Sunday, September 4, 2016

Exceptions for Some, But Not for Others

City Council is a funny group.  Not the laughing type of funny, the hard to explain kind of funny.

One of the things that demonstrates this is its willingness to give some people breaks, but not others.  The people who get the breaks - usually the ones with more resources than your average individual.  The people who don't - usually those who are already disadvantaged.

This came up at the last council meeting, where we had a resident who had received a water bill of more than $6,000, that the resident does not have the resources to pay.

Now there is fault on both sides.  The resident had had a water leak in the basement that caused part of the problem, which they neglected.  But the city also bears some responsibility.  Administration is supposed to note when a water bill is unreasonably high, and notify the resident - this did not happen.  As well, if we were billing monthly, presumably the problem would have been identified when the bill was only a third the size that it ended up being.

And billing is supposed to happen monthly.  In May 2013, council voted to start monthly billing for water starting in 2014.  More than two years later, and billing is still done quarterly, with no explanation from administration as to why they didn't follow council's direction.

You may not be aware that only half your water bill is for actual consumption - the remainder is for infrastructure and sewer charges.  Administration proposed removing these charges from the bill, which would reduce it by half. Unfortunately, that amount is also unaffordable for the resident.  The amount that was offered was $300.  The motion to accept this offer was defeated.

This is a council that thought that the right thing to do for businesses who got stiffed by the Borealis Music Festival was to give them $82,000 to pay off their debts, over and above the $30,000 in cash and in-kind support that we'd already given them, despite their wildly unrealistic expectations.  And this was after nobody responsible came to council to explain why they should be bailed out.

And while this resident had to make her plea in public, if a business wants to argue to have its taxes reduced, they get to do that in camera, so the public doesn't know.  And if they don't pay their taxes, it isn't made public, even though the amounts owing make $6,000 look like pocket change.  These are businesses, who can deduct such expenses from their earnings - residents have no such backstop for their water bills.

In my opinion, we'd get far more bang for our buck if we would spend more time chasing the big tax evaders, rather than going after the little people who have few if any resources to fight City Hall.

Council has spent quite a bit of time developing a strategic plan.  One of the operational themes of this plan that is supposed to guide our approach to operations and projects is that we are compassionate - the exact quote is "Understanding that the services we provide are valued, and understanding the needs and challenges of the end user and working to make their experience positive."  I'd say that we missed the mark on this one.

I don't like exceptions, but I understand that sometimes there is no other practical solution.  Let's stop going after the little guy so relentlessly, and put some of that same effort into collecting from the big guys.

"Most bad luck is the misfortune of not being an exception." - Mason Cooley

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