Thursday, September 30, 2010
(Published by the Daily Gleaner, September 30/10; Heather McLaughlin)
(Fund down/Workers want to pay extra money instead of losing indexing option in their pension funds"
Finance and administration committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien says he's putting on his thinking cap to figure out how to follow up with city workers as they seek to retain indexing of their pension plan.
City hall was jammed with workers - who spilled out into Phoenix Square because there wasn't room in the public gallery of the council chamber at Tuesday's meeting - in a show of opposition to a council resolution to remove the benefit. They received a minimum two-week reprieve on a proposal to de-index all contributions to their pension fund after Jan. 1.
"They did a good job," O'Brien said of the presentation made by city employees, who also brought in their actuarial professional to offer ideas.
The city wants to de-index their pensions - which are adjusted annually to two-thirds of the increase in the cost of living - because of revenue shortfalls in the $175-million pension fund.
In mid-2007, financial markets suffered their worst downturn since the stock market crash of 1929. That's left the pension fund in a $39.4-million deficit position.
O'Brien said in order to restore the pension account to balance over the next 15 years, the city and its employees would have to substantially increase the level of their payments into the fund.
Each party would have to contribute $335,000 in year one, then $680,000 each in year two and $905,000 each in years three through to 15. O'Brien said the total is approximately $13 million each for the employees and the taxpayers. That's a lot of cash for both parties and O'Brien said it would leave city workers paying the highest pension contribution rates in Eastern Canada.
But employees say they want to contribute the money to keep the indexing. Kathy Edwards said the workers feel strongly that without indexing, their pensions will erode over 20 years and the majority of the 753 contributors to the fund aren't in the top earning percentile.
The bulk of city workers are earning $47,500 annually. After 25 years of service, that results in a pension of $22,875, according to figures generated by the employees.
O'Brien said the motion that council approved Tuesday night is a notice of motion. In two weeks time, Coun. Marilyn Kerton will have to introduce a new motion that won't go to first and second reading for another two weeks.
That allows about a month for the city and its workers to talk. Kerton has already stated that she concurs with the recommendation of the city's superannuation board, which suggested that the city and workers each contribute an additional 1.5 per cent of salary in the 2011 budget year.
The performance of the pension fund could be reassessed at that time.
O'Brien said he's talking to city hall staff to clarify the process and timelines, but it's his feeling, since he's also the chairman of the city's superannuation board, that the board should weigh more options.
The finance chairman said he has asked staff to prepare a report for him on the information provided by the employees and render some opinions on the information submitted.
"There was nothing agreed to last night on a process, but obviously the super board is the group that represents the employees and the employer, so obviously we should go back through the super board and look for some more direction on how to proceed," O'Brien said.
"We were pleased that our voices were heard and we hope that we can come up with some acceptable solution that will satisfy both parties in the coming weeks," O'Brien said.
"A long-term solution within a month is likely impossible, but if we can address the current budget situation to the mutual satisfaction of both sides, then we can focus on long-term solutions in 2011.''
O'Brien wasn't surprised at the employee response given how most people view their pensions. "I wasn't surprised by the turn out," he said. "I was very impressed with the calmness and professionalism with which they presented ... I'd like to compliment them on that."
O'Brien had suggested that employees could set aside extra funds toward retirement through RRSP contributions, but Edwards said not all employees have room to do that because they have maxed out their retirement contributions through their group plan.
Some employees are paying between $400 and $500 a month toward their pensions. "We pay a lot for that pension; it's not a gift," Edwards said. "We're not asking for any additional taxpayer money to be drawn out in blood."
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Move to change Queen Street shelved ... for now
(excerpts from article by Heather McLaughlin, Daily Gleaner, September 29, 20100
Queen Street won't be changing directions any time soon.
City councillors have decided to heed the fears of the downtown business community and hold off converting the section between Regent and St. John streets from one way to two way.
The city planned to remove parking on both sides of Queen and make it four lanes: a dedicated turning lane onto St. Anne Point Boulevard for traffic heading to the Westmorland Street Bridge; two through lanes meeting up with the two one-way lanes westbound on Queen; and a turning lane onto Regent Street.
