Tag Archives: Henry Dayday

Some quick takes on Saskatoon City Council races

This is what I think I think.

  • Dayday is not a credible candidate.  His Twitter handle links to a domain name that is currently unregistered.  If you can’t register your own domain name and set up a website, why are you even running.  This seems more about a blood feud with Atch than anything else.
  • If crime becomes an issue in the election, both the Mayor and Clark are in trouble.  Both have been around forever and it’s gotten worse on their watch.
  • I haven’t seen a lawn sign on public property yet.  This is is a good thing.  Can we keep them off of public property?  It makes the city look like crap and boulevards don’t vote.
  • In the spring, Darren gave Wendy some gardening advice.  She ignored it (because she always ignores good gardening advice) and our garden sucks despite the heat and the rain.  It’s a bit of the sore spot with Wendy and one that we enjoy rubbing salt in.  Anyways I point this out because one candidate ran in 2012 because they thought the front runner was rude on the doorstep.  Not that I am saying that Wendy is running but it’s amazing what motivates people to run for office.
  • Everyone is telling me what the impact on Kelley Moore’s entrance into the race will be but none of us have any idea.  It’s been 48 hours.  No one knows how a campaign is going to go after only 48 hours.  For right now, she has a long hill to climb but remember, when Nenshi started, he was dead last and considered and after thought.  Even the election that saw Atch election, he was behind before a violent assault happened downtown and shook up the race.  No lead is safe in civic races.
  • I was really surprised that Atch has been taking the summer off of campaigning.  I was challenged on Twitter that he has the right approach and by lying low, he makes himself as small as target as possible.   On the flipside, I am even hearing from candidates in areas that most would define as Atch’s base that people really want change.  I still think if he loses that the election could have been lost in August.

Some quick thoughts on the Saskatoon Mayoral Race

  1. Charlie Clark is going to announce today
    • How does one run against the status quo, when as a councilor, he has been a part of the status quo for a decade.  That will be a big part of his challenge as an sitting councilor.  Over the last four years I haven’t seen an independent initiative or policy come from Clark (or anyone on council).  That is part of the problem of so much stuff being done behind closed doors, it creates a form of party like discipline on otherwise independent councilors.
    • Yes Clark is outspoken in the public parts of council meeting which are held during the day when all of us are at work. 
    • On one hand he won’t tell media he is announcing for sure yet on the other hand everyone has an email telling supporters they want a big crowd out today.   Those kind of games are ridiculous.  I am assuming openness and transparency aren’t campaign planks. 
    • There is a feeling that Tom Wolfe would be mayor if he had started earlier four years ago, it makes sense for Clark to start now.
    • I saw some polling that showed Clark behind Atch but it’s way to early to read into that.
  2. Atch isn’t running for re-election until fall but has a new website, a big fundraiser, and whose campaign phone number is Earnscliffe Strategies.  So at the same time he is saying “nothing to see here”, he is hiring consultants for the race.  Not the best messaging that I have seen.
    • Also, get a new phone number.  You don’t use the number for Earnscliffe as your campaign number.  C’mon. 
    • While Clark is right to start now, Atch does have a point in that the campaign doesn’t start till fall when people start to pay attention.
    • Atch’s big fundraiser is soon.  That’s a big room. If he doesn’t sell out, is his campaign in trouble?  Does that open the doors another pro-business challenger on the right.
  3. How much does it matter that the NDP were beat badly in the last campaign in the city and won’t have the resources to help Clark.  Does a rightward shift in the city help Atch? 
  4. That being said, hiring Doug Richardson with long time Liberal ties help or hurt Atch in Saskatoon?  I know he was John Turner’s Chief of Staff back in the day and is a big Liberal in a little pond but this is a city that is voting conservative right now.  Interesting choice.
  5. Dayday announces tomorrow
    • How long is in the race for?  I can’t see him seeing this through until election day?
    • Does he take voters away from Atch or Clark?  How big will his 0 tax increase base of voters really be?
    • Can he raise enough money to be competitive?
  6. I think there will be at least one more name in the race and perhaps two more by the time August long weekend roles around.
  7. My feeling is an outsider to City Hall could be the wildcard.  No partisan background but running an effective and policy driven campaign around change could be unstoppable.  Does that candidate exist?  I don’t know.

