Ostriches, Grackles and Eagles

There will be a lot of discussion between now and November and I look forward to some hopefully positive changes and discussions between now and then. We need to look at ourselves before we decide what kind of leaders we need.

In spite of what you hear on places like this, and at great personal risk of repetitive attacks  for my position, I rate the satisfaction level of Hudson with the Prevost government to be at least in the high 80’s to low 90’s. Before the viper pens launch hordes of verbal drone attacks, that’s not my opinion but what I can only call the “Perceived Satisfaction Rate”.

The totality of the consistently vocal opposition is less than 200 people in a town of 5100, those who are really angry number less than 100. These scattered opposition groups are not cohesively organized to a common voice, and because most are narrow focused they do not have a complete vision of the problems, current situation and possible solutions.

If the dreamers and idealists really want change in Hudson after November, they will have to find balance and a cohesive platform from the subset of the possible reduced to a further subset of what might work in Hudson and that appeals to a large majority of Hudson’s taxpayer voters.

The proper running of a town, day to day, is not the Mayor or Council’s task. Their task is to consult, guide and oversee rather than do.

The Prevost government inherited the net results of not just a criminal insider, but of decades of inadequate oversight by a succession of councils. That crook took us for  $1.1 million over a decade, but lack of oversight and guidance by successive Councils cost us many millions more in dollars and the ensuing gridlock to find the depth of the swamp and drain it.

Inexperienced Mayor and Council, a bad choice of hangover DG from the last Council, and thin skins within our town employees and  on Council quickly devolved into some form of legal hell piled on top of the legal hell we were in already. The tar usually boiled for Council caught fire and there wasn’t enough water in town to do anything but mostly contain the flames to monthly Council meetings.

I’m proud of the Prevost Council for enduring and soldiering on, accomplishing much along the way and surviving intact save one that I’ll never opine on the whys of. Bringing our accounting to audited standards from the criminal double booked accounting we had was no easy feat. They’ve aimed too high on a strategic plan and not focused enough on JUST FIX IT, but hell that they aimed high is endearing to me. Failure is the price of progress.

The biggest problem that any government faces in Hudson is that we have about 90% Ostriches scattered everywhere and only a few noisy Grackles. I wrote in a column years ago that if you’re an ostrich with your head in the sand, it’s only a matter of time before someone kicks you in the ass. Ostriches in the sand don’t say anything, the Grackles make almost all the noise.

“Don’t change my Hudson, it’s perfect” is the repetitive call of Hudson’s Ostriches.

“We hate everything about your Council and want you gone” is the call of Hudson’s Grackles who have no options but to wait noisily.

When queried about satisfaction, Ostriches pull their head up momentarily and say “everything’s fine” and go back to the warm comfort of darkness. Watch out for Ostriches, when awakened suddenly to really awful news they can get nasty, lash out and kill. This year’s tax bills didn’t wake enough of them, our worsening crumbling infrastructure didn’t wake enough of them, our massive expansion in legal fees didn’t wake enough of them, our growth in bureaucracy didn’t wake enough of them so it’s easy to presume they’re content.

So, as we look forward to November we must seek the toughest and best damned loud mouthed Ostrich herder we can find to awaken the Hudson Ostriches, bring them up to date on how bad the situation is and what needs to be done and get started rebuilding our community vision and involvement.

What I do know is that Grackles can’t herd Ostriches and Ostriches can’t herd Ostriches.

I think we need a a very rare bird call a “Thick Skinned No Bull Eagle”, either the bald or the hairy kind and gender is not important. Eagles fly above the noise and have developed a vision and confidence based in intelligence. Eagles are respected by the Ostriches and feared by the Grackles at the same time. We’ve tried hummingbirds and chickens and failed, so please no more hummingbirds or chickens.

All I want for Christmas is seven Thick Skinned No Bull Eagles to JUST FIX IT.

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Snow job

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Hudson side street hours after the season’s first major dump. Throughout this past winter, the only clearing was done by the private driveway contractors concerned about their clients.

If the disbursements for the first two months of 2017 are any indication, Hudson’s spendthrift ways will continue up to November’s municipal election.

And residents who voice their concerns may as well save their breath.

