Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If you have a minute or two.

While I have a moment I would like to tell you another story about the character Shep that I mentioned before.
This story is just that. A story. Read into it what you wish.
You may recall that Shep is the current president of a company which is supposed to be looking after maintenance and repairs of things in a very large area.
For argument's sake we'll call the area New Brouhaha. Within New Brouhaha are a whole bunch of smaller sections with "neighbourhoods" in each section.
Shep's company is in charge but will have to reapply to the shareholders in the neighbourhoods when the contract is up. The contracts are a few years in duration.
Since the beginning of New Brouhaha there have different companies chosen to the look after the area. Some have done pretty well at it and others not so well. Thank goodness the contracts expire and the shareholders are able to choose every couple of years.
It sounds like an awfully difficult and large task, doesn't it?
Very true but I should mention that the sections each have a bunch of folks that help run the sectorial things. These folks make up committees that try to do what they can to help with things in the neighbourhoods.

Okay here is today's story.
Many years ago, before the neighbourhood committees were in place, the big company was trying to stay on top of everything in the neighbourhoods and keep things going nicely.
However, so many things were breaking down and getting old that the company was having a hard time merely keeping up.
I'll mention that Shep wasn't president of his company yet.
In fact, Shep's company may or may not have had the contract for the neighbourhoods at this point in time. This doesn't matter though as you'll see it boils down to Shep's term.
Eventually someone decided that creating the section committees was a good idea. I suppose that the shareholders themselves likely had a say in this.
You can imagine the huge burden it took off of the company when the committees were formed. Most of the day to day stuff could now be dealt with at the committees.

In one section the company made a deal with the committee of that section.
There was a long list of things in the section that had broken down or needed to be upgraded in order to work properly. These things HAD to be done and the company knew it.
The deal was that the committee would complete all of the listed work using money in its own bank account (made up of membership dues from the shareholders) and the company would reimburse the committee.
What a great deal for the company! The work would get done by someone else and all they had to do was issue payments that would have needed to be made anyway.
This deal was so amazing that the committee and the company wrote it down on paper and both signed it to show how happy they were with it. This amazing piece of paper was always to be admired by the committee and whatever company happened to be in charge at the time, whether it be Shep's company or any other. It would apply until all of the work on that long list was finished.

Things clicked along pretty well for many years.
The committee had the work done, sent in the required paperwork and the company sent cheques paying the committee back.
Then one day the company cheques slowed down and weren't quite so smooth coming along. The committee would sent in bills expecting the cheques but the cheques didn't come.
A few times the committee would ask the company about this. The company would then send the cheque after numerous reminders.
Suddenly the payments completely stopped coming!
By this time Shep and his company were in charge of New Brouhaha.

The committee sent several letters and made a bunch of phone calls pleading for the money owed to them. The work was still being done. The committee was doing everything that it promised the company they would do for them.
There were many things which still needed to be finished on the list too!
The company responded to the committee saying, "Well gee, we really do appreciate you taking care of things for us but we just don't seem to have enough money in that account to pay you right now. Maybe we will later. We'll see okay?"

You can imagine how the committee felt hearing this year after year from the company. What were they to do?
The committee really liked that piece of paper signed many years ago but it seemed that the company was using their copy to line the cage of the company parakeet in Shep's office.

After much thought the committee came up with an idea. It was a very good one and would make life so much easier for the company. The company would never have to worry about that long list of work ever again.
So the committee asked for a meeting with Shep and his staff to offer the solution.
The committee proposed that instead of the company paying for the rest of the work on the list as it was being completed, that the company just cut the committee a cheque for a fraction of the total amount of the work and everyone would call it square.
The committee would continue doing the repair and upgrade work but the company would never owe another cent to the committee for it. Everyone could rip up their amazing papers if they chose.

The company thought this was a great idea! Wow, it would certainly take the pressure off of them for this whole thing. At a fraction of the cost too!
The company thanked the committee and said that they would get on it right away. The cheque would be in the mail.
The committee were so happy that they sent a letter to the company telling them of their joy.
Could the company please send a letter back to the committee showing them how happy they were?
Uh, no. The company didn't want to send a letter back. That wasn't their style.
No problem, the committee thought. Shep is a nice guy and we know that he's happy with the proposal.
So the committee waited. And waited. And waited.

Over time the committee members changed a little bit but the proposal was never forgotten.
In fact, when new committee members heard of the marvellous proposal they loved it. The cheque was in the mail! Great!

One newer dude on the committee had a very difficult time understanding why the company had not sent any payment yet.
Everyone had agreed since the beginning and the committee was faithfully doing as it had promised it would do.
Was it possible that the company was not acting on good faith as the committee was doing? The dude couldn't imagine that being the case.
The committee asked for ANOTHER meeting with Shep. This time the dude wanted to tag along and see if he could make any sense of this whole situation.

