Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Council Meeting Last Night and the By-Pass Road

Well I went to the council meeting last night and prior to the meeting I was speaking to a lady who works for Farrell's Construction and found out that they are the company who has been awarded the tender to pave the Torbay By-Pass Road. I have asked several people including our MHA about this company and they have nothing but good words to say about them. That is why I was so surprised by what happened at council.

The meeting was pretty uneventful except for when the topic of Farrell's came up because they are looking for the support of the town to use the pit that is in by Robin's Pond Hill to blast and crush the stone for the by-pass road. It all seemed pretty simple to me, the stone is there and the company would crush it and stay off our other roads with an estimated 8500 round trips to bring the stone in from another pit.

However in my opinion Councillor Smith seemed to go way overboard with her assessment of a letter sent to council requesting this support. Basically she called the owner of the company down in the dirt and questioned his integrity. I was shocked and so was the representative from the company judging from the look on her face and I can't blame her.

Here we have a company that wants to do business in our town and we have a Councillor who is an elected official and representative of the people having a hissy fit at a public meeting. I thought her comments were way out of line and frankly embarrassing. Judging from the parts of the letter that she read out during the meeting I didn't see anything in there to be offended by and I am trying to get a copy of the letter to let everyone see what the big fuss was about.

Apparently Farrell's offered the Town of Torbay stone for helping them out. Seems perfectly logical to me, they are going to be doing the road anyway and doesn't it make sense to keep the construction traffic entirely on the by-pass route and not have them trucking stone across our other roads especially Bauline Line and Indian Meal Line. I know I don't want all those trucks trekking back and forth in front of my place but I guess making some kind of grandiose spectacle is more important then the safety of our children and drivers that would be impacted by the increased traffic....not to mention the money the town would save by getting all that stone for free.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Torbay Left Behind On Curbside Recycling?

Recycling seems to be the one of the foremost programs being implemented across our region and it seems that Torbay is lagging behind everyone else.

The city of St John’s has finally brought its Curbside Recycling Program on line and from everything I have heard it seems to be well though out and should run smoothly. This program has been a long time in the making and I hope the residents of St John’s embrace this opportunity to help the environment by recycling as many materials as they can and reduce the amount of garbage going to the land fill.

The city has created a new website dedicated to Curbside Recycling that has all the information resident will need to take full advantage of the program. There are also many good tips on that site for everyone if you are interested.

Not only has the City of St John’s left us in their dust but so have other municipalities on the North East Avalon. Mount Pearl, Paradise, Pouch Cove, Flatrock and Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove have all jumped into the curbside recycling fray with either programs that are running or will be running in the not too distant future. As indicated in the May 25, 2010 council minutes Portugal Cove St. Phillips has also discussed this and were to be contacting Pouch Cove to ask about their program.

St John’s – Curbside Recycling starts Oct 18, 2010

Mount Pearl – Curbside Recycling program to start Nov 16, 2010

Paradise – Curbside Recycling program is ongoing

Pouch Cove – Curbside Recycling program in ongoing

Flatrock – Curbside Recycling starts on November 10, 2010

Logy Bay Middle Cove Outer Cove – Curbside Recycling program started Sept 2010

There is a glaring absence from this list and it is the Town of Torbay. We are one of the fasted growing municipalities in our region and we appear to have no curbside recycling program planned for the near future. I don’t recall ever reading anything on the town website regarding curbside recycling and put the question out there for anyone who has heard anything.

I know that there are members of council who care about the environment and I am sure they would love to impliment a similar program to the other municipalities. It may even be easier now because the City of St. John's has the infrastructure in place at the dump now to handle the materials being recycled. I guess we will see over the next little while if they have any intentions of moving forward in this area.

This is not only an environmental issue for me it is a policy issue. What is our policy on curbside recycling if we have one at all? Why is the Town of Torbay not being as environmentally responsibly as other municipalities in the region when it comes to municipal waste?

Maybe the answer to these questions is as simple as money. Possibly we just can’t afford to have a program like this considering all the other pressing needs we have. Really, we are still dumping raw sewage into our bay contaminating the beach, what is a few truckloads of recyclable materials landing in Robin Hood bay?

Nice To See The Beach Cleaned Up

I was down at the beach in Torbay last week and it was nice to see that they finally have that mess of fill that was dumped down there cleaned up. I guess when you add the fact that it appears that the work has been completed on the sewage outfall pipe it is really starting to come around.

One thing I have noticed about going down there though compared to the days when we used to frequent that beach as kids is how the beach is really pushed back. The beach used to be a lot flatter and the river wasn’t as predominant as it is now but I guess we can thank the weather for that. I also think that the beach has pretty much been a right off for activities like getting capelin, catching skulpins and trouting in the river ever since the town started pumping raw sewage in the bay.

