Thursday, March 31, 2011

Media Release- Earth Day Rain Barrel Art Auction

Reigning Rain Barrel Art Auction Opens

HAMILTON, March 31st, 2011 – Hamilton’s first Earth Day Rain Barrel Art Auction is now open for bidding. Designs by school children, artists and art crawl participants have been posted to an online silent auction (www.RainBarrel.ca/artbarrel) to raise funds for Earth Day Hamilton-Burlington’s eco-festival and community tree planting events. Nine submissions are currently vying to reign rain barrel dominance by attracting the highest bids, however more rain barrels will be posted over the next few weeks. The silent auction concludes on April 30th, 2011.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hamilton - 74 in Canada's 2011 Best Places to Live

Hamilton placed 74, in a list of the 180 best places to live in Canada. The top 10 best cities to live in, according to this study, are:

1. Ottawa-Gatineau
2. Victoria
3. Burlington
4. Kingston
5. St. Albert
6. Fredericton
7. Brandon
8. Edmonton
9. Repentigny
10. Winnipeg

Notably, our Burlington neighbours came in the #3 spot. In 2010, Burlington was also in #3 spot, while Hamilton was in #77. The full details of the study can be found here. The 2011 data can be downloaded here. A map showing the locations is here. Do you agree with the results. Do you really think Hamilton deserves to be 70 odd spots worse than our neighbours in Burlington? If so, what do you think we need to do to improve our rank?

Monday, March 28, 2011

2010 Municipal Election Financial Statements

The City has released financial statements filed from the 2010 muncipal election. The city also identifies those who failed to file a statement. Have a look here.

See table of spending (table on the left) , organized from Highest to Lowest, based on Spec article here. 

Note: Tony Fallis, the City's Elections Manager has stated that those who did not file their financial statement by the deadline, and did not request an extention to the deadline,  are not permitted to run in the 2014 election or any byelection.

Teresa DiFalco

Clark's Next Move

Highway 8 and Gray's road in Stoney Creek, is the sight of Brad Clark's new campaign headquarters. As reported in The Spec, Brad Clark is expected to jump into the Federal race, running under a Conservative banner.

Clark has served as Ward 9 councillor since 2006, and was recently re-elected.

Are you surprised by this development?
written by Teresa DiFalco

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Green Bread?

Not quite....but Canada Bread will be receiving a muncipal grant which will support them becoming a "green" building.

As reported by CHML, the Red Hill Industrial Park's anchor tenant has recieved city approval for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Grant, ensuring that Canada's largest bakery will be a "green" building.

Among the features to be incorporated in the 385 thousand square foot facility are a high solar reflectance roof, high efficiency lighting and a rain water catch basin. The municipal grant will help the company offset a portion of the costs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pic of the Moment

Click to Enlarge

On this awful wintery like snow filled day, we thought we'd post this picture as a reminder that better days are ahead.

Thanks to the International Village BIA for this photo. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Councillors May Get Sandwiched

It seems that both Clrs. Farr and Merulla have honed in to the public sentiment around the providing of free lunch to councillors, when they work through a lunch hour. Both are suggesting that the practice be discontinued. Merulla believes that this can be accomplished through an informal talk with councillors and may not require a formal vote in council. Clr. Merulla wants to ensure that the proposed ceasing of free lunches during working lunch hours, does not affect municipal staff.  Some municipal staff also have free lunches when working through a lunch hour.

Both Clrs. Farr and Merulla admit that ceasing the free lunch policy for Clrs., will not be particularly significant, but will primarily serve to calm the degree of public upset. Merulla said "“Does it have an actual tangible impact on the bottom line? Absolutely not. But does it have a tangible impact from a perceptual standpoint? Absolutely.”

Clr. Farr said "“It doesn’t matter if it’s 12 grand, 15 grand, or 33 grand,” says Farr. “It’s the optics.”

See Andrew Dreschel's article here and take our poll to the right.  Comments welcome.

Comments that are off topic, unprofessional attack others or are otherwise disrespectful, will not be processed

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Something Fishy

Hamilton has been nominated as the best place to fish in Canada as part of a contest run by the World Fishing Network. 

If you want to support our nomination, click here to learn how. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fluoridation- Time to Say Goodbye?