Shep certainly seems like a great guy and sure seemed to be up front and honest.
Shep listened intently again as the committee chair recapped the story to date. The chair reminded Shep that everyone loved the amazing proposal when the committee presented it a couple of years ago.

Then Shep said something that the dude couldn't fathom at all.
"If we give your section a cheque now all of the other sections will be upset that they aren't getting one."
"Pardon me??" the dude thought to himself.
If the other sections have a problem with it just explain the situation and show them that nice piece of paper!
How could they not agree that the proposal was fantastic and would save the company money? Then the money saved could be used to help get things done in the other sections.
It seemed so obvious to the dude.
Then Shep told the committee folks not to worry. The company would find a way to issue that cheque under another one of their divisions. (Then the other sections wouldn't know about it and wouldn't get upset.)
The committee didn't say anything. What could they say? No sense asking for a letter or paper from Shep about this. That wouldn't happen.
The dude and the committee members left Shep's headquarters shaking their heads with the realization that the hopes for ever seeing their money were very very slim.
There was still a chance but very small.

What would you do if you were the dude or the committee members? What could you possibly do in this situation?

Oh, I should mention one more thing which may affect what you think.
Shep and his staff told the committee that if they ever utter a word about this whole situation to ANYONE, especially the company's competition, that the committee would never see a single cent as long as Shep was in charge.

Merry Christmas...

Stay well,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Water you looking at?

Hello again. This one is one of my "political" blogs but it's actually pretty interesting if you stay with me and follow along.
As some of you know the Village Council of New Maryland presented our annual budget Wednesday night in our regular Council meeting at the Village Council chambers.
It was read by Councillor Scott Sparks who chairs the Finance Committee who did a great job. Scott usually does.
The gist of the budgets is to officially provide details publicly of the municipality's capital and operating costs as well the tax rate that will be charged to the residents. Information of the New Maryland budgets is available here http://www.vonm.ca/mayorandcouncil/budget/ . The new budget hasn't been posted yet but will be shortly.
Also included in the budget, which I am directing this blog at, is the rates which will be charged to the Village residents that are connected to the Village water and sanitary sewage system.
This falls under my care as I am the Chair of the Water and Wastewater Committee.
Our committee is charged with the task of beating about figures in order to come up with rates that are fair to the users and are sufficient to cover all operating costs associated with these systems. We are not allowed to operate under a deficit situation.
New Maryland is unique in that not all residents are connected to the municipal water supply.
It's slightly higher than one third of the Village's households that are.
The difficulty that this presents is that any and all costs associated with the water system must be paid by those that are on it and not by the other residents who are still on their own wells. (I am on my own well.)
Over the last couple of years the Village has undertaken the task of installing water meters on the properties connected to the system.
There were a few reasons for doing this but the two major reasons were
1. to provide an incentive for the municipal system users to reduce water consumption and conserve where possible and not be wasteful and
2. to make those users that choose to use excess water pay for doing this.

It's not very fair that a household with one or two people should pay the same amount for their water as a household with ten people in it, is it?
At the end of 2008 the majority of the homes getting meters had them installed.
The Water and Wastewater Committee, Council and Village staff then needed to figure out what amount per cubic metre to charge in order to cover the operating costs of the system and allow those reducing water consumption to realize a savings.
In order to do this we needed to gather historical data of the water consumption and calculate from there.
Unfortunately there was not very much historical data available at the end of 2008 to work with. Even so, we did our best and came up with what we believed would work.
I'm not going to rehash the fun of last year when there were differing opinions of what the rates should be. It was done and we did as well as could be expected.
One would think that by the end of 2009 it would be pretty easy to work out the rate for 2010 with a whole year of data available to us.
Almost easy.
A couple of things arose which we felt needed to be taken into consideration.
What about a household which uses absolutely no water over a certain period of time? An example of this would be residents that travel south during winter months.
Currently the only thing they would be required to pay would be the $5 per quarter fee for the actual meter. (This amount is to reserve funds for replacement of the meter at the end of its lifecycle.) Everyone pays that who has a Village meter.
But what about the costs of the system itself? Even though one household may not use water in a given period the costs to operate the system continue in order for the system to still be there for when this household does use it again.
You have no idea how tricky this process was! There were many things to consider and we knew that whatever we came up with had to be totally fair for those who chose to do their civic duty and conserve water.
I'll make this long story shorter here.
My committee with help from Village staff worked tirelessly through several meetings and worked out an amount to recommend to Council for the 2010 water rate.
There was a little back and forth corresponding between Council and the committee but in the end we did it.
I felt pretty darn good about it too. In my mind I am convinced that the new rate is completely fair and will enable the system to operate soundly.
Those who choose to conserve and reduce water consumption will be rewarded accordingly by realizing a savings in their water bill.
The 2010 water rate was set and announced on Wednesday night as part of the budget. This was followed by a motion presented by me to amend By-law No. 40-01-2009 Water Rates and Sewer Rentals By-law to reflect the new rate. This rate is to take effect on January 1, 2010.

