Municipality against democracy?

unfair representation

We often take democracy for granted in Canada. When areas grow, governments change division borders to represent the new demographic fairly. It’s not a perfect system where every division is exactly the same size all of the time, but attention is given to adjust them on a regular basis. It is the core of democracy to have fair representation, and it’s because of that these changes are made regularly as municipalities, provinces and countries grow.

Imagine if Saskatoon had its population on the east side at 51% and the west side at 49%, but the west side of the river had only 1 council seat while the east side had 5. Obviously, this is a ridiculous notion. This would not be fair representation and it is reasonable to assume that the interests of the west would not being treated as important as the interests of the east. The single west councilor would also have 5x the constituents and their concerns than any of the other councilors would have. Crazy talk, I know. How would a municipality like that operate? Let’s look at some scenarios.

The city requires a new garbage dump and council must decide where to put it. None of the councilors want it in their constituency, nor do their rate payers. When the time comes to vote, the result is 5-1 to place it on the west side.

The city has been doing well, creeping up taxes the way cities do. What a great time to add some value to our community! Maybe a new arena? Or one of those big recreation complexes with a pool and a rink? It is unanimously decided that a new recreation facility is the best choice for the community and families. Followed by a 5-1 vote to place it on the east side where the 5 east zones converge.

A large corporation wants to erect a giant communications tower, and they are willing to make it worth the cities while to allow them to do so. This will be a giant eyesore and will also have extremely bright flashing lights, but it is lucrative. Vote 5-1 for a location on the west side.

No amount of reasoning will convince council to change the division borders. After all, they have a good thing going. Half the tax comes from the west and it gets spent in the east. You get the picture. This example is not democratic and it is definitely not fair. If only it was fiction.

This exact scenario is playing out in municipalities in Saskatchewan right now, but one in particular is most alarming.

RM #373 of Aberdeen has permitted its population to almost double in the past decade or so. They have purposely allowed this to happen in 1 voting division of 6, resulting in that one division accounting for appx 50% of both the population and revenue of the RM. Many say the numbers are higher, but the RM does not appear to be very sure of the numbers they reluctantly provide. Residents of this division, which a majority are zoned Country Residential, enjoy property taxes calculated at 130% and 236% of that of their two neighboring RM’s, a recently opened gravel pit that was discretely voted on in council with no notice to the residents, and a communications tower that was approved with nearly 100% of the division against it and a petition delivered.

It shocks to me learn that there are no laws in place to enforce democracy. I contacted the provincial government but no one could find any laws at the various branches of government I spoke to that would prevent situations like I have described here. The only solution is to force a referendum, which the people did and is currently in the voting stage with early voting held on December 3rd and final vote on December 14th. As proposed by the petition for referendum, the RM would have 5 equally populated divisions. In other words, fair representation or democracy.

While the RM must legally remain neutral in a referendum, the council has taken it upon themselves to push the envelope in their war against equality and an inclusive community. They make no mention in the mandatory referendum notice to rate payers that the purpose is to equalize the divisions or that the proposed divisions represent equal distribution. In fact, it is represented as arbitrarily changing lines on a map for no reason, and nowhere on any document or website does the RM state the purpose is equal representation. Then the council saw fit to issue a propaganda letter to rate payers stating that this entire situation is because of a small group of people spreading lies. In this public letter, they state that if the divisions were altered (insert fair and democratic) the RM could become unstable financially and the community could suffer because the decisions made at the council table would not be in the spirit of community. Basically saying, if we let that half of our community have a fair say, everyone will suffer. One must wonder what goes on in that council chamber to have such a negative view of half the population they fail to represent. 

So, it comes down to this vote. If the council has managed to strike enough fear in the hearts of just over half the population, they will continue to dictate how the other half of the population lives. Or, people will come together and share the responsibilities equally and the RM will benefit from a better sense of community, one that the current council has neglected to nurture. This is the state of democracy in the RM of Aberdeen. I hope that you will share this story to help prevent this type of unfair representation in the future. Good luck Aberdeen!

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Written by a concerned rate payer in Aberdeen

RM of Aberdeen Zone 2 Meeting Request

We would like your input on a meeting in the near future. We tried to organize a couple of dates however we haven’t received a lot of input as of today. I believe we had about 14 responses. We can reschedule the date if that works best for everyone but it is difficult to find a date that works for everyon. However, we will put a few dates out there and hope we have better attendance. Part of the issue may very well be the lack of options and we will try more dates in the next email to everyone.