Downtown Fredericton Inc. and business owners pleaded with council to temporarily shelve the traffic plan, arguing it puts vehicles ahead of promoting the ambiance of the downtown and encouraging people to slow down, park and shop.
The business owners said removing parking from the lower end of Regent Street between King and Queen streets has increased traffic speed.
The city's traffic consultant, Don Good of ADI Ltd., and its own traffic engineering staff countered that the reconfiguration of the street system is essential in making the traffic flows around the new downtown east-end convention centre complex move properly.
Councillors voted 10 to two in favour of keeping the traffic status quo, at least for the short term.
"I do think the business community has done a good job of representing some of the reasons why we should maybe take a second to consider what the implications are," said Coun. Jordan Graham. "Traffic is an important consideration, but we have to look at more than that, particularly the implications of downtown parking."
Coun. Mike O'Brien said he doesn't doubt that traffic issues may develop, but there's no harm in a delay.
"The worst case in a delay is that the need for changes are identified and we have to put some paint and signs up in a year or two," he said.
Marysville Coun. Steven Hicks and Coun. Scott McConaghy said that given the city's financial investment in the downtown convention centre, they should heed the advice of traffic experts and make the project as successful as possible.
Mayor Brad Woodside said the motion to reconsider the resolution to make the traffic change and table it isn't a guarantee that the street changes won't happen. Woodside made it clear that if the traffic situation becomes unworkable, the city will have to intervene.
Councillors didn't specify a time frame for leaving Queen Street as is. Downtown Fredericton Inc. had suggested a two-year moratorium.
To read the entire article, click on the following link:
Pension tension | Workers jam city hall meeting
"This is affecting all city staff across the board and their families long term," employee spokeswoman Kathy Edwards, sergeant-at-arms for CUPE Union 3864, told city councillors. "It's very important to us."
The union's president, Wade Kierstead, and an actuarial consultant, Paul Duxbury, also made presentations, suggesting a sober second look at how to preserve indexation in the pension fund for the 753 current contributors.
The pension fund is facing a $39.4-million paper loss due to the market downturn in mid-2007. Due to provincial legislation, the city has to account annually for the unfunded liability and create a plan to rebalance the fund's assets within 15 years.
But Duxbury said financial markets are rebounding. The pension fund had a gain of nine per cent over the first year and he urged council to wait for the newest valuation of its fund due to be provided by the end of 2010.
After the employees made a detailed presentation to council, Council introduced a notice of motion for Oct. 12 to reconsider the Sept. 13 resolution of council removing the indexation of pensions.
The employee representatives said they want to work to find solutions without de-indexing.
"We would absolutely be willing to sit down with our superannuation board representatives and anyone from council that's interested in trying to find other alternatives," Edwards said.
Kierstead said the average city employee will have a pension of just under $23,000 after 25 years of service.
But the city's finance and administration committee chairman, Coun. Mike O'Brien, said it would be too costly to keep increasing employee and employer contributions to the pension fund.
City council is balking at paying $167,500 in its 2011 budget with employees matching that same contribution level to retain the indexing provision.
O'Brien has said as much as $905,000 per year each - by employees and the city - might be required to eliminate the pension deficit over 15 years..
But Edwards said that's not taking into account how and when the financial markets will rebound and that it's unlikely that it will cost $905,000 annually.
"Don't overreact to a bump in the road," Edwards said.
With the average city employee earning $47,500 annually, unless the pension remains indexed, workers will lose buying power.
The city's pension fund is indexed to two-thirds of the increase in the annual cost of living. The spouse of a deceased pensioner is entitled to 60 per cent of the pension.
Rank-and-file workers are suggesting that council rescind the last amendment made to the fund which raised the maximum pensions for 35 employees earning more than $86,000 and reintroduce that as the markets continue to improve.