Update: Please read the bottom of this post for an interesting addition. Also, here is a song that was submitted. Click here to hear.

While The Hamiltonian continues to remain neutral on all issues presented on this blog, we allow for others to freely express their views on community issues. Please welcome Robert (Bob ) Innes, Henk & Vicki Wondergem, and Ria VanWissenas as they express  their views on fluoridation. Comments welcome. 

Fluoridation - time to say goodbye?
The Canadian public seems to be waking up to problems being discovered with Fluoridation. Recently the residents of Calgary and Waterloo have rejected Fluoridation, based on concerns over potential health impacts of the active chemical, which is generally hydrofluocilicic acid.
People worried about fluoridation of drinking water include:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Here Comes the Sun - But is it Alright?

"Extrodinary one time circumstances"-  that's how Roberto Rossini, Hamilton's General Manager of Finance explained the tripling of the number of city of Hamilton employees who make over $100,00.00 per year. This tripling took place between 2009 and 2010.

Last year, 865 municipal employees took home more than $100,000 compared with only 311 employees in 2009.

Overtime and retroactive pay, put some over the top and on to the list, known as the sunshine list.

But even those who had only their base salaries to count, went up by 100. In other words, there were 100 more people in 2010, whose base salary went up over the 100,000.00 per year threshold.

"It’s pretty clear when you’re looking at those lists — they’re getting higher and higher every year,” said Councillor Terry Whitehead. “The reality is, in my humble opinion, the system is broken and the taxpayers are paying the toll.”

See full Spec story here, with further details.

Do you accept that there has been an extrodinary set of circumstances that have caused the sunshine list in Hamilton to balloon? Or do you agree with Clr. Whitehead's assessment that the system is broken and the taxpayer is paying the toll?

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pay it Forward, or a Case of Bad Gas policy?

The police services board asked council to consider developing a bylaw that would require pre-payment of gas at all Hamilton stations 24 hours per day.

Councillors agreed to refer this issue to the Audit, Finance and Administration Committe, in a 14-1 vote.

How do you feel about this? Do you support forcing people to have to pay in advance for their gas purchases 24/7?  Would you support it if it were limited to overnight hours? Or is this a case of policy potentially being developed to address the exception rather than the rule?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Class is in Session

Plenty of hands up to voice opinions (click on pic to enlarge)
It was the last class on on  a Friday afternoon, just prior to March break, but that didn't stop Mrs. Durfey and Mr. Kivell's classes at Winona Public School, to become immersed in discussion with Cal DiFalco.

Dubbed "Tropical Beach Day" , the students and Cal dorned beach wear , while Cal delivered a lesson on Blogging. 

The students were very much engaged and proved they were more than ready to go beyond blogging 101, and  take on the tough issues- such as the pros and cons of anonymous blogging, and the pros and cons of comment moderation. Hamiltonian Staff on hand were thoroughly impressed with the level of engagement and insight that these grade 6 students brought to the discussion. 

The Hamiltonian was very impressed with the good work that teachers Ms. Durfey and Mr. Kivell have done with these students and thanks Ms. MacDiarmid, School Principal, for inviting contemporary topics into the school. 

Cal and class (click on pic to enlarge)
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

How They Voted...Courtesy of C.A.T.C.H.

CATCH News – March 10, 2011
How they voted in December and January
This is a regular CATCH summary of votes at committee and council meetings. This report covers the months of December 2010 and January 2011, the first months served by the new council. The first line of each entry identifies the issue, followed by a brief description. This is followed by the location of the vote in the third line. Multiple votes on the same issue are reported together. Absentees are only listed where reported in the minutes and where the missing councillors are members of that committee or decision-making body. Links are provided to source documents.  Note that the vast majority of council decisions are unanimous and the votes are not officially recorded.
Increases in user fees
Staff recommended a long list of adjustments to the fees charged by the city for licences, admissions, applications, photocopies, etc, but not including transit fares, building permit fees and some other fees that are addressed as separate items. The report lists all the affected fees. Most fees were raised by two percent, in line with inflation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Lunch Crunch

$33,000.00 - that's the amount of money spent each year on sandwiches, cookies, pizza and coffee for councillors and senior staff , for long meetings. That figure was reported in The Spec today (see it here), and is based on the last three years. 

