Conservative Views: In Search of…Financial Accountability

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speed sign-webby Calli Stromner

It is well-understood that contractors typically charge for their services. They are not volunteers; they are businesspeople who take on a certain amount of risk for the potential to generate an income for themselves and, in a good year, a profit.

So when the owner of Independent Traffic Services (ITS) suggested (during the Open House held March 26) that photo enforcement services provided to the Town of Morinville were done so “without cost to the municipality”, it sparked some skepticism…from the curious citizens who gathered around owner Bruce Kaminski and from a certain Morinville News correspondent.

During that March 26 Open House, Kaminski did indicate his company received a fee for this service, but that he couldn’t disclose what that fee was because, as he stated “the fee structure is protected under FOIP (the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act).” He explained that even though municipalities are obligated to provide full accountability and transparency in their financial accounting, his contract was exempt because his “fee structure was proprietary information protected under FOIP.”

In Kaminski’s explanation, he said that if other photo enforcement service providers knew what his fee structure was, he would no longer have a competitive advantage. Really.

As fate would have it, Council’s acceptance of the 2013 Audited Financial Statements on April 8, provided a little more insight into what those contracted services could cost. Whether a fee structure can really be considered proprietary information is a moot point. Taxpayers have a right to know what their municipality is spending on contracted services. Period.

Financial Services Director Andy Isbister told Council that the net revenue from photo enforcement tickets in 2013 equalled $267,000. The 4th Quarter Report (also accepted by Council on April 8) indicated that ITS issued 5,049 tickets in 2013. A quick look at the Specified Penalty Listing for the Traffic Safety Act indicates that speeding penalties range from $78 for 10 kph over the posted speed limit all the way up to $351 for 50 kph over the posted limit.

For illustrative purposes, let’s say the average photo radar ticket is a conservative $129. Multiply that by the number of tickets issued (5,049) and subtract the net revenue ($267,000) and the 27 per cent the province takes to pay for court services and the calculated fee for ITS might be $208,464 for 2013. Not bad for a company providing 35 hours of enforcement time per week. That works out to $114 per hour.

Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations estimated that hiring an additional Community Peace Officer would cost about $100,000 per year in pay, benefits and equipment. A savings of $108,464 over the ITS fee calculated by this skeptical Morinville News correspondent. And that may be worth Council’s consideration when the ITS contract expires at the end of April 2014, regardless of how the April 14 plebiscite vote turns out.

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14 Comments

  1. And once again, Calli hits the nail right square on the head with her column.

    However, this information is definitely NOT new… the same (or similar) numbers have been presented to Council AND Administration in the past, via presentations made and/or submitted to Council by people such as Linda Lyons, Sean Strang and Paul O’Dea. As usual, since such revelations did not emanate from the all-wise mouths of our Administration, they were pooh-poohed, downplayed or outright ignored.

    Unfortunately, this new Council seems incapable of changing Administration’s absolute running of this show. Some of them talk the talk, but have yet to walk the walk, while most of them merely bush-sit, waiting for direction from the Mayor and the CAO.

    Calli, if you think these folks will even CONSIDER the action you’ve suggested in your final sentences, forget about it – the idea didn’t originate from them, remember?

    Council, prove me wrong, but NOT In-Camera – PLEASE!!

    Have a nice day folks, and don’t forget to vote YES on the 14th.

  2. Calli, Great Job, thank you for this information. Not all of us have the time to commit to digging up this type of data. I sure do appreciate you doing it for us. I tell you this whole family will be voting “YES”!!!

  3. His fee structure is protected under FOIP? Sure it is. Because why would taxpayers want to know what their government is paying this company? And this is the type of corporate ethics people want policing the streets of Morinville. Stunning.

  4. Very interesting analysis Calli, thank you.

    I guess the question comes down to whether a person would rather have a random guy in an unmarked van watching out for the safety of your kids, or a trained uniformed officer who is accountable to the town.

    It’s an easy choice for me, 35 hours of officer protection is FAR better for my kids than 35 hours of photo radar enforcement.

  5. It sounds in this Opinion column like $208’464 is a fee paid by the town- but we all know that the cost is $0 to have ITS in Morinville.
    That number comes from tickets issued and is clearly well below the 50% mark so far as percent of ticket going to ITS is concerned.
    Plus they pay all operating costs- salaries, equipment, speed warning signs, etc.