I'd like to detail this just a little.

Prior to the new rate taking effect, users of the municipal water system in New Maryland are being charged $1.60 per cubic metre of water metered. In addition there is a charge of $5 per quarter for the meter itself as I mentioned above.
As of January 1, 2010 the water rate will become $1.30 per cubic metre of water as well as a flat fee of $35 per quarter (to allow for all users to contribute to the system's operating costs).
The charge of $5 per quarter for the meter remains in place.
In reality the new water rate is less than the current one.

I would like to use a scenario to illustrate.

Let's take an example of a household which which uses 250 cubic metres of water in a quarter (three month period).

At the present rate of $1.60 this household will pay:

250 cubic metres @ $1.60 equals $400. Adding the $5 meter fee and their charge in this quarter is $405.

The same household at the new rate of $1.30 and $35 per quarter flat fee will pay:

250 cubic metres @ $1.30 is $325. Adding the $35 flat fee and $5 meter fee this works out to a total of $365 in this quarter.

To summarize, $405 based on the current rate and $325 at the new rate as of January 1, 2010.

I am very happy with this. I was very happy with this on Wednesday night.
In my entire time as a Councillor I have never come out of a Council meeting feeling so positive and convinced that we had done a top notch job for the residents.
I truly felt great.

I'm thinking that perhaps it also had something to do with the fact that I had decided to dress nicely in my suit and festive Christmas tie for the meeting. Perhaps by dressing nicely I subconsciously created a positive vibe within me?

It was a good night.

Yesterday morning I read the Daily Gleaner article by Shawn Berry covering our budget. It's at http://dailygleaner.canadaeast.com/search/article/892787 and as you'll see Mr. Berry has done the professional job I have come to expect from him.
He interviewed Councillor Sparks immediately after the budget was presented and gathered additional facts and opinions right away to complement the details he already had.
This is why I have come to really admire Shawn and the work he does.

As I drove to work I listened to the news on the radio. The report spoke of the Village's new tax rate and several other details.
Then he said "residents of the Village will be paying more for water."

For crying out loud...

That's all I'll say about that.

Stay well,


Friday, December 11, 2009

A fast one about the York Street Station

I'm sorry I don't have time for a decent sized blog right now but I will very soon. I promise.
I have another Shep story that I want to get out there.
For now though, I want to post these links for readers of the blog who aren't on Facebook or Twitter.
These are photos that I took yesterday and over the last couple of weeks of the York Street Station work's progress.
As you'll see it's getting difficult to recognize the place.
Have no fear though. I have had lengthy conversations with the contractor and I am convinced that he knows his stuff and will do a good job.
I was very surprised today to see a technician on site with a nuclear densometer checking the compaction of the soil that the contractor has tamped inside the building.
To me this is a very good sign that J. D. Irving takes this work very seriously and wants it done properly.
Take a look.



Stay well,


Monday, December 7, 2009

What would you say about this?

Okay, let me ask you something.
Let's just say that you and two other parties are contributing
financially toward a project.
Each portion is exactly the same as the other two.
To illustrate let's say that the project is a playground in the middle
of your street. Just for an example okay?
This playground will be used by the kids on your street. It's clear
that it will be more for your benefit but your other two parties will
look pretty darn good in the process and will let it be known far an
wide that they kicked in equally for the playground to be built.
In my mind they'll look like heroes really. The kids will always know
that Shep and Keester (I just made these names up) paid as much as you
did for the playground.
Shep and Keester live nearby but not exactly on your street. They are
very well known to all though.
Keester is pretty cool. He doesn't ask for much and is satisfied just
knowing that the playground is being built.
Shep on the other hand is a pretty demanding little jerk.
In fact, he insists that because he is paying money into the project
then the playground has to be built by a pal of his.
Nobody else will have a chance to price the job and you have to pay
Shep's pal whatever he asks to be paid.
No questions.
If you don't do what Shep says he just won't pay his share of what he
has already agreed to pay for the playground.

What do you think about this situation?

Of course I have created this scenario to resemble a real-life
situation which
I may or may not tell you about one day.

Regardless, this Shep character is pretty shady and one who acts this
way quite often.
I have another Shep story to tell sometime soon.
Another fictional scenario to resemble real-life.

Stay well,

Tim Scammell, PTech