To read the entire article, lick on
Monday, September 27, 2010
16 locations | Chance to see different side of famous local landmarks
Some of Fredericton's most interesting buildings threw open their doors Sunday and invited local residents and visitors to peek behind the curtains at places such as The Playhouse or the city's new water treatment plant.
The effort was part of the city's fourth annual Doors Open event.
Tours were held between 1-4 p.m. in the following locations: city hall, the Lighthouse on the Green, the Northside Fire Station and Training Complex, the York Street Fire Station, the E. John Bliss Water Treatment Plant, The Playhouse, and at an Astral Media radio station.
Visitors were also given the chance to visit the following sites on the University of New Brunswick campus: Sir Howard Douglas Hall, the William Brydone Jack Observatory, McCord Hall/Ice House, Memorial Hall and the Provincial Archives.
Others visited some of the city's historic churches, such as the Brunswick Street Baptist Church, St. Paul's United Church, the Wilmot United Church and St. Dunstan's Church.
Participants strolled down city sidewalks with family and friends, cameras slung around their necks.
Janet LeBlanc, who was in town visiting friends, said she's been to The Playhouse many times, but it's always fun to see what's going on backstage.
"We usually only see what's happening on the stage, but it was nice to check out the rehearsal room and to learn a bit more about this place," she said.
"We enjoy this sort of thing, walking around and checking out what's going on downtown."
Jill Scaplen, marketing director for The Playhouse, said it was a chance for visitors to see behind the curtain.
"We're giving them some history on The Playhouse, taking them on a tour of the facility - at least as much as we can, since (Theatre New Brunswick) is loading in their first show of the main-stage season," she said.
"We're very excited about that and it gives these visitors a wonderful opportunity to see how a professional show is assembled before the curtains part."
Lauren Arnold, a counsellor at city hall's visitor information centre, said lots of interested people toured the council chambers and viewed the city's historic tapestries.
"It's been a lot busier than an average day at this time of the year," she said.
"We've done quite a few tapestry tours. They take about half an hour and every time one of us finishes a tour, the other (information officer) is ready to go back up with a new group of people."
She said people from around the world have been taking advantage of the Doors Open event.
"We've had some locals coming through, but there have been a lot of tourists around," she said.
"We've had tourists visiting from different parts of the world - like people from Europe, Australia and so many other places."
Mayor Brad Woodside said it was a chance for people to see the public building in a different way, and to learn about the significance of the city's tapestries - woven by Dr. Ivan Crowell as part of Fredericton's bicentennial celebrations in 1985.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
City Begins Multi-Year Project to Restore City Hall Exterior and Grounds
Fredericton (September 13, 2010) – City Hall, a 134-year old brick and stone, iconic Fredericton landmark is starting to show its age and will be getting a facelift.
City Council today awarded an $86,252 contract to begin restoration work to Jones Masonry Ltd. The Harvey, N.B. company was the lowest bidder on the first phase of an expected three or four year project that will begin with work on the northern side or rear of City Hall.
Inspections of the exterior of City Hall by Halifax, N.S. company Masontech Inc., and PJ Materials Consultants Ltd, from Guelph, Ontario confirmed the building’s brick and sandstone masonry is deteriorating and in need of repair.
“The experts said the repairs should be carried out as soon as possible to prevent further accelerated deterioration,” said Mayor Brad Woodside. “This will be a three or four-year project that will be done in phases and the first phase will be completed this year.”
Jones Masonry specializes in restoring historic buildings and will be using complementary historic techniques in its repair work to maintain the historic nature of the building. The company is currently renovating the Provincial Legislative Building and voluntarily repaired broken granite cross on the New Brunswick Provincial Cenotaph in Fredericton last year. Future phases of work will be tendered separately.