What we wanted to meeting about…
is to get everyone’s input into the fall election that’s coming up this year. As we all know, the developments in Zone 2, and others, have not received the services we should be getting and deserve for all the taxes we pay. We sent around the last three years of audits that we asked for because the RM hasn’t posted them on their website which means many of us don’t know where are tax dollars are being spent and on what. Proper governance with standard policies and procedures are lacking and that’s being generous. We have all heard stories of roads being built and rebuilt in zones where they may or may not be necessary with our tax dollars.

Do you know what your tax dollars are being spent on? Do you know how much, collectively, we pay each year? Did you know that in 2014, the most current financial statements we have access to, reflect that the RM collected almost $1 million from acreage developments and about $400 from agriculture. So what did we get for that $1 million? Did you also know that almost all developments are in Zone 2? That means about 80-90% of your tax dollars have been spent elsewhere. Is that ok with everyone and are you comfortable paying your property taxes towards the upkeep of roads, improvements and expenditures in many other areas but not ours? what about our mill rate. In 2009!the mill rate was set at 10 by your RM Council. In 2014 they reduced it to 7 But we are still a lot higher than most RMs in the district.

The total tax dollars received by the RM was $2.2 million in 2014 (2015 still unavailable at this time). $1.4 million total from your tax dollars, $290k from potash royalties and another $180k from the Province of Sask plus other grants, fees and charges for $350 to make up the annual revenues. Therefore, the RM receives $2.2 million per year of which almost 50% is paid with your tax dollars. We are only 1/6th the land base yet our population is well over the 50% mark and closer to 75% if we had current population numbers (which we hope to get in the coming months).

Transportation Services (road maintenance) was over 70% of last years budget. Do you feel you received good services from your $1 million in taxes? This department averages about 50% – 70% of the total annual budget each and every year. We now have 4 graders but none of the operators, from what we have been told, have ever taken proper grader operation training so they don’t know how to grade the roads according to standard road maintenance guidelines. Only two of these graders have GPS so they can track where these machines are running. That means two graders could be sitting in a yard idling all day and we would never know it or some roads are getting regular grading when others that are full of ruts are only graded once or twice a year. How can a department be run by inexperienced staff without any changes being made? What’s more, one of the councillors has a gravel pit and sells gravel to the RM every year plus he is also in charge of the road maintenance crew! How can that not be a conflict of interest no matter what the best interest is or limited options are available to all those involved?

Last year we spent $1.6 million on road maintenance. Of that amount, the RM (on behalf of all of our dollars) spent $400k on salaries in this dept, another $440k on maintenance, materials and supplies (we need a detailed list of all of these items in this dept) plus $320k on gravel. Then we leased some equipment for another $100k. Was this leased equipment leased from one of the councillors or a related party? We heard it was. Is that a conflict of interest or worse? Are there other related corps that are also benefiting from these services that are not following proper governance protocols? I believe it’s time to bring our RM into the 21st century and voice our concerns to all those involved and if changes are not made then it’s time for a new Reeve and other Councillors at the election this fall.

Of that $1 million we are paying each year, how satisfied are we with the services we are getting? Are there some things you would like to see that are with our rights to ask and Councils authority to approve? I’ve listed a few easy wins above because they don’t cost much and they are available to most developments in and around Saskatoon.

This is not an opposition to the taxes the farmers are paying as they provide an important service to us all Many of us grew up on a farm and know how impotan their work is and how much work is involved in running these operations. And we don’t want to create a city here in the hills because we chose to move here to get away from that yet, having said that, we are entitled to some options in the services we would like available to us, even if all of us don’t want or need these services. It should be an option available to us all and we can each decide if we want it or not.

We don’t mind paying our share of taxes if we are getting some basic services in return. This has not happened in the four years we have lived here we have paid about $25k and those that have lived here longer with larger properties than ours can probably add to this total and, i’m sure more dissatisfaction to the services you have or haven’t received. And we don’t ask for much from what I can see and have heard from many of you that have attended these meetings in the past.

Some concerns we have…
Road maintenance (I believe 90% of us agree the roads and their lack of care and maintenance is horrible), we don’t have any road signs on the main grids leading into the developments so people can find us, civic addresses for emergency vehicles in case there was ever an emergency at one of our homes so the ambulance and first responders can find us that much quicker (I can’t imagine if one if our children or loved ones had an accident or became ill and the medical attendants couldn’t find our location fast enough), mailboxes for all developments (whether you wanted it or not, at least there is an option to all), regular meetings with our councillor (either annually or when asked for by a group of constituents who have concerns), and many other small but important concerns we all have.

