Moving On…

Category: Community

Dealing with our Government

To start, I never thought I was going to share these stories publicly.

Not that our personal story is critical, or desperate, now that I have been hearing of other people’s similar misfortune, I thinks it’s best if everyone speaks up.

I will leave names out of our story, I don’t think they are relevant because the problems appear to be systemic.

Our story has two parts, two different government programs, and one government office.

Background:

We live in London Ontario and on May 20, 2006 we became parents to a healthy baby boy.

At two years of age we became concerned about his development after he lost almost all the verbal communication skills he had already developed1. He was diagnosed as having regressive autism after a journey that involved relatives, our family doctor, a developmental paediatrician, and the Thames Valley Childrens’ Centre2, and we are thankful for everyone that helped us along that path to getting our son the diagnosis he needed.

Getting an official diagnosis allows you to apply for many different forms of assistance, and there is a whirlwind of applications that were filled out. If there is one piece of advice I would give to another parent going through the same thing it would be to get organized and document everything. We didn’t get organized until it was apparent we had dropped the ball on a few things, which I will mention later.

I am so thankful for my wife, she is the organizational bedrock of our family.

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 SSAH (Special Services At Home)

During our frenzy of paperwork one of the programs we applied to was to provide relief or respite care for parents. It is a program that even if you qualify for it, you face a long wait as it is poorly funded by the government.

We filed the paperwork and heard nothing.

This is where keeping records would have helped us. We lost track of the application after not hearing anything until two years later when we received a phone call asking if we had applied for assistance from SSAH.

Slightly befuddled, we said yes and asked why they wanted to know. Apparently our application had been sitting on the desk of someone who no longer worked at the office for two whole years. At least they confirmed we qualified for the program and would be put on the wait-list, the back of the wait-list.

It was explained to us that there was no way they could put us in line where we should have been to correct their mistake.

Well, almost four years later and we have had no assistance from SSAH.

ACSD (Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities)

Although a smaller case, it shows the manner in which the staff there are treating customers.

We were receiving ACSD for a few years, a supplement to help out families dealing with a severe disability. The supplement is geared to income and while some families never need reassessment, we own our own business and have been asked twice.

This spring we were asked for proof of income and we happily sent it off, hearing nothing in return, until one month the payments simply disappeared. No problem, this happened last time we were reassessed, so we called to see what was going on. We were notified we had (barely) exceeded the high income cutoff and would not be receiving ACSD.

When asked why were not notified of the change we were told it was the summer student’s job to send out notices and apparently they had failed to do so.

We were removed from the program and we were free to re-apply if our income changed. We are not upset by the rules of the program, but by the way the payments dropped off without warning. For a less financially stable family this could have been devastating.

The fact that an important role in the office was delegated to a summer student and not checked to see if it was completed is shameful.

We still have had no notification other than our phone inquiry.

Why am I sharing these stories?

Because I think it is important to let other people know what they face when dealing with bureaucrats. Document, document. document.

Follow up, and ensure your paperwork has not fallen through the cracks, and if it does, you wont get much help form them. Send a letter to your Member of Parliament, Member of Provincial Parliament, or City Councillor depending on jurisdiction, they are your advocate when it comes to dealing with government programs. If your issue is with a provincial program you can also contact the Ontario Ombudsman.

Why didn’t we make a bigger stink when these happened?  Mostly because these battles are exhausting, on top of caring for a family member with a severe disability. Also because the ACSD was a battle we had nothing to gain from other than perhaps an apology, but as we hear more and more examples we realize our situation is not unique and something needs to be done to correct the problems in our government offices.

 

1 For more information on the red flags for autism go to http://www.autismspeaks.ca/about-autism/early-warning-signs/

2 So thankful, our son represents TVCC and is currently on the front page of their website and in many of its fundraising materials. http://www.tvcc.on.ca/

Stop Donating Start Investing

I’m happy to see the discussion in the nonprofit and charity sector tuning away from who has the lowest overhead. Although keeping overhead low can be a sign the organization is not wasteful, it says nothing about how effective they are.

Dan Pallotta

One of the first vocal activists against the overhead stigma was Dan Pallotta, his TED talk was one that opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about fulfilling objectives instead of just watching you cost of fundraising.