The cost to the taxpayer for the period 2008-2010 was $100,235.71.Council members maintain that these lunches allow them to work through the day instead of breaking for lunch.

Our Mayor said "“I don’t think it’s an issue,” I think we work hard and we work right through our meetings. I don’t see what the big deal is, personally.”

Clr. McHattie commented on the efficiency that is had when people do not have to break.When learning of the costs. Clr Merulla said "“That’s shocking. That seems very, very, very high,” Clr. Ferguson said "I have no idea why it costs so much, so maybe we want to investigate that,” 
Clr Farr commented on the fact that he often sees to it that any leftovers are shared with other staff, so that it is not wasted

Other municipalities have recently decided to stop providing food during meetings.

Perhaps the most meaningful comment came from Merulla who said "“On the surface, it’s a good political cut, one I think the public would like. But it’s really more of a gesture than an outcome-based decision."

Do you think these expenditures increase efficiencies and thus are a cost of doing business and should be permitted? Or do you think people should bring their own lunches or otherwise, agree to be back promptly for the continuance of the meeting, post lunch? Or do you think these expenditures should be allowed by exception and according to set criteria (for example, if there were a pressing deadline to reach a particular decision- remember Pan Am?)

Comments that are off topic, unprofessional attack others or are otherwise disrespectful, will not be processed 

How to Handle the Randle. Was Bratina's Message Toxic?

Mayor Bratina's comment that he would prefer that the toxic sediment that is contaminating Randle Reef, be dredged up and carted off, rather than capped in its current place, is dredging up some controversy.

Amongst other things (see full Spec story here) Executive Director Jim Hudson from the Bay Area Restoration Council, points out that the Mayor's idea  would triple the cost, cause toxic waste to be further disturbed, and would see that this waste is carted around neighborhoods to rid it - only to reach another destination . The article also points out that Bratina's preference is not in keeping with scientific views on how best to handle the matter. 
While the mayor's message appears, on the surface to have a common sense resonance (ie: let's get it right out of there), do you believe this is a time when his view was too simplistic and may have been better off unsaid, or perhaps explored further prior to stepping in the sludge? 

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Pay Up

Employee related costs (pay and benefits primarily), are known to be the biggest city expense. So a move to promote three senior managers within the public works department, caused some controversy with some councilors. Concern was expressed over setting a precedent that would then affect other similar actions.

Gerry Davis, General Manager of Public works however, defended the promotions. Senior staff cite promotions as the best way to manage a complex department. 

As per the Spec report (see it here), "Adding new managers not only means higher wages, but larger pensions and infrastructure. For example, two of the three new roles in public works required trucks, adding two vehicles to the city’s complement.

The conflict between council and staff arose Monday over three new senior manager positions that came out of a reorganization of the public works department. The three jobs were filled by existing managers in the public works department, raising the total number of managers from nine to 12."

Councillors were also pressing staff about the lack of competition for the jobs. Davis told council about the new positions when he gave an overview of his restructuring, but didn’t alert council or post the positions when it came time to hire.

“We talk about opportunities for employees, then we appoint people to senior positions,” Whitehead said. “I don’t think anyone around this table is quite happy with how the reorg happened, how the decisions were made, and how we were left in a vacuum.”

What do you think? Are we management and Director heavy within the city? Do you think positions are filled fairly? What changes, if any, might you recommend? 

The 2010 Municipal Election

Update:  We have communicated with Tony Fallis on this topic. Tony advises that the survey is an ongoing one and that the results will not be available until the fall.  He also agreed to share the results on The Hamiltonian, when they are known. Tony added " I am not aware that this type of survey has been done with the Hamilton electorate in the past. As we strive to improve all aspects of the election process I felt it was a positive step forward to include our number one stake holders, the voting public." 
Thanks Tony for the this. 

The City is reviewing the administration of the 2010 municipal election process  and they are asking voters for their opinion. 

