This is an election budget?
At the start of Tuesday’s budget meeting, Councillor Pat Molloy, chair of the finance committee, told his colleagues that they were going to examine the so-called “wish list” and reminded them that items should be judged on “needs” as opposed to “wants.”
That was the last time those two words were used in the meeting. Instead, councillors approved close to $200,000 in additional spending, including some items that could definitely be considered “wants” rather than “needs.”
Consider the $20,000 approved for expanding the parking lot that sits between the museum and the off-leash dog park. Councillor Gord Highet argued that the amount of traffic seen at these facilities, outside of special events, was too low to justify the expense. It being one of my favourite spots in town to visit, I have to agree with Mr. Highet. Rarely does one see more than half-a-dozen cars there, even since the dog park was opened. For years, that part of the museum grounds and adjacent grassy areas were used for parking when such events as Heritage Days were underway. To the best of my knowledge, there were no complaints and no calls for an expanded parking lot. But now that we have an off-leash park where, at any given time, you might see three or four dog owners exercising their pets, we suddenly have to have an expanded parking lot? Sounds more like a want than a need to me.
Then there is $15,000 approved for trees and landscaping at the new fire hall. There has been talk about the need for some planting to prevent erosion of the steep embankment immediately behind the station, but $15,000 worth? Methinks the fire station could operate quite well without it.
Then there was the more than $60,000 requested for upgrading the ball diamond at the arena. This despite the fact that there has been much talk over the past couple of years about decommissioning that ball park and selling it off for development, and the additional fact that Sierra Management still has not presented council with its final report and recommendations on the future of the township’s parks and green spaces. Another $265,000 was requested for upgrades to other ball parks at Bonner Fields and Harold Bell Park in Goodwood, parks that also are included in Sierra’s examination. True, all these improvement requests were tabled to be dealt with on January 23, but wouldn’t it have been prudent to wait for Sierra’s report?
However, as Mr. Molloy pointed out in a chat with the Cosmos after the meeting, this is an election year and some of the items included on the wish list were requested by residents or local organizations. To ignore those requests could possibly have repercussions come election time. On the other hand, to acquiesce to those requests and send everyone’s tax bills even higher could have even greater repercussions.
Mr. Molloy was at pains to explain that any additional spending items would not necessarily all be paid for by tax levies. Some of the money could come from reserves. But it is hard to see how reserves could cover the lot. With the budget as already approved, taxpayers can expect to see a 2.29 per cent spike in their property taxes, plus another one per cent to cover asset management, something mandated by the province. However, with close to $200,000 in additional spending approved on Tuesday and more likely to come following the January 23 meeting, one is left to wonder whether that tax increase is going to be closer to four or five per cent, plus the one-per-cent asset management levy. Come January 23, council still has to deal with more than $400,000 worth of requests that were tabled on Tuesday and it is difficult to see councillors denying them all outright.
If such is the case, one is further left to wonder whether some members of council feel so secure in their positions that they don’t have to worry about the upcoming election. In approving $20,000 for a needless parking lot expansion, it seems that just might be the case.
Tell me, am I wrong?