To nobody’s surprise, the big payouts to the town’s legalists Dunton Rainville continued into the New Year. The town cut a cheque for $30,296.73 to cover Drain-the-ville’s representation on 11 files. No indication of whether these are continuations of the golden oldies of the last three years or whether these are new fights that will continue to milk the repaving budget.

I also see the town lost its grudge match against defeated mayoral aspirant Jacques Bourgeois in Small Claims Court, being ordered to pay Bourgeois’s Raris Communications $15,000 and costs. (Echoes of Trump’s ‘see you in court.’) Now, that’s small-town cheap.

Take road salt. In February, supplier Cargill’s bill had topped $155,000. As of the end of February, the town had blown another $46,000.

The record of disbursements tabled at the March council meeting also revealed that the town paid snow clearing contractor Transport André Leroux $87,000 for sand. This was over and above the cost of the base contract, which pays Leroux $399,500 plus taxes in four instalments of $103,348.15.

Worse, the documents show the price was based on a three-year contract with these incompetents with an option to renew for another two years.

More simply, the town leaves it to Leroux to decide how much salt and sand to use and when to use it.

Residents who attended the February meeting will recall councillor Rob Goldenberg and town manager Jean-Pierre Roy vowing to more closely monitor Leroux with regard to its use of salt.

Here’s my two-part question to Goldenberg and Roy:

Given this winter’s atrociously poor snow clearing, what is this administration proposing to do to correct the situation for the next two winters?

What was the average total cost of snow removal, salt and sand over the previous three winters? If my suspicions are correct, this administration has managed to stick Hudson residents with two more winters of botched snow removal at greater cost than if they had renewed with Gruenwald.

Long after November’s municipal election, this administration’s legacy of bad decisions will live on. In that respect, they’re no different that the bunch they replaced. What a surprise.

What works and who doesn’t

Big shout of thanks to Peter Ratcliffe for keeping the pot boiling during my absence. He gives this blog site a sense of decorum and balance, something I tend to forget. Thanks as well to Rod Birrell for sharing the high points(?) and documentation from last week’s March council meeting.

Upon our return from a whirlwind two weeks in Japan (I’ll be posting on our incredible trip later this week) the town’s response to my latest access to information request was in my inbox.
Back in mid-February I had asked for the most recent employment statistics and the new collective agreement. In return I received this all-in-one document:

organigramme

To summarize, Hudson employs 121 people, including part-time permanent, temporary/seasonal and occasional. This includes posts which have yet to be filled, such as that of treasurer. Fifteen are management positions. Another 38 are full-time positions, bringing the town’s full-time staff to 53. Hudson’s neighbours all have larger municipal payrolls but it’s difficult to compare. Regardless of size, every municipality has to have a bare-bones staff which includes a town manager, treasurer, clerk, urban planning and inspection department, public works department and a secretariat to move all that paper.

Those proposing to slash Hudson’s budget (revised downward to $12,456,000 for 2017) may be tempted to single out two high-cost services.

Communication, Parks and Recreation, Culture and Tourism, with a 2017 budget of $1.545 million and a staff of 51, makes no economic sense to me. We take the excellent Pilates courses offered at the Community Centre and find ourselves wondering why it takes four people to run the office when we sign in. During last month’s Shiver Fest, Phil Prince struggled to get everything done for the various events because he had no help. Why all the chiefs, why so few Indians? Jean Chevalier had more help on two-thirds the budget.

Then there’s the matter of the draft loan bylaw for a $555,000 renovation of the Community Centre. We’re told Canada 150 will pick up some of the bill. Some? Half? The question that comes to my mind is why the Community Centre needs two upgrades in five years. To give CPRCT’s empire-building bureaucracy more offices? To improve the shitty accoustics and execreble sound system in the main hall so citizens can hear the disinformational mumbling emanating from the folks up front? This administration needs to make a better case for adding a quarter million or more to the long-term debt load.

Moreover, the CPRCT budget does not include funding to Hudson’s arts, culture and tourism organizations. Here’s a partial list of who got funding and how much they received:

Hudson Parade Committee (2017 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festivities): $11,500
Hudson Music Festival: $15,000
Hudson Auto Show: $3,000
Hudson Village Theatre: $15,000
Greenwood Centre for Living History (2017 StoryFest) $5,000
Hudson Historical Society: $5,000
Arts Hudson: $200

That’s close to $55,000 that should be added to the CPRCT budget.