You can get an evaluation form through one of the following:

-  @  www.hamilton.ca/election2010
-  At the City's Clerk's office at City hall
-  At all Municipal Service Centres
-  By emailing Tony Fallis @  tony.fallis@hamilton.ca
-  Or by phoning 905-546-2424  ext 2753 and leaving your name and mailing address

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Song Our Musical Mayor Won't Be Playing

(if you drive a car, ) - I’ll tax the street;
(if you try to sit, ) - I’ll tax your seat;
(if you get too cold,) - I’ll tax the heat;
(if you take a walk, ) - I'll tax your feet.

Those lyrics are an excerpt from the Beatles' Taxman, and likely a song our musical mayor won't bother to learn. On CHML today, Bratina took great pride in the fact that the potential tax increase in the 2011 budget update, is cited as being closer to 1.6% from the initial 2.4%.

Roberto Rossini, Finance Manager says that it has been a full decade since the number has been that low.  He also said that 6.4 million has been found in departmental savings and that these savings, so far, do not affect municipal service levels. Bratina added that any progress made during this budget round, may result in future benefits in holding the line on taxes, and possibly reducing them, in out years.

Obviously, the Mayor can't do this alone, but under his leadership, if his legacy becomes that of the Mayor who brought Hamilton back to having its financial house in order, would you consider that a significant and defining moment for him and his administration?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Secret Chamber?

Update: Clarification from The Chamber

Your Worship & all members of Council:

Note: all the figures outlined below are approximates, if a detailed accounting is required - we would of course be delighted to provide same to you at any time.)

The attached posting of CATCH is, at best, misleading: www.hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=905

From this posting, we do understand that at a February 22 meeting of the Planning Committee, Councillor Collins enquired about City funds apparently flowing through the Chamber.

Please allow me to set the record straight.

The City does not "give us" $170K per annum, nor is there any subsidy.

We do have two modest fee for services contract (totalling $15K per annum) with the City's Ec Dev. dept. to provide them with direct advertising in our communication vehicles (such as our web site, Panorama magazine, etc,); plus some other services, such as sponsorships & attendance at some key note events (such as our upcoming Outstanding Business Achievement Awards).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Area Rating- Surprise Option

Chambers' recommendations - Click here
New article in The Spec. Click here

"One of the most difficult and contentious issues for Hamilton to deal with."  That's how City Manager Chris Murray once described the looming issue of Area Rating- and he is probably right. Hitting residents  where it hurts- residential taxes- the area rating issue can be explosive and  serve up the next chapter of twists, turns, hills and valleys as we journey into the delicate and nuanced area of deciding how services and taxes inter-relate, and who pays for what.

Already, there is a mini drama unfolding. You may recall that a citizen's forum was commissioned to explore the issue of area rating and return with a report/recommendations. The report returned some suggested changes that could result in significant tax increase to the sub-burbs. "Significant tax increase" is the first of many phrases that are likely to inflame discussions.

Predictions and Reliability - A Perspective from Professor Marvin Ryder

You may recall that last week we featured Jane McIntyre's comments on the projections that the Conference Board of Canada made concerning Hamilton's economy (see story here) . In addition to asking Jane to elaborate, we also asked Professor Marvin Ryder for his take. Marvin was vacationing at the time, but promised to get back to us with comments.

Here are his observations:

Last week, the Conference Board's annual report on the health of 27 municipal economies was released.  In an article in The Hamilton Spectator, it was noted that Hamilton's economy grew by 4.1% (the best growth in a decade) and there was a forecast for a further 2.7% growth in 2011.

Now economic analysis and prediction is a very tricky business and these reports are published at a very high level.  It is difficult to know all of the background analysis which took place before these aggregate numbers are produced.  For personal interest, I have been tracking the Conference Board Reports since 2004.  This has allowed me to keep a "track record" for the economists and gauge reliability.

Here is a list of the forecast (f) and actual (a) GDP rates of growth that the Conference Board released for the last few years for Hamilton.

2004 - 2.3% (f)/3.2% (a)
2005 - 2.0% (f)/2.1% (a)
2006 - 2.5% (f)/1.4% (a)
2007 - 1.5% (f)/1.2% (a)
2008 - 1.8% (f)/-1.5% (a)
2009 - -1.9% (f)/-4.5% (a)
2010 - 3.3% (f)/4.1% (a)
2011 - 2.7% (f)