    These numbers are only guesses anyhow.

    The less Morinville speeds, the less every party involved in the sharing of ticket revenue makes- and every year they all are making less because the program has and continues to deter many from speeding!

    • I believe you really are missing the point, Phil.

      Please re-read Calli’s article, then read the following article (also in today’s edition:

      http://morinvillenews.com/2014/04/09/morinville-council-briefs-april-8-2014/

      In the report given during last night’s Council meeting it seems to be pretty clear that “ticket sales” are NOT going down:

      “– Morinville’s photo enforcement program issued 963 tickets from October to December for a total of 5,049 photo enforcement tickets in 2013 (compared to 3,146 in 2012).”

      Quite clearly there’s even MORE money to be made if we really want to.

      The cost is NOT $0 to have ITS in Morinville, the cost is what ITS makes as their share of ticket revenue – THAT money (as well as Morinville’s share) could be coming to the Town. So – if photo radar is here to stay, as you so obviously desire, then why not get REALLY greedy, rid ourselves of the pestilence known as ITS and take ALL the proceeds for ourselves. Maybe THAT way we could have enough cash for a multi-million $$$, all-singing, all-dancing recreational facility.

      Or we could take Calli’s approach, put a little sanity into an otherwise highly emotional issue and get serious about the SAFETY factor (remember that word??) and put “boots on the ground” in the form of REAL police and Community Peace Officers.

      Have a nice day…

  6. Great article Calli, unfortunately, $114 an hour can easily be justified by a business owner offering a service. When you take overhead into account, this number can be drastically reduced. We all know what we pay our mechanic an hour when we get work done to our cars. So I’m sure that the pencil pushers in town hall will be all over this to justify using ITS as a contractor and that his practices are not as underhanded as we make them out to be.

    I think we all know that interpretation of data can be taken many ways, fortunately for those of us who will be voting yes to the proposed By law, the pencil pushers will focus on the $114 an hour figure to draw our attention away from some of the other information you gave us in your article. With this, I’ll bring out some points that will be harder to argue without disclosing the actual contract that the town has with ITS.

    Ok, so as indicated, ITS does collect a fee, how much, cannot be disclosed because of FOIP concerns. However, using your calculated data, and some conservative estimates on the minimum charge for a break even cost to the contractor, I have come up with the following:
    Vehicles: He has been observed using 3 separate vehicles which I will give an average cost of $35000 each, total value $105,000, chargeable yearly depreciation, about $20,000
    Enforcement equipment (cannot find any prices on cameras but did fin a $2000 price tag for a lazar gun, so will give a benefit of doubt estimate of equipment cost to be $50,000) with a yearly depreciation of $10,000
    Manpower costs: Administrative costs $10,000 and Operator cost $40,000 (based on $20 per hour)
    Vehicle usage based on 15,000 kilometers @ .45 per kilometer, $6750
    $86750 would be the cost of general expenses per year
    I will also add a $25000 allowance for miscellaneous expenses (court costs and equipment calibration to fall in this category) to bring the total break even cost to about $101,000, adding 10% on for profit and we get a fee of $112,000 as his minimum fee. Using these figures, I can then calculate his percentage commission to be around 15% of gross total for tickets issued.

    With this being said, nothing is free, and when driver start to slow down as the town tells us they will, the town will have to start paying the contractor part if not all of the $112,000 fee. Hiding the cost of the contractor in the bubble of revenue generated from this operation is not fooling anyone. For the town to prove my calculations wrong, they will have to be more transparent.

  7. First off, the town administration is in “terror info” mode meaning that they are attempting to scare the residents into voting to keep photo radar by threatening that taxes will sky rocket if photo radar is quashed. Remember, photo radar was originally brought in to Morinville strictly to pay for the new community center not for safety concerns! Secondly, I have noticed that the town has created a new “transition zone speed change” on Hwy 642 at the east exit of town where the increase in speed has been lowered from the original 50 KPH to 100 KPH, it is now 50 KPH to 70 KPH to 100 KPH. This must have been done in conjunction with Sturgeon County as, I believe, everything east of boundary road is Sturgeons. Apparently, Sturgeon County is now jumping on the band wagon in helping to create new speed zones that are utterly ridiculuos! But at least they have peace officers who hand out fines (and demerits)! I have NEVER seen any activity at that location that would justify this change in speed pattern other than it is the perfect spot to set up a money making speed trap! Also, I saw no notification given of this change through signage or notices in the local papers, just one morning, the workers changed the signs and that was that! Poor way to do business, if you ask me! But in this town it’s the status quo!