When I was young that beach used to be a hub of activity for young and old alike but the environmental disaster we refer to as sewer outfall has changed all that. It is hard to imaging that in the year 2010 we intentionally do something like that to our historic beach.

I know the town has been working on a plan to build a new sewage treatment plant and I believe that this is an initiative that is high priority for the Mayor and council. I hope that this project can get approved and work started on it in the near future so that the residents of Torbay can go and enjoy that beach again.

It really makes me sick when my kids ask me to take them to get some beach rocks or go to see capelin that I have to drive past a beach that I have fond memories and head to Middle Cove. I have nothing against Middle Cove Beach and enjoy going there but I would feel better if I was doing it by choice and not necessity.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Open House At Torbay Volunteer Firehall

There was a great time had by all at the open house last Thursday night and I just wanted to say thank you to all the Volunteer Firefighters who work in service to our town and for putting this open house on. My kids really enjoyed seeing Sparky and having the opportunity to sit in the fire truck and speak to the Firefighters that were present.

This also gave us the initiative to develop a fire safety plan with our kids. We had a great time discussing our evacuation plan and explaining to them what to do in the case of a fire. We drew up a little diagram of the house and identified exits and a meeting place outside in the case we need to evacuate. Kids are very resourceful and this little exercise could go a long way in helping save their lives if the unthinkable should happen.
All too often we forget the sacrifice made by these men and women to give their time and risk their lives on our behalf. I know many members of the current fire department and also former members and one thing they all have in common is the commitment to make out fire service top notch.

We are lucky in Torbay to have such a well staffed and qualified fire department that we can rely on any hour of the day or night. As our town gets bigger the demands on these people will no doubt increase and I am sure they will be there to answer the challenge.

Again I would just like to say thanks and for everyone to support the fire department at every opportunity you can. Keep up the good work.

Follow Up To A Comment I Received Defending Council Spending

I have gotten a lot of responses from my story about how the town spends our money and almost everyone seemed to agree that it was inappropriate to spend money in that way except for one person....who by the way posted anonymous disagreed with me and tried to justify it because public servants work hard. This is the first part of the comment but it goes on and I think I will address it. First of all I would like to say that anyone who supports this type of spending and feels that strongly about should put their name on it....especially if they happen to be a councilor or member of the staff at the town. Stand up and be counted for your beliefs and don’t' hide behind an anonymous comment.

This excerpt from the comment

I feel that if a person wishes to dedicate 25+ years of their life to servicing the people of Torbay, St. John's, Newfoundland or the people of Canada as a public servant they certainly deserve to be recognized by their colleagues and by the people they served. What most people do not realize is that public servants often times have to balance the needs of the people, the demands of the politicians, and the resources available in order to ensure the safety and well being of the residents of the communities in which they work and live. It is quite easy for people to criticize the work of public servants, the manner in which they handle resources or the politicians that run for office. However I would ask anyone of these critics to spend a day in the shoes of any public servant or politician. You would certainly have a different attitude.

Well I work as a public servant and know many people who also work as public servants and you can be assured that if they work for the province or the Federal Government they are NOT getting retirement parties paid for by the tax payer. Only in municipal government where there is lax oversight on how public funds are being spent can this type of thing happen.

As for a person dedicating 25+ years of their life to serve the public I agree that they should be recognized but let’s be realistic here, they didn't do it for free. Nobody forced them to work in the public service and they could have left the job at any time so don’t' give me the old song and dance about how hard it is and the long hours and limited resources and spend a day in the shoes of a public servant.

As for politicians they have a duty to serve the town and their employers which are the tax payers. They have a duty to spend the money that we give them for the good of all the residents of the community and to provide value for our tax dollars. Value like cleaning up our beach, ensuring we have clean water, clearing our roads of snow in the winter among other essential services. In order to provide these services we need to have employees at the town and they have a clear job description that may include overtime and working long hours. I have no problem with council workers, I know lots of them and I agree that at times they work extremely hard in difficult conditions.

Then there was this excerpt from the comment

The only difference in a public servant and an individual working for a private company is public servants are always under the scrutiny of the public eye. So everyone complains about how the taxes they pay are spent so frivolously yet I ask you how much a year do you pay for telephone, internet or cable TV? Probably as much or more as you pay for taxes and how many of you contact Rogers or Bell or any other service providers to find out how they are spending that money?