What we’ve received so far…
from the majority of Council is borderline mismanagement of funds, conflict of interest and very questionable spending habits that haven’t evolved for decades based on the old theory of – if you want it done in your zone you run for council and when elected you make the changes in your zone that relate to your own personal benefit. This can’t happen any longer. This is not what our taxes were intended to cover or accomplish. Rather they should be part of an overall RM plan that each zone should have a voice in, be discussed openly and respectfully with your council member in a committee format of engaged constituents then brought forward into a long term plan, prepared by professional consultants, for the future development of this Rm.

This isn’t rocket science folks but Council doesn’t seems to understand how easy it can be or what steps are necessary to get us there. We have many professional people from a wide variety of skill sets in our zone that would be more than willing to share their experience if given the opportunity to be involved in these decisions.

The meeting was intended to present this and more information to the RM through our Councillor, Ryan Zdunich, and have other Councillors and the current Reeve present to hear our concerns and voice our solutions in the hope of making some long term change for everyone’s benefit. Otherwise, we sit and wish/hope/plead that changes will come but never seem to gain any traction.

We can give them some time to work with us or we vote in a new Reeve this fall who will work with us towards these solutions for the betterment of all RM residents.

Your support, voice and engaged commitment to attend these annual meetings is required where we present our collective concerns and offer solutions to these issues. We can’t do this without your input. Please give us your availability and preference for the weeks of March 1 – 13th and what times works best (ie 5-7pm or 6-8pm, etc).

We are not in charge of this however I you have the same concerns and issues. Something done together is the only way change will happen. If not, we will continue to pay high taxes with no services. Help us make this changE by committing two hours of your time to meet, voice your concerns with solutions to make change and show your support by being at these meetings.

Also, we apologize to those that find this a little too close to home for your comfort but that only goes to show that we all have feelings and what better way to address them then in an open environment where respectful dialogue is used as the catalyst for change.

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2015 Mill Rate Roundup

I haven’t posted this info for a while, so I did some homework and found the payable rates for the RM’s surrounding Saskatoon. These are the rates you pay based on the value of your property and the zoning you are located in. There are 8 property classes, but mainly we will be looking at agriculture, commercial, and residential. Those are the only ones I ever see referenced by any of the RM’s so I am not sure what they do in regards to the additional classes.

The Assessment Process and Its Relation to Taxes

SAMA will first determine an assessed value for properties.  After that, a provincial government tax policy is applied.  The policy multiplies a percentage formula against the assessed value, producing what is called the taxable value.

Provincial Property Classes and Percentages of Value

(A)Agriculture                    55%                  (P) Railway             100%
(N) Non-arable (Range)        40%             (R) Residential        70%
(B) Commercial                   100%              (M) Multi-unit           70%
(E) Elevators                      100%                (S)  Seasonal          70%

You can see by the numbers, some classes get a break. Ag at 55% and range at 40% being the lowest. You could call residential a break at 70%, but that’s hard to do since, well,  you’ve seen your tax bill. The assessed values are in many cases 100x greater than ag, as you will see below.

RM Mill Rates

mill rate roundup Nov 2015 2_1
You can see from this that the highest mill rate is in Blucher, but they have the lowest payable residential rate.They use a factor of .5 for residential. Meaning all residential property pay half the RM mill rate. A similar factor is used in Corman Park of .8 for residential. This lowering of the mill rate is countered with a raised factor for agriculture and commercial. This is because of the extremely high assessments for residential vs the extremely low assessments for agriculture.

Let’s look at a simple example. So SAMA says your property is worth $100,000. If it is residential, we can see above that residential property class is taxed at 70% of the assessed value. So $100,000 x .7 = $70,000. That is your taxable value. You pay the residential mill rate of your RM based on that 70k, plus the education mill rate based on 70k.

Take that 70k, multiply it by the mill rate, then divide by 1000, and you have your tax bill owing to the RM.

So in Aberdeen on 100k residential would look like this.
100000 x .7 = 70000
70000 x 7 = 490000
490000 / 1000 = $490 payable to the RM of Aberdeen (not including education tax)

In Aberdeen the mill rate is the same for agriculture land value so they pay the same mill rate, but only on 55% of the assessed value instead of 70. So the equation is:
(land value) x (.55) x (mill rate) / 1000 = $owed

The (not so) funny thing is, the ag land next to me is valued at $412.50/acre while the residential land next door is valued at over $25,000/acre. Over 60x the value! South of me the grazing land is valued at $244.38/acre, less than 1% of the value of the same land across the street. Sure it’s 160 acres vs 5 acres, but the total real life tax bill for an empty 5 acre lot (with a low assessment of 125k) vs 160 acres (actual assessment of 39k)  across the road is $612.50 ($122.50/acre) vs $109.48 (68 cents/acre). That is .055% per acre value.