In the end, it’s not a race that I am that invest in and won’t heat up until fall.  I also expect at least three more names to jump into the race which will change the dynamic again and again and again. 

Contextless Links

I know what you are thinking, when did the Contextless Links return?  Well, right now.  I am going to be using them again as a place to empty out my notebook every day as a way to give some life to the site. If I post them here, I can also find them again when I need them.  Still undecided if I will use Windows Live Writer or have delicious dump them here once a day. 

Column: Handling debt poses challenge

Today’s column in The StarPhoenix.

The StarPhoenix Former mayor Henry Dayday wrote to council in May questioning how much debt the city was taking on and how Saskatoon residents were going to pay for it.

He pointed out that the city has $175 million in debt on its books and potentially another $225 million related to new projects, which will take a toll on cash reserves and add a lot of new debt.

As he sees it, it’s a total that was expected to push the city to its debt limit of $400 million, which is starting to remind some of us of the 1980s.

A look at the city finances leaves a couple of impressions. First, $400 million in civic debt is a lot of money and to be at our debt ceiling makes many people nervous. It’s like when you’ve run up your credit card to the limit. Not only can you not do anything until it’s paid down, but paying it off takes up a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere. Let’s hope the city at least gets reward points.

Does that mean that civic finances are in bad shape?

Some on city council say it does, but Standard & Poor’s recent report on city finances maintained our AAA credit rating. The bond rater does mention some clouds on the horizon – higher debt from the capital projects and some pension liabilities. Reading the S&P report shows it’s concerned, but not especially so, about Saskatoon’s debt level, which it expects to peak in 2014 at about 30 per cent of revenues. It’s a lot of debt, but it’s not crippling.

Looking at other western Canadian cities, an independent benchmark of Saskatoon’s finances and services (we are compared to Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg) was tabled on Feb. 23. It shows our credit rating to be higher and we compare favourably to other cities in most services offered and how much we pay for them.

The only area we really lag behind is in mosquitoes per capita (Winnipeg), NHL franchises and CFL teams.

Not surprisingly, we will soon lead the group in large, box-like riverfront art galleries.

When it comes to debt per capita, Saskatoon is at $526.91. Regina is at $549.80, while Calgary leads at $2,310.61. Moose Jaw has the highest per capita debt of Saskatchewan cities, at $1,168 At $400-million debt, our debt per capita would start to look like Moose Jaw’s – high, but manageable. As for taxes, our per capita tax burden compares well not only to that of other western Canadian cities, but it’s around half of the Canadian average.

It’s not how much debt a city has, but how it will pay for it. It’s a question Dayday raises and one worth exploring. Looking at growing cities with high debt levels, Red Deer’s debt limit is 1.5 times city revenues and it is approaching 90 per cent of that limit.

Its plan is to pay down its $183-million debt $2.1 million a year, which is similar to trying to pay off your credit card by making the minimum monthly payment. Calgary budgeted debt reduction into its mill rate increases in an attempt to lower its burden, despite its growing economy and larger tax base.

Paying off civic debt is not a lot of fun and a mill rate increase may be something that Saskatoon may have to do. In his letter Dayday says: “The city has been experiencing a boom period, but as in the past we know that times change.”

In the 1980s it was low commodity prices and in the ’90s it was taming a massive provincial deficit that made for a most significant challenge. Both held the city back, which contributes to the spending debate now.

How many of these capital projects have been discussed and planned for years?

Before we get too caught up with what to cut, we need to have a discussion about what those challenges in the future will be. Rising energy prices, the lifeless and debt-ridden American economy and global warming. Two of those issues will reshape Saskatoon beyond recognition both positively and negatively, and all three of them, if handled poorly, could severely hinder the city’s ability to pay off its debt.

You have to start the discussion somewhere, so in next week’s column I will look at how rising energy prices will reshape Saskatoon.

Here are some of the background links.

Next week’s column is about the impact peak oil is going to have on the city and how it will affect our long term future.  This won’t get much more of a passing mention in next week’s article but both the Rockefeller’s and Bill Gates are betting on algae being the future of carbon based petroleum.   That being said, Shell is betting against it.  It’s an interesting possibility, even if it won’t come to market in time to stop massive crude oil price shocks.