Of course public servants are under the scrutiny of the public eye, they are paid with public money...we are the employers not the council or the other town employees, the money comes from our pocket. As for how much money we pay to Bell or Rogers what the hell has that got to do with anything? Those are private for profit companies that operate as a business and as such have to provide a service for their customers or that customer will go somewhere else. I am not forced by law to give one red cent to Bell or Rogers or any other service coming to my home. I am forced however to pay my taxes and that is the difference, I have no choice so it is incumbent on me or any other tax payer to question how our money gets spent. If people can't recognize the difference and they want to make these analogies then I think they should not be involved in the decisions on how public monies are being spent.

This person goes on to say that it is totally appropriate for the town to budget 1/2 of 1% to honor a long standing employee. This little admission tells me that this commenter is indeed either a member of council or someone in the town who has access to the actual cost of this party. Again I say put your name on it especially if you are a councilor so that you can be properly addressed in this matter instead of cowardly hiding under an anonymous moniker.

Finally the commenter ends with this

Do you REALLY know what is going on in this Town or are you basing your opinions on the comments or the bloggers in this forum?? If you really think that this long term employee deserves to be recognized then who do you think should pay for it?? I would say the people for whom the services were provided. A resident grateful for the services we have and hopeful that we will continue to grow and prosper in this wonderful Community that we have.

Well the point of having this discussion and my reason for having this site is to explore what is going on in the town for the very reason that people don't know what is going on and we share our opinions. As for this employee deserving to be recognized by all means recognize them with a plaque and a public acknowledgment and maybe a small gift in the $50 dollar range. NOT a dinner costing possibly thousands of tax payer’s dollars. If you must go out to dinner then get the employees to chip in and pay for the dinner for the retiring employee and pay for their own dinners too.........That is how it works in the real world and in other branches of the public service.

This entire story has absolutely nothing to do with the retiring employee or any other employees of the town. It has to do with council because they are the ones who are approving the budget with this expenditure in it. They are the ones who we elect to represent us in council chamber and entrust with the public purse to spend our dollars with the utmost respect for every resident of Torbay.

You want to talk about how hard it is to be a councilor or a town employee and how hard it is to get up at 4:30 in the morning to go plow a road so people can enjoy Christmas. You say we should all walk a mile in you’re shoes. Are you for real?

Why don't you try walking in the shoes of a single mother who can't afford to put $3 in the school lunch program envelope to give their child a nutritious lunch? How about the struggling family who need to go to the church to get a Christmas Basket so they can sit down and have a Christmas dinner? How about the families that have to go to the salvation army to get cloths to put on their children’s back so they can send them to school? How about the elderly people in our town who have to choose between paying their electrical bill or buying their prescriptions or groceries? How about the people in our town who have to regularly use the food bank to be able to put decent meals on the table on a regular basis?

Maybe council should be thinking of these people who live in our town who get served with a tax bill each year and have no choice but to try and pay it for fear of losing the roof over their heads before deciding to budget for employee social events like a retirement party. Yes we have a wonderful town with many appealing and attractive amenities. But we also have our problems and trying to ignore them or sweeping them under the rug will not make them go away.

Anyone who thinks I am going to stop pointing out deficiencies I see in how our town is being run and that I can be swept under the rug or just ignored is sadly mistaken. I will acknowledge the good I see and will give credit where credit is due but people have to learn to take the good with the bad. That includes council members who make decisions that effect us all and those decision makers who don’t' have the guts to defend their positions publically but instead choose to make anonymous comments attacking my positions on my website.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Torbay Road Construction

Well it finally looks like Weirs is stating to make some progress with Torbay Road. It is about time if you ask me, I am so sick of driving past that section of road and seeing nothing getting done. I had an inquiry from a reader informing me that he heard Weirs was being fined $2000 a day for being late. I don't know if that is the case or not but I contacted a few people to ask them and I couldn't get a definitive answer on an actual amount but it appears that they may be subject to some kind of fine. Judging from the fact that they had a large crew there on Saturday something must be up.

One thing that I have noticed and I don't know if anyone else paid any attention to this is how old and run down Weirs equipment is. Normally I wouldn't pay any mind but a couple of weeks ago another company and forgive me if I have this wrong but I believe it was Municipal Construction was resurfacing the section of road between Middle Cove Road and Marine Drive.

Anyway there were a few things about that particular project that jumped out at me, first it was the relative speed that they had the job done and secondly how new and in great shape their equipment was. All of their dump trucks and rollers and graders and what ever they had on site looked brand new. If the condition of the equipment a company owns is an indicator of the quality of their work then it is fitting considering the pile of junk that Weirs has out on Torbay Road.

It still looks like there is a lot of work to be done to get that section of road in driving condition before winter and hopefully they will get it done. One thing we can all hope for is that Weirs doesn't win any more contracts to build roads in our area. I hate to single out a company but considering they have been a thorn in all of our sides for the entire summer I think it is justified.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Does Council Spend Our Money? I am Surprised!

