Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Questions, questions, questions

I ask a lot of questions at council. Often, they are questions that I have been asked by city residents, and they figure that, as a councillor, I can probably get an answer faster than they can. Other times they are my own questions, when I read something in the council agenda, or in supporting documents, that I'd like more information about, so that I can make a more informed decision when I vote on matters. And sometimes, the answers bring up more questions.

As a council, I think that we owe the citizens of Prince Albert answers, particularly answers about decisions that we've made, because these decisions directly affect them. They may not always agree with our decisions, but we should have sound reasons that are defensible.

When I was in school, asking questions was encouraged, often with the teacher suggesting that asking questions was a key part of learning. I don't ever recall a teacher rolling impatient eyes at any question, as if providing an answer was just more work for her or him. But I often get that sense when I ask a question at council.

Last night at council I asked questions about money - always a touchy subject. We have a proposal before us to borrow another $ 13 million dollars, with a twenty-year time frame for repayment. Of this, $12 million will be for interim financing for building the soccer centre, to cover the five-year time period over which donations from the public will be made. The remaining $1 million will be used to pay for capital projects - those were not specified.

So the Prince Albert taxpayer will be paying upfront even more for the soccer centre than we have been led to believe - going into debt to do this, in fact. I also asked about the possibility of putting some of the excess donations into the contingency fund for unexpected costs, and was told that, no, this money had been donated with the condition that it be spent for additional features. Of course, those donors will not have to pay any additional costs, unlike the taxpayer donors, who have no choice. I guess they were allowed to put strings on their gifts.

I also asked what the total debtload for the city is now. Instead of getting a specific answer, I was told that it was in the budget documents. I've been through those documents a few times, and it didn't jump out at me, so I don't know how we can expect the average citizen to find this information easily. I'll have to haul out the budget documents, and see what I can find. I'll keep you posted.

I mentioned in my last post that the answers to the questions I ask city staff have been amazingly slow in coming lately - two questions, one asked in January, the other in March, were just answered last week. That means that the question that I asked three weeks ago about how much it costs to pave a street will probably get answered next spring. Neither of these questions originated with me; they came from residents who deserve more respectful treatment than that.

I'll continue to ask questions - the residents of Prince Albert deserve answers.

"The only stupid question is the one that isn't asked" - Anonymous

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