Art Taylor, Jacob Harold, and Ken Berger

Recently three very influential people in the nonprofit community have released a letter to the public, and to nonprofits warning about the obsession with keeping costs low. You can read the letter at http://overheadmyth.com/letter-to-the-donors-of-america/.

You may also want to listen to an excellent interview with them on Tony Martignetti’s podcast Nonprofit Radio at http://tonymartignetti.com/2013/09/nonprofit-radio-september-6-2013-overhead-myth/.

Ken Stern

Recently I read With Charity for All by Ken Stern, it’s a must read for anyone in the nonprofit sector.

While profit is an easy way to measure how effective a for-profit company is, it can be a little more difficult to calculate how effective a non-profit is, but still a core part of fulfilling the mandate of the organization.

Ken’s book has some great real-world examples of where some organizations may actually hurt the very cause they were created to help. This is why people need to start acting more like an investor and less as a donor, expecting a return on their investment.

This is difficult because of poor research and reporting by many organizations. This needs to change. I wouldn’t invest in a company that didn’t know if it was, or ever will be profitable, why would I donate my money to an organization that didn’t know if it had any impact?

Giving Yourself a Nickname

AM980’s Devon Peacock yesterday discussed nicknaming London “The City of Champions” on the Pulse, or the Craig Needles show, I don’t remember now, he hosted both yesterday.

I personally don’t like the idea of giving ourselves a new nickname. Not that I’m crazy about the name “The Forest City”, I don’t think it is really fitting either. Our city looks to be the forest city in name only, we don’t have much more tree cover than other Canadian cities of our size.

My objection is over the idea that you can fix anything with a name.

I could call myself Batman all I want but the name doesn’t make me a kickass crime fighter. The only way to accomplish that is to go out there and actually fight crime. The coolness in the name follows from the individual’s actions.

In other words,

“a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Shakespere

or in our case, no matter what we name the city, we aren’t going to fix the underlying problems without rolling up our sleeves and working towards making this a better city.

It’s time to look our problems square in the face and proposing workable solutions, not feel-good rebranding.

We also need to divide the responsibilities between the private and public sectors.

Infrastructure is a public responsibility. Fixing that will create jobs, but not enough.

Job creation falls to the private sector. The only thing the municipality is responsible for there is to get out of the way and listen to see if there are any ways it can assist business.

Cheapest Rent in Downtown London

You may, or may not know me to be a big advocate of heritage. Truth is that I think we need to save what we can, there is no going back when it comes to the wrecking ball.

So my recent tweets may surprise those in favour of historical preservation.

 

All of this was brought on by the fact that I was surprised to find most of the city in favour of the incredibly low price paid to use the facilities by the London Majors.

To completely come clean, I am in favour of preserving Labatt Park.

Although I don’t think that decision is as easy as some think.

I wouldn’t call any of the structures on the property worthy of historical designation, most are modern structures. From reports the field is in a different orientation than the original, it’s the reason for the controversy over the oldest ballpark moniker. Finally, I didn’t think London cared about location, just look at the Fanshawe Pioneer Museum (where we store all our old stuff), 199 Queen Street and the Fugitive Slave Chapel, both which were considered victories if we could keep the structure, but lose the location.

On the other hand, it is pretty cool to have such an excellent ball park at the center of the city, one I didn’t know had such devoted fans until this week. The location has been in continuous use  since 1877 (the same year as the invention of the phonograph), which is deserving in its own right, and some historical players have stepped foot on the field of play in London.

Aside from historical reasons I think Labatt Park is a special asset for our city, and excellent facility for sports. I have competed on the field myself in my younger years.

Then there is the legal reason. From what I have read (and Wikipedia wouldn’t lie) the Park was donated to city on the condition it was named after the Labatt family and was “for the use of the citizens of the City of London as an athletic field and recreation ground”. I’m not a lawyer but if we cease baseball operations would the property revert to the Labatt family?

That kind of shoots down the idea of the city selling it to a developer.

My big question is that of our subsidy to the London Majors.

I spent many a summer nights on the wooden benches on the first base line, in fact our family visited Arden Eddie’s home to pick up our season’s tickets.

The Majors are an institution that is ingrained in the history of London. I just don’t want to be unofficially sponsoring a business, especially if that business is producing profits. I would rather make it official and transparent.

I’m not even sure of the business’ structure at this point. As far as I have understood the team has owners who bought the team in 2004. Non-profits don’t have owners, but someone at the London Free Press wrote an anonymous piece calling them a non-profit.

