Taming the Agglomeration Monster

2010-11-25

Last year, our Agglomeration taxes went up by a shocking 12% (compared to our local Hampstead tax increase of only 1.6%). The suburban mayors are doing what they can to prevent a repeat this year. Mayor Trent of Westmount and Mayor Tutino of Baie D'Urfé sit on the Finance Commission and were successful in getting it to adopt a guideline that Agglomeration taxes should climb no more than the rate of inflation plus one percent.

For my part, I sit on the Agglomeration Public Security Commission. I was appointed to this body one year ago and it is a very important commission since it is responsible for overseeing the police, fire and civil emergency services. The collective budget of these services is about 40% of the total Agglomeration budget. One of my main goals has been to reduce the out of control budget increases of the past several years, particularly by the SPVM (police).

At the public hearings on the police and fire 2010 budgets last year, I was very vocal in arguing that the proposed police budget with no increase was unrealistic. I pointed out that the police had over shot their budget targets every year for the past several years. I also expressed scepticism that the enormous revenue increases in the budget could be attained.

As I write this, the police and fire budgets for 2011 have not been finalized, but I can assure you that I will again speak out very forcefully at this year's hearings if the budgets do not respect the overall guidelines adopted by the Agglomeration Finance Commission.

Reducing deaths from TASERS

Of course, our commission looks into many dossiers, not just the budget. One very interesting topic was the use of TASERS by the police. Many community groups argued that TASERS are dangerous and should not be used. The police provided statistics that they are safe when used properly.

After a careful analysis of all the available information, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. TASERS have proven to be fatal about one percent of the time.
  2. They are most dangerous when used against people under the influence of drugs and/or with mental disorders.
  3. Over 70% of the time when they are used it is against individuals who are behaving in a bizarre fashion and who are usually under the influence of drugs or have a mental disorder.
  4. In most of these cases, the police officer and bystanders are NOT in danger.

Consequently, I proposed that TASERS should only be used when police officers or bystanders had a realistic expectation of being seriously injured or killed. In all other cases, specially trained mental health workers should be called in. This proposal became the core of the first recommendation of our commission and it has been adopted by the Agglomeration Council. I take great satisfaction in knowing that lives of innocent people will be saved and tragedies averted.


Water main work comes to an end

Some months ago, I read in a local newspaper that a councillor in a demerged suburb was claiming that his town would have rehabilitated about 14% of their water mains by the end of the year and that he thought it was the best record on the island, if not the province. Well... Hampstead has now rehabilitated over 20% of its water mains and this is over 80% of those identified as most in need of repair by the consultants whom we hired.

Two thirds of the cost of the work done this year and last has been financed by grants from the Federal and Quebec governments. We have been very aggressive in seeking these grants and I congratulate our Treasurer, Charles Ohayon, on his success. These repairs and the use of our Watergate system have resulted in a dramatic reduction in damage claims for flooded basements. Watergate is a quickly deployable barrier that stops water from flowing down a driveway where it would flood a basement. We were the first town on the island to use it. Special thanks go to the Public Security officers who deploy the system very quickly, often in knee-deep, freezing water.

Inside the November newsletter, we have a flyer on how we fix water main breaks. You may find it educational, as most of us have no idea of the steps involved. I salute the tireless, hard-working and dedicated men of our water crew who often work long hours in very difficult conditions to get breaks repaired as quickly as possible.


Sincerely,


Dr. Bill Steinberg
Mayor, Town of Hampstead