Work in the first phase includes:
- cutting out selected joints and installing stainless steel reinforcing rods; cutting out sandstone building trim joints and sealing them with a special joint sealant
- cutting out and replacing mortar previously used with a heritage repair mortar
- cutting out and repointing cracked and deteriorated mortared joints of the primary brick masonry and the ashlar coursed sandstone masonry units within the foundation wall using a heritage repointing mortar
- chasing cracked brick and building trim units and repairing them using a heritage repair mortar; installing stainless steel masonry ties across cracked sections of brick and/or stone masonry
- tooling damaged building trim units to remove loosely attached fragments and restore a uniform appearance to blend with the adjacent material, and
- cutting out the caulking within all window frame perimeter joints at their junctions with the masonry, repairing deteriorated woodwork, re-glazing cracked or broken glass, preparing and repainting window woodwork and caulking window frame perimeter joints using an elastomeric joint sealant.
The City will be applying for federal government funding through Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites Cost-Sharing Program to help defray some of the cost of the estimated $1-million restoration project. Fredericton City Hall, the Maritime’s oldest City Hall still in continuous use, was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Work Progressing on Fredericton’s First Roundabout; Public Education Campaign Planned
Fredericton (September 16, 2010) – Members of the City’s Transportation Committee received a construction update about Fredericton’s first roundabout at their regular monthly meeting. They were also shown the signage that will be used to identify roundabouts and got an overview of the public education campaign being planned for the motoring public.
“Roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool,” said Coun. Bruce Grandy, Chair of the City’s Transportation Committee. “It is important that we take the time to educate the public about their use and value.”
It is expected the City’s new roundabout, to be located at the intersection of Brookside Drive / Reynolds Street / West Hill Crossing will be open by the first week of October. Roadwork on the intersection and a stretch of Brookside Drive to Summerhill Row continues.
There are three types of signs that motorists will see when approaching roundabouts. The first is a roundabout ahead warning sign. This yellow, diamond shaped sign features a circle of three arrows. At the entry to the roundabout, motorists will find a typical yield sign, with a roundabout symbol in the centre. The final sign is yellow rectangular sign with directional black arrows.
As part of the introduction of roundabouts, a public education campaign is planned around the theme “Fredericton is taking a turn in the right direction.” Efforts will include a public information session about roundabouts at the Brookside Mall on Thursday, September 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., where staff be available to talk about using roundabouts. An information display will remain in place at the mall until the Brookside roundabout opens.
Information has also been posted to the City of Fredericton web site. Find out more about roundabouts, see videos on using roundabouts, and read the frequently asked questions about roundabouts, by visiting www.fredericton.ca and looking for the roundabout link. In addition, the City will use radio, newspaper, and bus advertising to make motorists aware of roundabouts.
Roundabouts are circular intersections. They are a safe, efficient and greener way of moving traffic. Motorists simply yield on entry into a roundabout. Traffic in the roundabout has the right of way. With less points of conflict, accidents in roundabouts are greatly reduced, and since there are less delays and traffic line-ups, fuel consumption and air pollution are reduced.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Urban Art Event To Be Held During the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival
Urban artists from all over the Maritimes are coming to Fredericton to participate in a unique demonstration of their work for two days during the upcoming Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival.
Temporary walls will be set up along Queen Street on Friday, September 17 and Saturday, September 18 where these artists will demonstrate their art for thousands of Festival goers.
“The goal of this project is the promotion of more appropriate forums for the expression of urban art,” said Fredericton Police Cst. Dennis Van Ember who chairs the Urban Art Demonstration organizing committee. “A free urban art wall will also be set up where local youth will be encouraged to work alongside these artists,”
The urban art event is the work of a committee that includes business owners, the art community, social services agencies, and the Fredericton Police Force. Supplies for this event are being provided by sponsors Kent Building Supplies and Endeavors Art Supplies.
“We are really excited about giving youth in our community an inclusive opportunity to express themselves in this way,” said Cst. Van Ember. “By providing this fun and unique outlet for creativity, we hope to discourage future acts of vandalism throughout the city.”
The panels, when completed, will be placed at venues throughout the city for public viewing.
“City Council has made a commitment to sustainability by encouraging alternative forms of transportation, said Mayor Brad Woodside. “There’s no better time to take advantage of this safe and environmentally friendly way to travel than Free Transit Day.”