Is Saskatoon mortgaging it’s future?

Former Mayor Henry Dayday thinks so.

Please accept this letter as a concern that a number of taxpayers have related to me as a former Mayor of the city. The city has been experiencing a boom period, but as in the past we know that times change.

The concern is due to the large amount of money that is being spent on new projects without a clear plan for financing and paying for these projects. To date, many of these projects have been built with financing that uses borrowed money, or financing that will reduce the revenues to the city for operations in the future, or will reduce the amount of money available through reserves.

The city, to date, needs $12M to service its present projected debt of $175M. The city has also agreed to use money from new developed areas of the city to finance capital projects such as the Clarence Street overpass, which is in addition to the one third that already goes from increased taxation in new development areas for capital projects. Some reserves that are in deficit have already received approval as exemptions from the normal requirement to be funded. There is also a conversion of one half million dollars that the Art Gallery received from assessment growth that goes as a capital contribution and will now be diverted to debt repayment. This means that the city now needs to find an additional one half million dollars to fund the already deficient reserves. In addition, City Council adopted a policy in March of 2008 that transfers annually a portion of the accumulated return on investment of approximately $5M from the land development activities to general revenue, which is in addition to the existing transfer of over $1M.

The city has now approved a proposed new police station that is estimated to cost the taxpayers $131M with $9M as a down payment in 2011. Each year, hence until 2016, the city will raise taxes by $850,000. By the year 2016, the taxpayers will have had a tax hike of approximately 5.8%. Then once the $7.5M repayment of the loan begins, the tax hike will be another 5.8% for a total tax increase of 11.6%. Furthermore, in 2016 the total cash paid is $38M leaving a loan of$93M. At a 7% interest rate, which appears to be the rate that is being paid on the present $175M debt, this requires that the taxpayer will need approximately $98M over 30 years for interest including the $131M as the principal cost for a total cost to the taxpayers of $229M. This is in addition to many other projects such as a new traffic bridge, the Mendel Art Gallery, the new transit headquarters and the relocation of the city yards, just to mention a few where there is no funding in place.

During my years as the Mayor, the administration and I negotiated an agreement with the Provincial Government to transfer City Hospital for a large tract of land in the north east sector of the city. This land proved to be very beneficial to the city and is meant to help the taxpayers by reducing tax increases in the future. Another objective is that the land sales are to be used not only for development, but also to replace the sold land through new land acquisitions. My concern is with the policy of March, 2008 where Council is drawing approximately $5M from the reserve annually. At this rate, that could deplete the reserve when sales slow down as well as not replace the land for future development whereby future taxpayers would not get the benefit that the land was intended to provide.

To my knowledge, the city has been required to have an actuarial review done on all its pension plans every three years. It is also my understanding that these reviews have been deferred. The taxpayers would be interested in knowing the status of these pension funds.

Every time the city changes a policy of transferring money from one account to another to finance a project and then does not replace the money or draws more money from an account, so that the account will not be sufficiently funded in the future, is another form of borrowing against the future.

The purpose of this letter is to answer the concerns that the taxpayers have raised. How do we pay for this spending and how will it impact on future tax increases?

To date, we have a borrowing limit of $400M with $175M already borrowed. We have a projected unfunded liability to the end of 2015 for reserves of $144M. We the have a number of expensive projects that are already started with funds committed such as the $131M police station, the $67M Art Gallery, the $26M traffic bridge and a $200M approved financing plan for a new transit headquarters and the relocation of the city yards without knowing the funding sources. These commitments already appear to exceed the borrowing limit.

In the past, major expenditures by the city, such as Credit Union Centre, had a financial plan in place as to how the project would be financed before we proceeded with any construction. As was the case with Credit Union Centre, the taxpayers voted twice as to the location of the facility and then on the approval of the $10M expenditure. If my memory serves me correctly, the cost for each household was approximately $15 annually for ten years. After ten years, City Council decided what to do with the extra $1M plus that was no longer required to fund the debt. To date, we have not seen any financial plans as to the impact all these major expenditures will have on the taxpayer in the future.

