Sunday, January 4, 2015

Looking Ahead to the New Year

We're at the end of the Christmas holiday season, and looking forward to getting back to work in the new year.  As is the case for many people, this is a time for reflecting on the year past, and setting some targets for next year.

This was a year of family change, as Guthrie started new work outside of Saskatoon, so is only with us on weekends - it's almost an empty nest.  A great move for him, although it meant that we had to find people to feed the cats when we went away for a couple of weeks in August, something that we haven't had to worry about for several years.  Both he and Ingrid (and her cats) were home for a good stretch at Christmas, although Guthrie did have to work two days between Christmas and New Year's - it was good to have the whole family together, and it's the only time of year that it happens.  And nobody got sick, or broke an ankle - the holidays are much better when those kinds of circumstances are avoided.

My big renovation project this year was redoing the living room - tearing out lath and plaster, insulating, dry-walling, ripping up the floor, installing in-floor heating, laying new hardwood flooring, painting, and putting in a gas fireplace insert.  The traditionally chilly room is now quite comfortable, and proving to be very attractive to the cats, who love the warm floor.  It was a large project, and I'm sure there were times when Andrea wondered if I'd ever be finished, but we were able to put the furniture back in a week before Christmas.  The only piece left to be done is to get the fireplace functional - I'll need professional help for that.

Last year was a good year for council - significant progress has been made on the backlog in roads infrastructure, and we completed the budget in record time, without rushing the discussions too much.  The decision not to open the waterslides last summer, while not popular, at least effectively demonstrated what happens when infrastructure maintenance is left unfunded - hopefully we've learned the importance of counting all the costs before we jump aboard the next new facility bandwagon.

For next year, I see several areas where council can improve.  We need to seriously look at the various taxation tools that are available to us, and not just keep on doing the same thing.  The flat tax, and how it's applied, needs to be reviewed to ensure that we're treating both residents and businesses equitably.  We made a bit of progress in that area for businesses, but I know that we can do better.

We need to change the way we apply user fees for the various city facilities.  All costs, including water, should be included for all facilities when fees are set, and user fees should also include a portion that goes into a reserve fund for future maintenance needs.  Only the Rawlinson Centre has such a fund - it should be standard for all city-owned facilities.

And we shouldn't even start talking about new facilities until we have a standard financial management process for all facilities that is sound.  Any proposals for new facilities need to include operating costs up front, and how they will be funded - we can't rely on vague promises that facilities "won't cost taxpayers a cent", since those promises have proven to be broken as easily as they were made.

Our current review of all city facilities needs to continue.  I'd like to see an assessment of city-owned parking lots.  If they aren't being used (and I can't remember the last time I had difficulty finding a parking spot downtown), then we should consider getting rid of them, rather than continuing to maintain something that isn't really needed.

We do have several new staff in management positions.  Let's hope that they bring with them new ideas, new attitudes, and a willingness to try new things, plus the leadership skills that could transform how all of the administrative staff work together.

And I hope that council continues to work respectfully together, focusing on making the remaining two years of this term even more productive than the first two.

"What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year." - Vern McLellan

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