In Blucher 100k residential would look like this.
100000 x .7 = 70000
70000 x 4.3677 = 305739
305739 / 1000 = $305.74 payable in the RM of Blucher (not including education tax)

 

2015 Education Property Tax Mill Rates

The Government of Saskatchewan has set the 2015 Education Property Tax (EPT) mill rates to be levied with respect to every school division and property tax for the 2015 taxation year.  The 2015 EPT mill rates are the same as in 2014.

For 2015 the Prairie Spirit (Public) School Division #206 and the St. Paul’s R.C.S.S.D. #20 Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools will both continue to use the education property tax mill rate established by the province as follows:

  • 2.67 mills for agricultural property classes
  • 5.03 mills for residential, seasonal & multi-unit property classes
  • 8.28 mills for commercial/industrial property classes;
  • 11.04 mills for resource(oil and gas, mines and pipelines)

The taxes get even more out of sync here. The mill rates for ag are almost half of residential. That same empty lots previously noted are now $41.75 owing for the farmer, and $440.13 for the residential owner payable for education tax.

It is time for Aberdeen and Dundurn to use mill rate factors to help out the acreage owners there and come on par with other RM’s. Ag gets a break on tax, and this is understandable and I don’t have a problem with that. Not only the lower tax class, but also a lower mill rate on the educations side. Add the shockingly low assessments and it is just unfair. Especially when I see that land up for sale for 1 million dollars. My property is worth less than that yet I pay $6000, they pay $150. They are taking advantage of acreage dwellers and it’s time for our greater population to speak up.

Rant over.

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USA issues penalties to towers for lighting/ Apparently we don’t enforce the rules in Canada?

The following was copied from here.

 

Earlier this month, the FCC made final judgments concerning the penalties for several Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (NALs) that had been issued for violations of tower regulations.

The FCC imposed a penalty of $8,000 against ACS Wireless for failing to monitor its tower lighting, failing to properly light its antenna structure in Anchorage, Alaska, and failing to notify the FAA of a light outage. In November 2013, the Enforcement Bureau’s Anchorage Office issued an NAL proposing a $10,000 forfeiture. ACS did not deny the violations but requested a reduction in the penalty.

A penalty of $8,000 was assessed against Kemp Broadcasting for failing to monitor and exhibit the required lighting on its antenna structure in Moapa, Nevada, and for failing to notify the FAA of lighting outages. Kemp did not deny the violations, which were issued by the Enforcement Bureau’s Los Angeles Office in February 2014, but requested that the NAL’s proposed $14,000 forfeiture be reduced.

Ohana Media Group was penalized $6,000 for failing to properly light its Anchorage, Alaska, antenna structure and notify the FAA of a light outage. Ohana did not deny the violations, which were cited in February 2014, but asked that it be reduced from the NAL of $10,000.

The FCC penalized Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises $8,000 for failing to properly illuminate its antenna structure in Rapid City, South Dakota, and for failing to notify the FAA of the light outage. The NAL, which was initially issued in June 2014, was reduced from $10,000.

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A good source for gravel

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CBC and Bell towers ongoing malfunctioning

The Bell tower has been malfunctioning for almost 6 months now, but not in the blinding way it has in the past. It is doing a double flash on the lower lights and also not synced with the top light. What is really sad is that I would rather not call and have them try to fix it because that light has typically been much worse in the past, and the people in charge don’t seem to have a clue. It is always a battle. I’d rather have twice as many flashes per minute than the blinding lightning flashes that we would probably end up with after they botched the repair.

The CBC tower, which for about 2 months has been emitting a 7+ flash per second strobe on the middle light after sunset. This is not visible from north of the tower as it faces straight south, so Mission Ridge and Bergheim Estates probably only saw this on drives home from the city. I decided to the person in charge of that tower and let him know about the malfunction, and as usual he was a pleasure to deal with and I am quite confident that they will remedy the situation immediately.

I was surprised that no one from the Strawberry Hills or Valley View area had called to alert CBC of this previously. I encourage anyone who notices anything wrong to contact Steve at 306-956-7461. He will take your concerns seriously and if there is a problem he has historically fixed it right away.

Oh ya, legally these towers are to be visually inspected for proper functioning every 24 hours.

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