This is the third straight year the City has offered a Free Transit Day. Once again this year it has been scheduled to work in tandem with the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival’s green plan, which includes its own Park and Ride program. The festival is expected to attract thousands of music fans to the downtown core and taking the bus is a safe, smart option, said Mayor Woodside.
“Try out our transit system and see how easy it can be to travel anywhere in the City,” he said. “Leave your vehicle home and we’ll get you to the festival, to work, to school or anywhere else in the City.”
Fredericton Transit operates 28 buses on nine routes, Monday to Saturday, 6:15 a.m. until 11 p.m., providing safe, affordable transportation.
The City's transit system, like others in the country, is designed to transport people from area to area, not door to door. The goal is to have buses travel along interconnected routes, moving passengers between residential and commercial areas of the city. In an effort to maintain a balance between municipal subsidy and transit fees, the goal is a 35-45 per cent cost recovery from users of the service.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
The Main Street "Stone Bridge"
Everyone living in Fredericton North knows of the "stone bridge" which spans the Nashwaaksis Stream at the intersection of Main Street, Sunset Drive and the Royal Road. But, most do not know its history.
The existence of a small wooden bridge in the mid 1800's is noted in the history books. At the time, there was a large gristmill owned by the Thompson gamily, and that "Y" junction of the aforementioned three roads was known as "Thompson's Mill". In 1895, the original wooden bridge was pronounced inadequate for the traffic that went over it. In the spring of 1895, tenders were called for a new bridge. The structure was to be two spans in length one of which would be covered, a great improvement over the existing bridge which like the one today was wide open to the weather. Why these bridges were covered is hard to tell, but it seems logical to assume that the covering served as a shelter against the weather, which could cause the wooden bridge to deteriorate.
The Nashwaaksis Bridge was opened in the summer of 1895. But something was missing, and that was a sidewalk for people on foot. It would be hard for anyone to walk, especially ladies in long trailing skirts, in the wake of the horse drawn carts and their trail of dung. It was 35 years later that the Province finally listened to the petitions of Nashwaaksis people and they got their sidewalk. On May 21, 1930, it was finally built on the "downstream" side of the bridge. There is an interesting fact about the bridge and the sidewalk. In 1895 it cost the Province $1,600 to build the bridge. In 1930 it cost $550 just to build the sidewalk. Inflation was rearing its ugly head even in those days!
The Nashwaaksis Bridge withstood many freshets and ice jams in the following years, but the year 1936 saw its demise. In the great floods and heavy ice that took out the railway bridge at Fredericton, the swollen Nashwaaksis overwhelmed the little bridge and swept it away. This was a real disaster, for the Nashwaaksis Covered Bridge was a very important link between the people upriver and the City of Fredericton. In those days, there were no bridges crossing the St. John River until one reached Woodstock. As soon as the floods subsided, immediate steps were taken by the province to replace it. A temporary bridge was put in place, somewhat lower than the original, to allow traffic to continue on its way. The next year, 1937, saw the building of the present lovely Stone Bridge, fortunately with an allowance for a sidewalk on the "down stream" side.
The sidewalk may have been adequate at the time, but not for long. It was very narrow, and pedestrians found themselves literally inches from the nearby passing motor vehicles. The present day "arched' sidewalk on the "upstream" side was constructed in the early 1990's.
This structure served as a hangout for my age group in the early 1970's. It was the height of "coolness" to sit on the side of bridge facing towards all of the nearby passing cars. This however soon became passé as we moved on to other locales, and the younger teenagers abandoned the bridge to hang out in the nearby Royal Road Park.
So there you have it, the history of our charming bridge. It may not be as storied as the Brooklyn or Golden Gate Bridges, but it's ours!
Thursday, September 02, 2010
(Editorial published by The Daily Gleaner, September 01/10)
Repairing and upgrading existing city infrastructure makes sense.
To echo the words of Coun. Scott McConaghy, we're ensuring that the house isn't going to fall down.
That should be the primary concern of the municipality as it moves ahead with a policy on how to start dealing with the repair and regular replacement of capital infrastructure between now and 2030.
