Notes from the Rafters: Budget Drop Edition

City Council
It does seem the city is on a vector of not-terrible management, partially brought on by necessity, as Cllr Burton said, “The easiest time to make a budget is when money is pouring in. This is not that time," and partially by a general belief in slightly longer-term thinking than in the past.

So this is it. The three year budget (2019-2021) has landed. And it is about as exciting as you would expect a three year budget document for a medium-sized city in the middle of nowhere to be. Despite some media outlets’attempts at making it scary enough to titillate clicks, the story here seems to be: City Very Pleased With Its High Levels of Cooperation, Engagement, and Efficiency In a Way That Is Vaguely Dickish But That I Can Find No Scandalous Fault In.

Are they spending a little more money on things that annoy us (the amorphous public as an internet blob)? Yeah. A little more on Mile One (uggghh), a skootch more on Council travel (fiyyyynne), a little more on its own legal fees (hahaha … stop picking fights with De Udder Danny!). And did they create a brand new upper- echelon job ($125K/year) to help the city wrastle with the even more amorphous (but slightly more urgent) blob of climate change? Yes.

But, according to the entire Kumbaya-Klatch, the city (and them, the council themselves) have never been more lean and mean, except the opposite of mean because they are all nice now.

Cllr Jamieson started off her budget comments,“I would like to begin with gratitude.”

Cllr Collins with, “I’ve been coming here for 14 years and this is the best job I’ve seen in 14 years.” He then congratulated, “Lane and whoever else was involved.” Whoa! That is pretty much peak effusivity/engagement for Collins on anything not involving run-off or road shoulders.

Then Mayor Dan wrapped it all up in a hand-painted, recycled brown-paper bag with this bow, “we don’t have all the power, but we do have the power of cooperation.” Yuppers.

When Dave Lane finished, and the budget was unanimously voted in, he chugged his glass of water and put it down and walked out of the room … just like Galgay did when he unleashed his last budget in 2016, before Lane took over.

But not really at all the same. As Mayor Dan also said, when thanking council for their work this cycle, “Everyone checked their egos at the door and came in … everyone had very open, honest, and forthright arguments. The process worked.” Well, barf me a well engineered river.

Now, of course, efficient in the public sector is quite relative, and this is literally coming from them about them. But it does seem the city is on a vector of not-terrible management partially brought on by necessity (as Cllr Burton said, “The easiest time to make a budget is when money is pouring in. This is not that time), and partially by a general belief in slightly longer-term thinking than in the past.

But don’t worry, maybe when we get our next booncycle we can watch everyone go nuts again and f*ck it up. Long term plans are for when the short term sucks, right?

We’ll have good times, and we’ll have bad times, plowing in ways I just don’t understand.

As always, snow clearing will be something to watch in the next year. Two things happened re:snow in this budget. The first is an “efficiency.” There is a new snow/ice clearing contract that, according to Cllr Lane, will save the city $285k.

There is a new snow/ice clearing contract that, according to Cllr Lane, will save the city $285k … [and] The City has allocated an additional $150K for improved sidewalk clearing. 

The second is an “investment.” The city has allocated an additional $150K for improved sidewalk clearing. So the overall snow clearing budget went down? But more of it will go to sidewalk clearing?

The question marks are not just because I was born in The Valley (it’s, like, my cultural heritage?) The future of snowclearing in St. John’s is as important as its past is mystifying/maddening and I truly want to know.

It is a visible/tangible/immediate service that all of us can (and, sadly, must) interact with for half of each year, and snowclearing is intimately wrapped up with everything the city says it is prioritizing: Infrastructure, livability, boosting tourism, supporting new businesses, supporting our downtown core, walkability, accessibility, looking after our aging population and attracting/keeping young families and immigrants, increasing ridership on public transportation and also just not being twats anymore about the single god-damned thing that has NEVER CHANGED HERE.

Snow. Our magical winter wonderland is a problem St. John’s has never solved, and so far, all attempts have been just another flake in the plow pile. A plow pile that is piled on the newly re-paved curb cut rendering that cut, and the entire length of sidewalk attached to it, useless and therefore rendering a lot of the plowing done (i.e. $$ spent) a waste all while there is still not enough plowing done.

Will this new spirit of cooperation infesting our municipal government extend to, as “Barry” on Facebook so gorgeously put it, the rival street gangs “a la The Sharks and The Jets” of the street versus sidewalk plows?

