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Nothing like the past to predict the future

(Published Oct. 31, 2011) It was a fairly benign affair Fort Erie town councillor John Hill hosted to meet with Ward 4 residents of Ridgeway in his “Town Hall” meeting at the Crystal Ridge Library Oct. 27.

About 60 or 70 people were there — many of whom were seen before at council meetings advocating against the Bay Beach condominium.

Former councillors were there — Ann-Marie Noyes, Richard Berry, Tom Lewis and his parents, Bill Brunton. Current councillors Don Lubberts and Paul Collard were also there.

Virginia resident and Crystal Beach cottager Marcia Carlyn, who has spared no internet bandwidth lobbying for Hill — including this “town hall” meeting, was there too.

A small number of people opposed to the decisions Hill has been part of were also there.

Starting on Page 4, you can read most of what he said. All of his opening 12 minute speech plus his answers to questions statements he entertained for the following hour and 15 minutes are printed.

The most important statement that was left out in the coverage was about development charges.

He said Fort Erie’s development charges for industrial and commercial properties are not competitive and they should be reviewed.

In summing up his first year on council, he said, “It has been a learning curve not only for me but in all probability a learning curve for this council. We need to put that behind us and we need to look forward.”

You bet he would like us to forget the past year.

Starting out with his promise during his election campaign for an outside independent review of town operations — a carry-over from Noyes and Berry constantly bleating about that — he wasted no time getting the ball rolling in December.

Before he got past the “learning curve”, before he learned the names of senior staff, even before he disclosed the details (and still hasn’t) of his “management position in the automotive sector”, as he described his 30-year career during the election debate, Hill set about to hire a consultant to review the operations of the town of which he knew nothing about.

His purpose was “to ensure proper use of our tax dollars.”

So he got his way and what did it get us? Zero, or very close to it. The consultant found no areas where tax money is used improperly, the operation is mostly efficient, and there are areas in customer service that could be improved.

Whoop dee doo.

So council decided to end the review. Whether the town is obligated to pay the entire $91,000 for the study is not known.

There is some merit in a review, but it could have waited until he got past his learning curve and saw first-hand how things run.

Instead, he was set upon by a bunch of people who haven’t been able to get their way with the town and, therefore, in their thinking, there must be something wrong. Their answer was to have an independent consultant come in and affirm what they know must be true.

That’s something for the learning curve.

Hill, along with Collard, Lubberts and Bob Steckley, decided in February it would be smart to hire a lawyer to figure out a way to tell the Molinaro Group to shove off and take their $30 million Bay Beach condominium with them.

That was a $20,000 expenditure right out of the tax levy.

And the answer: the town will likely be sued and since about $1 million in planning, design and legal expenses have been poured into the project, the settlement could be pretty steep.

Yet, Hill voted to continue on that path without trying to find a “collaborative solution that will be satisfying to all the objectives of the town and constituents,” as he said he would do in the election debate.

“Ever-increasing taxation is foremost in the minds,” Hill said during the debate. “Particularly affected are seniors who are on a fixed income as I am.”

March rolled around, and what do you know? Seniors on a fixed income are whacked with a 3.2 per cent increase in their total tax bill, fueled by an eight per cent hike in the Fort Erie component.

Surprise, surprise. Talk is cheap.

Along comes April and it’s learned that Hill accepted an election donation of $200 from a Crystal Beach cottage owner who happens to be a U.S. citizen and a resident of Amherst, NY.

It’s against the rules because only residents of Ontario are allowed to contribute to candidates in municipal elections.

He knew the rules. His excuse: “I didn’t pay attention to that part of the cheque.” The part of the cheque he referred to was the part with the donor’s name and address.

Chalk another one up for the learning curve.

Town council sold the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling in May for half what the town needed — and planned to get — to fund the reconstruction of the lighthouse. Selling price was $450,000.

The $1.4 million project was awarded to a firm owned by the person who bought dwelling.

When federal funding is taken into account, the shortfall is $374,000 — money that could have been used to pay for . . . oh, the Kinsmen Pool, perhaps.

Hill wants the benefits of reconstruction of the pool quantified. It would have been nice to quantify the benefit of restoring the lighthouse.

That’s just the first few months. It shows why Hill doesn’t want to dwell on the past. It hasn’t been a very sweet honeymoon — and now it’s over.

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