close-up, with Bill Marra that helped explain what was going to take place at Council that evening was cancelled by Cogeco at the end of last summer.

Cogeco also runs John Fairley's Face-To-Face (from which I get plenty of great information) and Veronique Mandal's "Media Mix" but they are interview shows rather than "timely" news shows or political analysis.

For the broadcast media, Percy's Panel is about it on CBC TV, A-channel is news only and CKLW has Patty Handyside commenting for 5-10 minutes on Mondays. Melanie Deveau's show seems to have a different format with fewer interviews and call-ins from listeners. Then there is the Mayor Love-in show every Tuesday morning where the really tough questiosn are ignored!

The issue is clearly an important one. If someone chooses to run against a Star favourite, the person is behind the eight-ball right from the beginning. How does that person get his/her point of view across? And with "vigilant fairness," a person running against an incumbent may have a very difficult time.

Take Bill Marra, as an example. The Star deemed him to be a potential candidate so that means no Letter to the Editor over 300 words and only once every 6-8 weeks. They "profiled" him that way too. And I have already reported how Henderson has attacked him.

What got me going again today was the Windsor Star Editorial about the salaries of the Mayor and Council. Now how can I object you say. Wasn't it Roseann Denise that broke the story about the huge increase in salary for Councillors and the non-diclosure by the Mayor of $30,000 in income? Of course she did and she did her job well too.

But how can the story be important? The Editorial tell us it is not. Can you imagine though if it was the former Mayor and Council!

The Editorial starts off:
  • "Perspective is a useful tool whenever tax dollars are involved. For example, there were likely raised eyebrows when the mayor and councillors disclosed that they'd made a significant amount of extra money last year for work at Enwin Powerlines and the Windsor Utilities Commission."
The rest of the Editorial then tries to put their salaries into "perspective" by throwing around other big numbers.

As I said before, I do not begrudge the Mayor and Council their money since they work hard. But I cannot believe that the Editorial Board of the major media outlet in town has passed off so quickly the manner in which the increases were made and the non-disclose since the Mayor did not want to "meddle." More importantly, I cannot believe that the Editorial Board of the major media outlet in town would not be fuming and demanding that an inquiry be held to tell us what crisis took place at Enwin that required all of these extra meetings. Not a peep about that or perhaps loss of taxpayer dollars.

I assume that we are to be comforted by the Editorial's last paragraph:
  • "it's a matter of faith that directors of boards -- who are unelected and not directly accountable to taxpayers -- know what they are doing. If taxpayers think their municipal politicians are overpaid or underperforming -- or paying bureaucrats too much -- they can at least lodge their complaints at the ballot box.

What's the answer....I have heard a rumour that the Toronto Star might be opening a bureau here. And who knows, one of the monthlies could get brave and become weekly or an out-of-town paper from the County or elsewhere might come here. I won't hold my breath though in the interim.

No, the only alternative right now is for the other media in town to play a proper role in covering City Hall and providing real analysis of what is taking place in this City. After all, they are taxpayers too and should be helping us understand what is going on. We Bloggers cannot do it all by ourselves!

State Of The City Speech

Somebody better buy a paper shredder for CREFAAC (Committee to Re-elect Eddie Francis At All Costs). My confidant found another one of those CREFAAC memos in a garbage can near City Hall the other day and forwarded it on to me. The strategists still seem to be trying to trash things I guess but unsuccessfully from what I can judge. I think they had better stop now before the consequences become quite troubling.

I could not understand the reason for the memo until I looked at the agenda for the next Council meeting. It appears that the May 1 Council meeting is being postponed since the Mayor is going to deliver his "State of the City" speech at the Cleary that night instead.

At least this time his Chief of Staff and minions were able to book space in Windsor since they had enough notice and did not do it in the last minute. Who knows where we would have wound up otherwise given the throngs of people expected to attend to listen to Eddie. I heard that Puce was a possibility for the speech location but was discarded quickly. [One of the strategists was not local and thought the "C" in Puce was a hard one, not soft!]

You remember last year's speech don't you. Probably not because the Mayor did not publicize it and few turned out. I think that was when the City's Schwartz plan had already been denounced by most groups in Windsor and Eddie was afraid that the pesky environmentalists might show up, as they did, and cause him some problems.

I know that Kwame came last year but given the frosty relationship now, I doubt that he will come back again while Eddie is Mayor!

No doubt, the speech will be heavily advertised. It is only a relatively few months before the election in November. What better way to kick off a campaign (and win friends with Councillors by having them take a few bows too on stage). The best part of the deal is that the City pays for it all and no one can object since the previous speeches were given at this time in the past too. If only the CREFAAC strategists could run the City as well as they run the campaign we would not have to worry about economic redevelopment!

Anyway, here is the memo. As I said before, I cannot vouch for the truth of this document so you will have to judge for yourself.




You have asked us to write a speech for the Mayor that will boast of his accomplishments. Naturally, the end result is supposed to be a cry that he be re-elected to continue to carry out the Vision that we created for him the first time around.

We looked at the major areas that he has tackled and here is our analysis:

-Super Bowl Success

We thought we had a winner here until someone reminded us of the 25,000 seat CFL stadium he talked about. (We said he was the only one who could build us an arena and look what happened to that promise!)

The Mayor still cannot give us real figures and we know that border traffic was down considerably. Being the poster boy for Budweiser did not help his image and he flipflopped on the press stories about all the vices that Windsor has to offer. Scratch that!

-Open and transparent Government Success

Even the Windsor Star is mad about us on that one!

