COLUMN: Common sense again put to the test

I’m beginning to believe that every now and then, all the senior bureaucrats in the City of Abbotsford ...

I’m beginning to believe that every now and then, all the senior bureaucrats in the City of Abbotsford sit around a conference table to decide “How can we piss off the taxpayers, and make ourselves look stupid at the same time?”

From the letter just received by property owners in the “rural uplands area,” it seems head of engineering Jim Gordon pulled the short straw this time.

According to his letter, this latest directive in abrogation of municipal responsibility applies to everyone who owns property outside the downtown core or on the flat farmlands of Sumas and Matsqui Prairies.

About three years ago, council decided that people who live on the highlands within the city should pay a drainage tax. The citizenry of those areas logically protested the taxation proposal – their lands naturally drained from the upland slopes – and council wisely dropped the ‘revenue-generating without having to do anything’ plan.

The city’s engineering department, it appears, has now decided to whack all those folks who pointed out the ridiculousness of a “drainage tax” on mountain slopes, by refusing to clean out roadside ditches. Not that there has been, to my knowledge, an outcry to clean ditches. But not willing to leave things well enough alone, I’m sure the bureaucrats decided at one of the aforementioned ‘meetings’ it was time to spank us for not going along with another of their cash-grabs.

The letter sent out begins, “It is the property owner’s responsibility to maintain drainage systems in rural upland areas ….” and goes on to point out that these “systems” refer to roadside ditches, “generally located on city road allowance.”

Earth to engineering . . . they are your ditches! It is up to the city to maintain them, yet the letter goes on to declare that if a property owner does decide to undertake the cost of cleaning out the neighbourhood ditch, you’ll first need a permit (at a cost I would assume). And if you don’t do it, the city will – and “complete the drainage maintenance at the owner’s expense.” So, despite the ditch past my property ostensibly draining much of Sumas Mountain, I’m responsible for its maintenance cost?

Additionally, suggested the letter, anyone wishing to have their own ditches cleaned should first retain a civil engineer and an environmental consultant to coordinate permit approval and the construction works for them.

Is it a surprise people wonder why they pay taxes – average around here on the mountain is about $5,000 in annual taxes. For that we get weekly garbage pickup. No sidewalks, no street lights, no city water, no sewers, no gas, not even bicycle lanes (don’t get me started on that again).

And now we have to pay, through the nose I imagine, to have our ditches cleaned? And how much more to have the city’s road shoulders mowed to prevent blackberries from invading our properties, the least of which would be the benefit of trying to keep “the city” looking well-kept and attractive?

Since when are private property owners required to maintain city-owned lands and infrastructure? I thought we already did  that through the taxes we pay.

I’ve come to understand that the new mayor, and a few councillors, are realizing that this city needs to be operated on the basis of common sense. This directive from the engineering department doesn’t pass the smell test of making sense.

I would suggest that the protest of upland property owners over the proposed and defeated drainage tax was minor compared to that being generated by this letter. My email inbox has already received a number of “this is BS” messages. I expect there will be more, though certainly not so many as will be sent to the city manager and mayor and council.

Time once again, Mr. Mayor, to let your staff know there is a new sheriff in town who understands when things are smart, and when they are not.