From “PoV: A shame to lose Majors should city play hard ball”:

But the Majors provide a summer of cheap entertainment at a facility they’ve called home since 1925 and one wonders if the city would propose such a fee hike for other non-profits.

The baseball team has a two-year deal with the city to use the park for an annual $8,700 flat fee, 20% more than the per-game fee it’s paid in the past…

…Would such a proposal be on the table for any other non-profit?

Fact, or intentionally muddying the waters? Nobody who could intelligently answer the profit status of the team was willing to answer the question on Twitter.

I think I know who wrote it, but I will keep that to myself, no need to point fingers.

So there you have it, without slant, as much as I am capable. My apologies for not editing this post.

The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.
– Blaise Pascal.

Now I’m moving on…

UPDATE:

Thanks to @dereksilva for pointing out a critical line I missed.

…which is in the process of converting to non-profit status…

Yes, I fail at reading sometimes.

(Wow, am I glad I didn’t point fingers.)

This Might Surprise You…

…but I think, just maybe, we should cut Dale Henderson a bit of slack.

Dale has been taking a bit of a beating in social as well as mainstream media as of late over DaleTV and his expense reporting.

Sure, he screwed up. At least he is screwed up while trying to do something.

The videos, website, and equipment cost more than they should have, but he is not an expert in any of this. It’s really not difficult to over spend on technology.

If I were doing the videos for myself or someone I supported the expense would be nearly zero. I am capable of building the site inexpensively (roughly $50/yr), I already own the necessary video equipment and I wouldn’t have bothered with that ridiculous TV studio backdrop or even a green-screen.

I may have purchased the lighting, and I probably would have also bought a good microphone.

Would I do it for free for Dale? Not very likely.

Would I do it for free for a few of the councillors I support and admire? Very possibly.

The follow-up offer to provide the setup to others sounds ridiculous but $150 to transport equipment, assemble the studio, film several takes of a councillor stumbling over their words, and process the video (lets face it, there wasn’t really much editing) actually sounds low. I doubt that’s enough for me to take time away from the other jobs I’m doing.

Yes, some people are saying they would do it for free but you get what you pay for. One notable one filmed a response in their car. For a quick two minute “on the run” update it would be great, not for longer form videos.

I am most disappointed  by the fact Dale shows potential, but displays a complete lack of communication and political savvy. He also doesn’t seem to understand dammage control. I am constantly amazed by his ability to dig the hole deeper.

I almost think he’s doing it on purpose.

Dale needs a handler. Someone who can talk to him, distill all the ideas running through his head, and give him the talking points he needs to get his pont across. Otherwise he will relegate himself to being cannon fodder for the media.

Perpetuating a Myth

What inspired me to collect all those stats and post about the city tax rate was actually hearing a caller on AM980 saying the city has all kinds of money they aren’t telling anyone about.

The conversation took place on The Craig Needles Show.

February 12, 2013

[17:36]

Arn: …most of the houses in the city of London have not had a tax freeze, at all, and more than that the city is getting that revenue.

Craig: Yes, well it’s assessment growth.

Arn: So there is reassessment money that is coming into the city that they just aren’t talking about.

Craig: Yeah, I can understand how its not a freeze, its not the exact same bill that you got the year before and I don’t think that they should imply that it would be.

Arn: No, no don’t call it not the exact same bill, talk about an increase…

Craig: Sure

Arn: …its an increased bill.

Craig: Yeah thats fair.

– Or go listen for yourself. http://www.am980.ca/The-Craig-Needles-Show.aspx

Where this all goes off the rails is Arn’s declaration that there is “reassessment money”, reassessment money is revenue neutral. It is only new assessments (from new building or changing classification i.e. from residential to commercial) that adds to the city’s revenue.

I don’t think it was intentional on Craig’s part to agree to this, he correctly referred to “assessment growth” at first, and to the fact that Arn’s taxes may have increased. He probably just missed the accusation that this created extra money for the city.

I think Arn also has a direct line to the studio, so arguing could end up being a long-term battle.

Property Taxes and Assessment

It amazes me how many people think that reassessment is a goldmine for the city.

It is not.

The city reduces the tax rate every year to counteract the reassessment of the average existing properties.

Want proof?