No other municipality in the MRC spends as much per capita on these services.

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Hudson’s Public Security director Philippe Baron at the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Hudson’s $2.5M public security budget is the largest single 2017 expenditure, but it’s justified in the number of lives it saves. Can the same be said for Communication, Parks and Recreation, Tourism and Culture’s $1.6M budget?

Public security, with a budget of $2.5 million and a total roster of some 40, has just two full-time employees – the public security director and a captain. The 33-person fire department roster includes an assistant director, co-ordinator, three other captains, four lieutenants and 24 firefighters, all part-time.

This is consistent with the costs and staffing levels in other Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities offering 24/7 first responder services.

“Yes, (first response) costs money, but it saves lives in a town with an aging population,” a senior officer with another MRC fire department told me. Quebec subsidizes first responder services because ER statistics consistently show a 20-30% difference in heart attack and stroke survival rates in municipalities with first responders compared to those who depend on 9-1-1 ambulance service.

Firefighting services also benefit from having first responders, especially when the two are integrated, as in Hudson. “The tools and the training go hand in hand.”

The biggest issue facing volunteer fire departments throughout Quebec is having enough manpower to satisfy the minimum requirements of the notorious “schema” – the fire risk management plans required of every MRC in the province. “Because they have to work elsewhere to earn a living, fewer firefighters are available during the day.”

The answer, adds this officer, is to integrate services so that medically equipped pumpers are dispatched to all calls. In smaller towns such as Hudson, integration means fewer responders and vehicles are needed. “If responders get a fire call, they can head straight to that call, rather than having to return to the firehall to trade vehicles.”

By creating a shared response protocol among neighbouring municipalities, Vaudreuil-Soulanges MRC’s schema has proven to be effective in ensuring a minimum of 10 firefighters within 15 minutes, a minimum volume of water and the availability of specialized equipment, such as aerial ladders. But it’s nowhere near enough to ensure the manpower or equipment needed in the event of a major disaster or fire in a high-risk structure such as Westwood Senior or Manoir Cavagnal.

Full disclosure: I survived a heart attack in 2012 because Hudson has a well-staffed, competent medical centre and first responders. I wouldn’t be alive today if I had depended on 9-1-1 ambulance response times.

Mayfair choices

The proposed rezoning on Mayfair received enough (91 versus 83 required) signatures to force a referendum to pass the bylaw, or the bylaw is basically dead. Unless the town doesn’t listen and decides to fund a referendum to test the will of those who signed the register against the desire to build. I see both sides and agree in part with both views.

It’s not my style or taste, frankly I like eclectic diverse villages and am generally an anti-enclave.  I own 18,000 square feet of grass, hedges and trees in the village and frankly it’s a lot of work and cost, so I was never fond of the 30,000 square foot minimum set at that time it was zoned for Alstonvale and Hudson’s Valleys.

Nor am I fond of perpetual binding community development agreements with strict limits to what can be built including surfaces and exterior. That said, both developments are great assets to Hudson and I’m glad they have filled up and added to our population and taxation rolls. Hudson never really welcomed and included that area in our collective thinking to match the value that has been added to our town.

All that said, those current owners who built and bought those beautiful brick and stone homes with uni-stone driveways  have a clear right to protect their investment by resisting change as they see fit. Essentially the current community are able to hoist the developer on his own petard and prevent the changes that could make selling and building that short vacant section of Mayfair easier in today’s marketplace. I do wonder how much the proposed changes could have actually shifted the marketplace or value of the existing homes.

I think on this round one that we’ve missed a good  opportunity for some smaller high end homes with lower operating costs. I’ve lived in a fine old Montreal downtown row house and semi-detached street two blocks from the old Montreal forum. Well built multi-story brick homes with slate roofs, lane for garage and services access. A great place to live, populated by average people through captains of industry  as I might have expected the semi-detached homes on Mayfair would be great places to live.

I’ll anxiously await the decision of the town as well as any revisions they developer might try to make to resurrect this project. Frankly I’d rather see homes than vacant lots, a completed community rather than an unfinished one.

I’ll state clearly that I’m against the cost and divisive process of a referendum. I believe that it’s really all in the hands of the developer now, perhaps he can revise and persuade through something  that will be different enough to be acceptable to the affected community.