He has some recommendations as well and the art gallery will probably cost more than $90 million when all is said and done.  There are a couple of city councilors who are avid readers on my website, I would love to see their comments.   My own personal view is that I don’t know how much debt it too much debt for Saskatoon’s GDP but as Richard Florida points out, some of the most desirable cities to work and live in North America (Seattle, Portland, Austin) have higher level of services and taxes.  At the same time, I see the city wanting the services but not the taxes so we are increasing debt.  The question that I have never see answered is “how much debt is too much.”  Former Mayor Dayday says that we are at that point now.  Are we?

The Campaigns in Saskatoon

I was looking for a list of nominated Saskatoon candidates for the federal election and I realized that none listed, even the Liberals don’t have a complete list of nominated candidates on their site (same thing happened under Stephane Dion) and while the NDP don’t have a list of their candidates anywhere.  So after spending some quality time with Google and Wikipedia, here is a list of what’s happening in Saskatoon, past vote totals, and my thoughts of what is going to happen in 2011.

Saskatoon Rosetown Biggar

  • Incumbent: Kelly Block (won with 45.4% of the vote)
  • Challenger: Nettie Wiebe (lost with 44.5% of the vote – only 153 votes separated them last election)
  • Taking it for the Team:  Lee Reaney (Liberals took only 4.4% of the vote last time) and Vicki Strelioff (Greens took 4.6% of the votes in 2008)

What to Expect: It will come down to under 1000 votes and in the end will be determined by which candidate can correctly identify and get out the vote.  The urban vote will go to Nettie Wiebe while the rural vote will come out for Kelly Block.  It’s going to come down to campaign organization, a ground campaign, and who has the motivated voters.  Of the three factors, the first two will be determined locally and as for motivated voters, that will come down to the leaders.  In other words this is one of the few ridings in Saskatchewan that could be in play and my gut feeling is that Nettie Wiebe will win it by a couple of hundred votes.  NDP voters seem more motivated than Conservative ones who are starting to doubt Harper a little bit, the Green campaign doesn’t seem as strong and the Liberals aren’t running seriously in the riding.  With that close of an election last time, that is all it could take.

Saskatoon Humboldt

What to Expect: The wildcard in this riding is Darren Hill, a popular city councillor for Ward 1.  He is running very aggressively for the Liberals and has been for some time.  That being said the Liberals have run former mayor Henry Dayday, former NDP MP and provincial cabinet minister Chris Axworthy (who had won that riding in the past), and city councillor Tiffany Paulsen and they all lost soundly.  His campaign isn’t helped by the disappearance of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party which seems to be running to the right when it is running.   In the end I expect that Darren Hill and Denise Kouri will split enough votes that Trost will win again.  The vote swing is just too great.

Saskatoon Waneskewin

  • Incumbent: Maurice Vellacott (2008 campaign website) won with 56.50% of the vote and spent very little money in the process.
  • Taking it for the team: Everyone else. Patricia Zipchen (Liberal had 12.39% in 2008), John Parry (NDP had 24.36% of the vote in 2008), Mark Bigland-Pritchard (Green took 6.73% of the vote in 2008).  No one else has a chance of winning this seat.  The Liberals have twice run Chris Axworthy while the NDP tried former mayor Jim Madden.  Both increased the vote total but neither made a serious challenge at Vellacott.  While Vellacott’s big vote totals suprise many, his social conservatism appeal to the very motivated rural voters in the riding and the party’s positions appeal to the largely upper middle class suburban voters.

What to Expect: While this riding has switched to the NDP in the past (Ray Hnatyshyn lost in 1988 to Chris Axworthy), it has been redistributed to the point where the traditional NDP areas have moved to Saskatoon Rosetown Biggar and the traditionally Conservative polls were left in Saskatoon Waneskewin.  This means that Vellacott will win big, continue to add to his MP pension, say a couple of controversial things, and rest comfortably on the backbenches of Canada’s Parliament.

Blackstrap

What to Expect: Lynne Yelich will win without breaking a sweat.   She is well liked both in the city and in rural areas and is a dark horse candidate for cabinet if the Tories win again.

Agree? Disagree?  Let me know in the comments.