Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spending Decisions - How to Choose, How to Choose

At last week's Executive Meeting, we had our first discussions about where we should spend the Northern Lights Development Corporation funding this year. A few years ago, NLDC made a five year commitment to donate $250,000 to the city annually, to be used for projects that would enhance or rejuvenate Prince Albert. Of the total, $50,000 is used to fund a golf tournament and a powwow for NLDC, the remainder is spent by council, with no real limitations on how the money should be spent. We're about at the half-way point in the term of this funding. In past years, it's been used to pay for such things as the new garbage containers downtown, a new splash park in the east end, and to do maintenance painting at the Kinsmen Waterpark.

Unfortunately, we don't solicit the public for ideas for the use of this funding. Councillors have brought forward ideas, there hasn't been much discussion, and the decisions are made. Last year the entire amount went on the downtown garbage cans and the east end splash park - several smaller projects didn't even get into the discussion stage.

As well as opening the process up to the general public, I wish that we would establish some clear and fair guidelines for how the allocation decisions are made, with need trumping nice-to-have. For example, in the past, community groups funded and paid for splash parks in their own playgrounds - now, we appear to be giving them away (at a price tag of $160,000 each), while those groups who paid for their own have been unable to access lesser funds to replace aging equipment. Another guideline should be that the city doesn't use these funds to pay for their own responsibilities (such as maintenance of city-owned facilities). And we should limit our ongoing liability - if we fund playground equipment at a school, the school then is responsible for maintenance. If we fund playground equipment along the Rotary Trail, we've just added an additional ongoing maintenance responsibility to ourselves.

We should also be asking the groups that bring forward proposals what other funding arrangements they have made, whether it's approaching other funding organizations (like the Lottery Corporation), or an internal fund-raising program. I'm more comfortable if these funds are used to augment a group's efforts, rather than replace them.

The list of requests for this year totals $642,678, including new splash parks in Crescent Heights and the West Hill, new vans for a couple of groups, new playground equipment in a couple of different areas, a new skate-tying room in the Crescent Heights Arena, new chairs for Midtown Hall, and the SPCA Spay and Neuter program, among others. The total is actually now higher, since one councillor added one to the list last week - a new sound system for the Kinsmen Park amphitheatre. These are only the requests brought forth by councillors, and there may be more urgent needs out there that we don't know about.

Eventually, (maybe as soon as Monday's council meeting), we'll have to make decisions about this funding. It would certainly help the process if we agreed on the rules ahead of time.

On another topic, we're now officially into the I-pad age, and I'm not that impressed. It's much more time consuming to move back and forth through the agenda, as the screen goes blank quite often, so you don't know where you are. It takes time for a document to load; I can turn pages faster than that. And we can't print out the material, so for someone like me, who's used to marking up my document with a highlighter, to point out areas that I want to ask questions in, or to mark inconsistencies, it's not working well. There is a highlighter function, but it's hard finding the page that you want to highlight. Also, I used to chuck the promotional stuff that is included - press releases, that sort of thing - now I can't get rid of it. Once a page is up there, it is quite legible, but then, so were the paper documents that I had. But for those on council or in administration who wanted the latest gadget, I'm sure it's satisfied that itch for them.

"Vanity asks the question - is it popular? Conscience asks the question - is it right?" - Martin Luther King Jr.

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