New City Measures Just Cash Cows: BENN

 

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Money interests Ottawa City Hall, not effectiveness.

What gets measured gets managed. That’s an old business adage appropriate at city hall.

Red light cameras. Speed control cameras. Both of these initiatives were instituted, city hall told us, to enhance safety. To encourage a change in behaviour by vehicle drivers. Run a red light at a specified intersection. Wait for a ticket in the mail. Exceed the speed limit in a specified zone, typically around elementary schools. Wait for a ticket in the mail.


Fair enough. Except what gets reported by city hall are not the number of infractions. Not the change in infractions. Not the most meaningful measure, notably same site volumes over time. No, it is the revenue generated from the tickets issued.  What city hall is measuring is the revenue from these safety initiatives, not the results of changing driver habits.

Get Your Act Together City Hall: PATTON

Garbage. We were advised by staff that about 15 per cent of the households the city serves placed more than two bags at the curb periodically. Staff recommended an extra bag tag “solution”. It was implied that this would be an incentive to the relatively small number of households at issue to reduce the amount of garbage that they place at the curb. What did staff estimate to be the impact on the volume of trash generated by these households? If it were mentioned at all, it must have been in the small print, buried deep inside the report.

What they did stress was the several million dollars of new revenue the proposal would generate. Which, it turns out, was likely to be less than the cost to administer the program. Much to the surprise of staff (and your agent), council did not approve the recommendation.

The vacant unit tax. It was acknowledged by staff that the estimated number of units would be low, between one and two per cent. This estimate was based on the results of other cities in Canada. Staff was caught by surprise when the first year’s results were more than double expectations.

Did they modify, in a meaningful way, how they collected the data to ensure they were only capturing units that were actually vacant? No. Could it be that they were more captivated by the much higher than expected new revenue stream than on getting the process right?

The pattern that emerges from this quick review is that what is being measured is revenue. Not whether the stated goals of the programs are achieved. To encourage safer driving habits. To reduce landfill usage. To encourage residential property owners to put their units back into the housing market. What is quite clear is that what staff and council are measuring is what they are managing. New revenues. Period. Full stop.

Ron Benn, a finance executive, has been a member of the Centrepointe Community Association for the better part of three decades.

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1 Response

  1. Bruce says:

    Where is the cost reduction to those taxpayers who put our a lesser amount of trash? Those who reuse glass jars? who compost at home? who do not buy packaged meats but visit a butcher shop and fresh produce location or grow their own? Those who put out for collection once a month or less?

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