I really do hope they try again and eventually succeed, the marketplace and market pricing  for large brick mansions is shrinking as quickly as our town spending is rising and we don’t really need more huge homes.

The details, our soul is all in the details

Like Johnny Carson as Karnak, I’m holding the sealed envelope to my turban and looking into the future. I see:

I can’t shake the feeling that Hudson Council will simply table a rezoning of Sandy Beach exactly as per the developers Pine Beach proposal. This may even happen Monday night at March council.

Hudson should, in my opinion, but likely won’t charge the developer either a per connection or blanket contribution for the infrastructure of Hudson’s Brick Shithouse Sewage Treatment Plant. The explanation will be that we have the capacity and need the development, so the developer will benefit at the expense of Annex A ratepayers who won’t be consulted about the  future use of excess capacity that we have funded. If and when future developments, or Birch Hill for example require sewage treatment, the cost will be much higher. Nicanco, if they don’t pay a reasonable cost for sewage treatment infrastructure, will have a gift that drops right to their bottom line and limits the opportunity to better allocate those resources. Simply put, I believe that we should end the Pine Beach development with exactly the same excess capacity we had before it was developed and that until the whole town has sewage developers must replace what they will consume.

Same thing on water. Hudson doesn’t yet have a costed future plan for water capacity, so we’re not yet in a position to actually name a price for the water required by the 316 doors to be approved. Well or Lake? If we don’t know yet, how can we name a price that matches what we need to spend. If we agree to a deal for shared costs on water, we’ll simply have no idea if it’s a good one or not. Elsewhere on this blog the unlistened to have debated and logically concluded that we should should consider a lake supply around Thompson Park treated in a new plant just across Main Road and connected to our existing network. Solve both future capacity and West End water issues as well as offer water for sale to parts of Vaudreuil Dorion and St. Lazare.

The Pine Beach plan could be significantly improved for the protection of Sandy Beach while still allowing an exceptional development. For example wider buffers have been well proposed by competent citizens, but we’ll probably find that the community will have no leadership or will to stall the development by requesting such changes. We could hold to the original zoning numbers, but won’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a very pro-development person. We can’t buy Sandy Beach at market value, it will be developed. I have suggested many times over the years, to successive councils, that Hudson needs to develop Sandy Beach, Ellerbeck’s and R-55 as high priorities.

In spite of what the idealists and dreamers say or think, we have long passed the fiscal turning point  where we could survive without significant numbers of new taxable properties to help pay for the irrational excesses of decades of growth in bureaucracy and spending that has resulted in a tripling of our expenses over the past 15 years with stagnant population.

We have filled this swamp with debt and spending, we must have development soon. But if we rush we’ll do it badly and divide a community.

Development usually pits the wants of our citizens against the needs of a developer for profit. Both sides are wrong at first. A delicate balance must be struck between the idealists and the capitalists, and into the chasm separating the two is only Town Council or possibly a referendum.

We will see a new Council elected in November, and that Council will have to live with and resolve all of the good and the bad results from this Council. Hell, in some world it may even be the same Council, but I’m just not getting those vibes.

The responsible thing on Sandy Beach would to hold public consultations and have a committee including a balanced group of citizens to negotiate with the developer quickly towards a better compromise.  Instead, I think we’ll see weakness, a quick acquiescence and acceptance without demands for better and a simple decree that we need to do this without adequate reasons that we really need to do it.

I really want to be wrong about this. This is not simply a political or fiscal issue. It sits at the root of our community soul. I believe that this issue contains everything Hudson needs to either heal itself, or to finish destroying itself. In these beautiful wetlands we can find ourselves again as a cohesive community or finally finish losing ourselves.

You want proud, so do I.

I am the eternal optimist: I hope to one day soon walk from Jack Layton Park to Sandy Beach, proudly in close proximity to an exceptional new showcase development embraced by the majority of our community and welcoming those who have chosen Hudson’s best new development as a new place to live or a way to stay.

In life we find exceptional not by simple acceptance of average, by being demanding of excellence.

So, watch closely for what our leaders are demanding from the developer. If we demand nothing but simply accept what they’ve offered, we’ll get exactly the mediocrity proposed.

I believe we must, as a community, at least try to do better.