At their first budget planning session earlier this week, councillors voted to continue with a 20-year plan to repair and upgrade 90 per cent of the city's facilities and services and spend 10 per cent on new projects based on an annual five per cent increase in the capital budget.
It's an approach that doesn't exactly grab the imagination of everyone but we think it's a sound move. This is particularly true, considering Canada's 4,000 municipal governments are realizing they can't continue to spend only on new roads, streets and services, without setting aside adequate funds to do capital repairs to existing systems.
Finance and administration committee chairman Coun. Mike O'Brien said he is comfortable with the city striking a reasonably aggressive approach to ensuring that the investment of taxpayers in existing infrastructure is maintained.
The finance committee chairman said rather than tax hikes, part of the budget process is going to look at efficiencies, reduced service levels in some areas, and trimming budgets in order to hold the tax levels.
Twenty years ago, council opted to eliminate the city's long-term debt and incorporate capital spending into the general fund budget, which was known as the pay-as-you-go program.
Coun. O'Brien said by focusing so much on eliminating debt, the trade-off was that councils over the past 10 years weren't as focused on renewing and repairing the inventory of pipes in the ground, streets, curbs and sidewalks.
We agree with Coun. O'Brien that it's up to the city to take a tough policy stand to complete capital projects it's in the midst of because of the essential role they play in the growth of our city.
But the decision to continue with the 20-year plan does dredge up some concerns and we believe they deserve to be looked at. In 2010, the city decided to increase its capital spending by four per cent to start renewing existing services.
At issue is flexibility and how that may translate into the ability or inability to make future decisions. Deputy mayor Keenan said he doesn't want to be locked into spending 90 per cent on existing infrastructure. "There may be certain years when we want to invest more of our capital dollars in new infrastructure and less in existing and another year when we make it up," Deputy mayor Keenan said. "I'm just a little concerned that this will bind councils going forward to staying within an established percentage, which reduces flexibility."
Deputy mayor Keenan has a point and it's certainly something to keep in mind as the years unfold. We are hopeful that, as this policy moves forward and is further defined, there will be room for flexibility so that such concerns can be addressed and adjustments made, should the situation warrant further examination.
But, we still believe the 20-year plan is the way to move forward. We agree with Coun. Steven Hicks that residents will reap the rewards of having reinvested in infrastructure renewal in 20 years. It's better to fix, repair and upgrade each year than be faced with having to replace the entire house once it has fallen to the ground.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Councillor Mike O'Brien's Interview on CBC Radio 99.5, August 31/10
Following is the link to the CBC Radio 99.5 podcast of my interview with host Terry Sequin
(excerpts from an article published by The Daily Gleaner, September 01/10)
Twenty new Canadians, 11 from South Korea, took their oath of citizenship in both official languages at a ceremony at the Wu Conference Centre on Tuesday.
A citizenship swearing-in ceremony, involving 20 new Canadians from eight countries, took place in Fredericton on Tuesday at the Wu Conference Centre at UNB. Above Kiae Kwon, from South Korea, right, smiles as she recites the oath of citizenship with her husband Kwichul Ryoo, at left.
A beaming Kiae Kwon was excited to receive her citizenship certificate along with her husband, Kwichel Ryoo, and their sons Kwan, 18 and Jin, 14. "I feel great and trembling inside. I think I have 10 butterflies in my belly," said Kiae Kwon.
The family looked forward to this day since arriving here from Seoul seven years ago. "So it's a very special day," said Kwan Ryoo, a Concordia University student who drove from Montreal to be with his family for the ceremony. His father, Kwichel Ryoo, called the day "a turning point in my life."
"We got a lot of things from the new country and we will try to pay back," he said.
The 20 new Canadians come from eight countries: China, Cuba, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Zimbabwe and South Korea. Many of them are already well integrated into the community. The Ryoos and Kwons run a downtown coffee shop and Kwichel Ryoo works in real estate.
Anna Kim runs a convenience store/gas bar in Oromocto. The new Canadians from Zimbabwe, Richard and Vivienne Linette, recently opened a seniors' retirement home in Woodstock.