You can spend 149,999.99 on clearing a sidewalk, but the shiniest last penny in the world won’t save that from boondoggle-island if every perfectly plowed sidewalk still ends in a dirty old street-plow snow mountain. We denizens on town don’t walk the length of a block for our health. We need to be able to exit that block eventually to get to another block where Jackman & Greene is. Look at the stats! We do nothing for our health! We walk to get to the corner store for our white milk and our storm chips and our diapers and, of course, for our beer.

Which leads me full circle back to the article I referenced at the beginning. This budget isn’t bad enough (the majority of residential tax bills will see a very minor and well anticipated blip up, and services are pretty much staying the same) or good enough (commercial properties are still not getting relief, and will even now get a notch more shafted than they already were) for me to boo-hiss OR to sis-boom-bah either way. 

BUT WE NEED SOMETHING TO LAUGH ABOUT

So, here, for you, is an entirely not-made-up, absolutely no word of a lie, non-parody list of actual quotes from the CBC article anticipating this “brutal” budget.

  • “They’ve been warning residents about it for a while and now it has almost arrived.” [Is this a tagline for Council Chambers II: Fully Loaded?]
  • “Budget is dropping Monday, and it’s expected to be a doozy.” [That is straight out of the second season of America Vandal. Poo is funny.]
  • “If you thought that 2016 was a tough budget, well, you better be prepared. 2019 is going to be tougher,” said Jonathan Galgay, the former St. John’s city councillor who was in charge of delivering 2016’s much-maligned budget.” [WHAT?! That is the THIRD sentence in the article. And it came out of NOWHERE! What a twist! This is going to be a rollercoaster! He was like, We need commentary on this budget that is about to be announced, but we don’t want to wait a few hours until it’s announced, and write about the actual budget, so what could fill up space?” Hot air does. It fills it real good, whatever space you got, baby. I mean, I wasn’t there, but I am pretty sure this GalGay fella didn’t have a teen’s first pube to do with this year’s budget process. Literally, quoted right there, his expertise is based on being the architect of “2016’s much maligned budget.” Dy-ing. Dying.
  • “People are going to have less disposable income,” he said. “And that means they’ll be slapping fewer bills onto bar and restaurant tables in the downtown core,” Galgay said.” [That is … okay. The first part is just like … yeah, pretty insightful, if I follow: when I pay more tax, I have less money. Interessssting. kay. kay. The second part is. Well, wow. If you are “slapping” bills onto bars and tables you sort of suck, dude. It’s like… does he represent all of George Street or just the Martini Bar and that dude who gets kicked out of the Cotton Club for getting “handsy” with the ATM for not “putting smaller bills out.”
  • “Galgay … says it’d be a help to those establishments [in the George Street Alliance] if beer wasn’t so readily available at corner stores during prime downtown hours. “If you reduce those hours then maybe you’ll see people going out into bars and restaurants, because that’s where they’ll be able to purchase product.’” [What is the sound of a thousand mouths laugh-spitting beer at the exact same time? That is the sound that quote makes when you crack it open at the cabin. Yes. Indeed. If Needs doesn’t have any beer when I pop down in my soft pants at the end of the day, I am 100% going to put down my eggs and cheezies, maybe buy a comb and some chapstick instead, button up my cardigan to hide my house-outfit nips, and just jolly well bustle off to Lottie’s. I’ve got to slap something with these dollars! I mean. How do you get to be ExecDirec of the G-Street Band and not know that 80% of adults only end up there specifically because we already bought and drank a case from the corner store, and now everything-is-a-such-a-great-idea! Let’s go! C’mon you guys! Its beah-mazing! Also… “purchase product”? Who even is he? Who calls beer “product”? Or is he dropping a little anti-weed nudge into this? It is like he doesn’t even know how to front-load! How was he ever the rep for Ward 2? There is so much to work with here. Can Nicole Downton and Swervy Garland just do like an hour long comedy special based on this article? I want songs about this: “The Ballad of the man who thought Zima was a Beer,” “It’s a Ho-down, Right on down! Down the hill to G-Street!” “Slap dis, Bill” etc.
  • And then they end on a quote that proves our one-term ex Ward 2 councillor has the true heart and soul of the dissipated heir to a family name, “And if you have excess buildings, if you have vacant lands, it’s time now to start selling them off and start building that revenue” (he said as he flipped a quarter at the dame in the coat check with the bold bobbed hair). Violet Crawley would sure slap something down if she heard you speak like that, son. Also lets 100% take bets one which city-owned property he has his eye on.
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