  8. In addition to my previous comment (I would have added this within my last comment, but it was getting pretty lengthy), I think we may have made a villain out of the wrong party. If my calculations are correct, it does look like a fair and just contract for the contractor. He is in fact conducting the service he was contracted to perform. The puzzling question to me is why, if my calculations are correct, they are being so secretive about this contract. I can understand the contractor wanting to keep it under wraps to keep his competition from underbidding him, but as a citizen of this community, I should have the right to view any contract my municipal government has made on my behalf, in short, a contract with the town is a contract with me. Then, why doesn’t the town want me to see the contract. Well, if my calculations are correct, the town would have to issue 1500 photo enforcement tickets at a total value of $193000, just to break even. Anything less then that and the program costs tax payer’s money to keep in force. I don’t think that this will sit very well with the tax payer to know that at any cost, photo enforcement must issue at least that many tickets. This shows all to well that town administration does not want people to slow down. I think this goes to show that the biggest lie I’ve been told so far is that Photo Enforcement is free. The actual cost is just being hidden in creative bookkeeping. It is for this reason among others that my vote will be yes for the proposed Bylaw 1/2014. I do not like being lied to.

    • Beautifully said Rick…

      YOU DONE BROKE THE CODE!!!

      Exactly what some of us have been on about for the past three years. And it’s not only on THIS issue either. Now, if only our Mayor and her Councillors could figure this out, we just MIGHT be on to something!!

      Isn’t it a rather sad commentary on our society when, apparently, we must rely on lawbreakers to provide funding for the niceties in our community? Incredible!

      Wonder when the administrative review is to take place and, more importantly – WHO gets to choose the auditors??

  9. I have worked around Federal and Provincial contractors for over thirty years and I have never heard of this BS about not disclosing his fee for this contract! Definitely, when the contractors are submitting their bids, everything should and will be sealed confidential but once the contract is awarded, every part of that contract should be made available for public scrutiny (unless it is a matter of National Security!) which I am pretty sure it is NOT! This is to encourage openess and fairness in public contracts!

    • “Openness ” and Transparency”… what novel concepts, eh?

      Obviously our Mayor, Councillors and Administration have either never heard the terms, or are choosing to ignore their meaning!

  10. Thank you James, and I agree, it is a sad state of affairs when a community calculates in their budget $750,000 worth of revenue from fines and penalties, very close to the amount we pay every year for the culture centre. In my honest opinion, for a safe and happy community we should be setting goals to bring that figure down, and not including it as a projected income. Any money brought into our community in this manner should be treated as bonus income and not depended on. I still remember the controversy one Catholic Bishop caused when he told the Catholic School board that they could no longer raise funds at casinos or any other gambling sponsored event. The biggest question I heard then is the same question I hear from the town, how are we going to survive without these funds. Simplest answer, don’t get addicted to them in the first place. Morality over greed any day.

  11. The reason you aren’t receiving the contract details from ITS or Morinville is because the contract is a commission per ticket.

    For profit policing has a completely different connotation than a simple fee for service, be it annual or hourly.

    Allowing your private contractor to choose where to generate tickets, when he gets paid per ticket is outrageous and does not increase safety, it only pads the pockets of the contractor and town.

    Removing photo radar will help all Morinville residents. Morinville is an extremely safe community from a traffic safety perspective. And what safety issues exist, are not speed related. If Morinville were to hire a new Peace Officer, that Officer could focus on the actual safety concerns including, distracted driving, suspended driving, and driving without insurance. The no insurance tickets are well over $2,000 and justifiably so, as driving without insurance is extremely dangerous for other motorists.

    During spring road bans, the officer would likely pay off his salary in less than a week due to road ban tickets, which go directly to the municipality to pay for pavement damage caused by overweight vehicles.

    I look forward to seeing Morinville voters soundly reject predatory policing by photo radar on Monday.

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