You know that is a very good question and I guess the simple answer is to look at the work they do around town with regards to roads, public infrastructure, soccer fields, parks etc. I guess many people never give a second thought to how the funds are allocated once the budget is passed and the money starts flowing, basically we put our trust in council to spend our money wisely.

Recently I was contacted by a reader of my website and they informed me that on September 17, 2010 there was a retirement party held for a town employee at the Belle Vista. The person had several questions related to the party with regards to how it was paid for and if this is a legitimate expenditure for council to make with tax payers dollars.

Well to say the least my interest was peaked and I decided to do some digging around and spoke to many people who knew about the party and they were equally as concerned as I was. After getting these opinions I decided to contact council and the town to get a definitive answer on the subject.

I received word back from the Deputy Mayor Geoff Gallant that he had passed on my inquiry to the proper people in the town office to see if I could be provided with an answer. I appreciate the manner in which he responded and have always found him forthcoming and helpful as he was in this case. 

On a side note he also gave me some advise that I would pass on to everyone that when you want to get official information from council it is better to write council so that inquiries can be directed to the proper channels. I think this is fair considering that many times I write only one or two members of council to get information and that may be an unfair burden. I would like to thank Geoff for this advice.

Anyway back to the matter at hand, the retirement party for a town employee. Basically I went to council and asked them this 
I heard a rumour that there was a big party at the Belle Vista with a sit down meal and a free bar and the retiree also received a $350 gift certificate for the Keg. Now the person I heard this from is very reliable and I have no reason not to believe them. I have no problem with throwing a party for an employee however I would like to know if the town paid for it and how much did it cost?
After about a week or so I received an email from the CAO of the town with this reply.
The event held on September 17, 2010 was a retirement dinner to honour and recognize an employee’s years of service to the residents of Torbay. This was a budgeted item for 2010 – under public relations.  The 2010 budget is public information and  is available for your review on the town’s website or a print copy can be made available upon request.   The Town has held similar functions in the past upon am employee’s retirement.

I would like to clarify that staff socials are not part of the main operating budget – such an expenditure is covered by monies staff collect through recycling efforts
I was conflicted after receiving this response because on the one hand I was happy that they got back to me relatively quickly but while I was reading it by blood began to boil. A budgeted item? Public Relations? You have got to be kidding me. Every year we all have to write a big fat check to the Town of Torbay for our municipal taxes and over the past few years that check has gotten bigger and bigger. When we write those checks we are putting our trust in council that they are going to use that money wisely for the benefit of all residents of Torbay. Can someone please tell me how having a big sit down retirement dinner for a town employee serves the tax payers of this town?

I have nothing against honoring employees of the town who have dedicated years of their lives in service of the residents but please don't do it on our dime. What drives me even more nuts is the fact that council and staff had the foresight to put it in the budget (hidden under public relations in my opinion) but they don't have the common sense to realize that this is a slap in the face to every tax payer in Torbay, who scrape and save to be able to pay that big fat council bill that comes out each year.

I would bet that there are an awful lot of people in Torbay who couldn't afford to go out to a fancy meal and have to clip coupons or rely on the food bank to supplement their groceries. I don't have to bet on it because I know some of them, not all people in Torbay have $300,000 and higher homes and make $100,000 a year. How many parents in Torbay are grateful for the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs at the school because they can't afford to provide their kids with a healthy meal? Yet they are expected to pay their municipal taxes to the town and then watch employees and friends of a retiring town employee go out and have a time on their hard earned money.

Another aspect of that response that made me a little sick was this 
The Town has held similar functions in the past upon am employee’s retirement.
So just how long has the town been squandering our tax dollars on retirement parties and what else do they use that so called public relations budget on. I don't even know how anyone over in that council office can look at people who pay their salaries, yes I mean the tax payers in case they forgot, with a straight face and say that these types of functions are in any way public relations and certainly not value for tax payers dollars.

I have worked in both private and public sector and I can guarantee you that when I had coworkers within the government that retired they didn't get a party paid for by the tax payer. If they had anything it may have a been a lunch or a supper with their coworkers that was paid for by the employees. You would be fired if you used tax payer dollars for personal reasons.

I don't expect the town to never make a mistake or go over budget on an expenditure, those things happen. However I do expect them to treat tax payers dollars with the utmost respect and never spend our money in a way that undermines the trust we need to have in our elected officials and the people employed by our town.

I have put a subsequent request to council asking for a full detailing of that $9000 public relations budget, what it is spent on and exactly how much that retirement party cost. I will also be requesting to council that they end this practice immediately of using tax payers dollars to pay for these types of functions in the future.