10:00- Light rail transit isn’t a very good investment
John Shortreed, Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Waterloo
Craig Dyer, the chief financial officer with the Region of Waterloo, wrote that Waterloo Region can afford to borrow to invest in the light rail transit system, which is to be called the Ion. As a financial expert, Dyer knows that investments must result in significant value either by use by the public or replacement of assets to avoid waste of taxes. Is the Ion a good investment? Openness and transparency require that any financial analysis provide a balanced view of the costs, benefits and any significant uncertainty and assumptions. The Ion has a noticeable lack of balance in the presentation of costs, benefits and key assumptions in staff presentations to regional council and in council’s communications. For example, in the region’s newsletter, the Region News, in May, under the heading of “Ion costs,” there is an illustration of a house with the statement: “The annual increase (in taxes) equates to approximately $11 per year on the average household from 2012 to 2018.” Tax increases of $11 per year by 2018 means additional taxes of $77. However, the 2014 budget approved by the region states that for the Ion and the associated hundreds of new buses, the result will be in an increase of 12.9%, which is about $225 for the average household. The fine print in the Region News says that while “Cost” is the heading, the $11 per year is not the actual cost but rather the cost less reduction in other tax -supported services. Even this is an exaggeration, since the region, in balancing the 2014 budget, had to reduce the proposed 1.5% increase for the Ion to 1.25%, since even with severe cuts in other services, the target could not be met. Budgeting in 2015-2018 will be even more challenging. One thing is clear: the region’s 2014 budget estimates an Ion increase of $225 per household by 2018 for 30 years, not $77 per year. Why does the region feel the need to misrepresent the costs of the Ion in official publications? Two possibilities are that this is a municipal election year, and the local investment of $2 billion-plus (including the HST and indexed to inflation) is not a very good investment when all the uncertainties are considered.
10:30- Are robocalls the new norm in Waterloo Region?
Bob Williams, Political Science Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo
Competition for council seats in the Oct. 27 municipal election has a few politicians employing robocalls to get the word out. Regional Coun. Jane Mitchell said she turned to an automated call as part of her campaign due to a tense race against five other candidates. Mitchell is competing against Ed Korschewitz, Bob Oberholtzer, Andrew Telegdi, Karen Scian and Sean Strickland for one of two seats representing Waterloo on Region of Waterloo council. Mitchell said she had more than 200 responses in a few hours. Her counterpart, Strickland, used automated calls to assist with a virtual town hall hosted last week. Phone calls went out to Waterloo residents and they were asked if they would like to participate in the town hall. If the answer was yes they were plugged into a conversation with Strickland. If they didn’t answer a voicemail message was left with Strickland’s contact information. Berry Vrbanovic, candidate for Kitchener mayor, is also using the technology. He had calls go out Monday asking residents for their support and if they agreed, asking if they would be willing to take a lawn sign. Vrbanovic is among five candidates seeking Kitchener’s top political job, Dan Glenn-Graham, Peter Martin, James Rhodes and Slavko Miladinovic. Vrbanovic said he committed to engaging voters when he announced his platform and this is one way to do it. He’s also had some positive responses and requests for lawn signs. Mitchell and Vrbanovic said the region’s growth has made it more challenging to reach voters. Regional chair candidate Jay Aissa has also confirmed he’s using robocalls to get his name out in the community.