We gave up counting the number of In Camera Sessions held. When Eddie went public, against our advice may we add, in the Council meeting in Tecumseh, Alan McKinnon and the pesky environmentalists hammered us! McKinnon got a bigger ovation than all of Council put together. With our luck, they are probably talking right now about setting up "informational" picket lines in front of the Cleary. Scratch that!

-Border Policy Success

Are you kidding?

We are against writing any more scare-mongering letters to residents. The 200 metre areas of "mass destruction" shown in the Schwartz presentation may have backfired too since even we know that DRIC engineers would take mitigation measures when building roads.

We have squandered precious time, failed to be accountable for resources spent {can't Administration undertake the simplest tasks quickly?), and are no closer to a realistic approach than 3 years ago. Windsor has been isolated from the Senior Levels, the Governor (but not her hubby) and our biggest buddy, the Mayor of Detroit. Even the Michigan Legislators have learned that we are sitting on $300 million and doing nothing other than threaten litigation. When Windsor could have been in the catbird seat, the opportunity has been derailed. Scratch that!

-Detroit Windsor Tunnel Success

After the Joint Councils meeting when we confirmed everything the Ambassador Bridge Co. had been saying and a region 1/10th the size of Detroit is taking 10 times the revenues. And if traffic does not pick up and the Bridge Co. renews its bid...Scratch that!

- Regional Relations Success

From being the best partner of Detroit to snow cleaner for the Super Bowl, what a come-down. Our economic "hired guns" tell us we have to partner with a much bigger region and we attack and patronize Detroit. The polling we heard about was wrong. Kwame won!

And as for the County, if Halberstadt can get them to agree with us on anything, we will take credit for it. Scratch that!

- Economic Development/Downtown District Success

Our story of success here with one national chain restaurant and a bus terminal while we have dozens of empty storefronts and a huge office vacancy rate does not play well in Peoria either.

And when citizens find out how much we are still paying out on Canderel even with the subleases and what it may cost us to get St. Clair College to come downtown...Scratch that!

-Huron Church Overpass Success

It was finished exactly on September 2005, the deadline date. Sure we paid an extra $406,000 premium to get the bridge done 45 days early and sure the kids use it---to have a smoke. But hey, this one's a winner!

Now if someone can explain to us how we can make a 40 minute speech talking about the overpass. Wait, I know...we'll spend the other 39 minutes talking about all of the Mayor's "in progress" items and showing artist's renditions of his latest dreams!

Jobless rate Canada: 6.3, Windsor: 9.4

Let's see... shall we worry about art for the South Windsor Art Gallery located at the E C Row underpass, or plant a few more trees for tourists when they pass through our city or perhaps we might think about less important things like fixing the road to the border with the $300 million BIF money we are sitting on and creating infrastructure jobs!

  • "Jobless rate falls to 32-year low of 6.3 per cent
    Updated Fri. Apr. 7 2006 12:36 PM ET News Staff

    A rise in the number of full time jobs in Canada last month helped bump the nation's jobless rate to a 32-year low.

    The jobless rate fell slightly from 6.4 per cent in February to 6.3 in March, as 51,000 new jobs were created in Canada's economy.

    Analysts had expected only 21,000 new jobs in March.

    The unemployment rate in Canada has been dropping in recent months, improving on a 30-year low reported by Statistics Canada late last year.

    "The vast majority of the 44,000 of them were in fact full time jobs, and those are the kind we like because you get paid more, you get more benefits and more job security from those," said Linda Sims, CTV's business editor.

    Statistics Canada said the most recent numbers reflect a pattern.

    "This continues the long-term trend toward full-time employment growth in this country," said the agency, noting that part-time employment has remained around the same level for the past three years...

    Overall, the majority of the nation's job gains in March were reported in Ontario, where the construction and service-based industries have experienced strong growth, overshadowing a steady decline in manufacturing throughout the past 12 months...

    Ontario's March employment gains bring the province's total to 115,000 new jobs in the past 12 months...

    Statistics Canada also released seasonally adjusted, three-month moving average unemployment rates for major cities -- but cautions the figures may fluctuate widely because they are based on small statistical samples. (Previous month in brackets)

    St. John's, N.L. 8.8 (8.7)
    Halifax 5.0 (5.1)
    Saint John, N.B. 5.7 (5.6)
    Saguenay, Que. 7.8 (7.6)
    Quebec 5.5 (5.2)
    Trois-Rivieres, Que. 9.1 (8.8)
    Sherbrooke, Que. 8.3 (7.6)
    Montreal 9.4 (9.6)
    Gatineau, Que. 5.7 (5.5)
    Ottawa 5.0 (5.0)
    Kingston, Ont. 6.1 (5.6)
    Toronto 6.7 (6.7)
    Hamilton 5.5 (5.8)
    Kitchener, Ont. 5.2 (5.3)
    London, Ont. 6.0 (6.2)
    Oshawa, Ont. 6.5 (6.7)
    St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont. 6.7 (6.8)
    Sudbury, Ont. 8.2 (7.7)
    Thunder Bay, Ont. 7.4 (6.9)
    Windsor, Ont. 9.4 (8.9)
    Winnipeg 4.5 (4.3)
    Regina 4.9 (4.9)
    Saskatoon 5.4 (5.6)
    Calgary 3.4 (4.0)
    Edmonton 3.7 (4.0)
    Abbotsford, B.C. 4.4 (4.6)
    Vancouver 4.8 (4.9)
    Victoria 3.8 (4.0)"