LdnOnt Taxes PDF

Unless you remember politicians boasting about our 10.4% decrease in property taxes since 2007, I would say that idea is busted.

Still wondering how the city calculates your taxes? Sandy Levin has a good write up over on the Emerging Leaders site that lays out the basics at http://www.emergingleaders.ca/muncipal-taxes-explained/.

 

Could Someone (smarter than me) Check my Math? [Updated]

I am attempting to understand the calculations that are behind our municipal tax rate in an effort to understand the city’s budget process.

Listed below are actual numbers I have gathered from a couple locations.

The home value is my house in White Oaks as assessed by MPAC.

The calculation for 2012 property taxes is from the city’s website. [1]

The 2013 property tax calculation uses a 0% increase, but reduces the municipal share of the tax by 2.48%, the phased in assessment growth.[2]

Could someone please review these numbers and correct any errors I have made in calculation or assumption.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 8.16.48 AM

By my calculations under a proposed tax freeze I will actually be paying $17.99 less next year.

 

 

Update (February 12,2013):

Apparently none of this math matters, and I kind of understand why.

From an email I recived from the city’s finance department this morning “Jason, you cannot calculate exact tax rates simply from the City budget.”

It was explained in the email that there is much more that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to the rate we pay for taxes.

While the city discusses how much we should spend as a whole, the percentages are only a rough projection of the final cost to taxpayers.

Other factors like the education amount which will be lower for 2013 at  0.212% (a number I can’t find online publicly anywhere) and the ratios which set the multi-unit, industrial and commercial rates are still up for discussion/finalization after the budget process is complete. All these factors can alter the final rate we pay for property taxes.

That’s really too bad because I was hoping to build something similar to the calculator Ottawa provides its citizens at http://app06.ottawa.ca/cgi-bin/tax/tax.pl?lang=en, with the ability to enter your own property information and see how the change in budget decisions reflected in your final bill, as opposed to this ‘average homeowner’ we hear about in all media reports.

I think this calculator could be a good tool to further discussion during budget debates.

This is a setback, but I’m not throwing in the towel on this project, not yet.

 

[1] http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/Taxes/Residential/default.htm
[2] Martin Hayward’s report to the Corporate Services Committee January 22, 2013. Schedule C. http://sire.london.ca/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=432&doctype=agenda&itemid=17257

510 Southdale Road East

Proposed for construction is two buildings, one two-story commercial building and one single-story medical clinic building.

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This would require the demolition of the buildings on all three properties at 510, 518 & 526 Southdale Road East.

the plan has been proposed by Dr. Afzal Mohammed the pediatrician who currently operates out of one of the existing buildings.

Check out the illustrations of the proposed building on the city’s website. http://sire.london.ca/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=412&doctype=agenda&itemid=16145

*Disclosure* My son has been seen by Dr. Mohammed as a patient.


More Questions Than Answers

I’m now at the point that the whole Joe Fontana “scandal” is starting to wear on me.

In a vacuum of information from the Mayor himself, rumours and speculation run wild. I completely understand that in light of the serous charges he is faced with, he needs to follow his attorney’s guidance, he needs to protect himself from making matters worse. At least at his press conference he clearly said “I am not guilty”. Four words which would have knocked the wind out of this scandal at its beginning.

In an interview with AM980, Gord Cudmore said (or at least strongly implied) they have an ace up their sleeve. For Joe’s sake, the “Fontana 8”, and the city as a whole, I hope he’s right.

Although he may not be able to disclose what his evidence is, even privately. What worries me most is with this smoking gun to prove his innocence, the Mayor has failed to rally some of his supporters…

…or is that what we are seeing with Denise Brown’s flip-flop decision today at council’s finance committee.

If the Mayor has definitive evidence that he would be found innocent, he should be speaking to his base privately declaring his innocence with our without being able to provide proof. Assuring councillors they wont be left with egg on their face for backing him.

Councillors who have moved for Joe to step aside while he either repairs his good name, or sees it permanently destroyed, are doing so with the backing (or demands) of their constituents. I see no problem with this, they are doing as the constituents they were elected to represent have overwhelmingly endorsed.

Councillors who oppose this motion appear to have gone “all in” in favour of Fontana and his way of conducting business.

Our entire council will be putting their chips on the table during the next council meeting.

Losing even one of his supporters may indicate trouble.