Monday, May 16, 2011

Flinging Your Money with Wild Abandon, So That Things Will Look Lovely

At tonight's council meeting, not that it was any big surprise, council voted to spend more than $170,000 of taxpayers' money putting in an irrigation system for two new outdoor soccer fields at the soccer centre. Despite the fact that we just approved the budget for this year, this is a new and additional cost that will have to be paid for somehow. We don't know where the money is coming from, although it was claimed that some of it will come from an $80,000 surplus from last year - the first that I've heard of this surplus.

The statements supporting the motion illustrate the mind-set of most council members.

"We should do it now because it will cost more later" - just like costs for maintaining basic infrastructure will, but we have no problem putting those actions off.

"It's a first-rate facility, so we need to make everything around it first-rate" - let's ignore the various third-rate aspects of our city, like unpaved streets (which are still oiled to keep the dust down), lead service water connections, and ancient watermains that still break regularly.

"It's a beautiful facility, so the landscaping and surrounding fields should also be beautiful" - because, of course, the appearance of special use facilities matters far more than how well the city as a whole functions.

As usual, some council members feel that some projects need to be acted on immediately, rather than waiting until we have the money. Delayed gratification obviously isn't part of their operating philosophy.

When I questioned why this hadn't been included in the many-times-revised-upward soccer centre budget, I was first told that it was. This isn't true - if it had been part of the budget, we wouldn't have had to vote on it, because approval for this action would have been included in council's approval of the most recent facility budget. When I pointed out this discrepancy, I was then told that it wasn't part of the budget, because this is actually landscaping, which was odd, because we were also told that it was needed for two new outdoor soccer pitches, which to me sounds like part of what we're doing for soccer, rather than landscaping. Of course, with this additional action that will require considerable digging and placement of underground pipes, these fields won't be ready to play on real soon.

What I find particularly interesting about this single item is the number of complaints about the proposed funding that have arisen since the report was presented at Executive Committee last week. One citizen sent a email to all council members, suggesting that there are more pressing needs in the city, and considering the recent tax increase, this expenditure shouldn't be considered at this time, and that the vote on this should be recorded so that people could see where each member of council stood. I had a phone call from a resident of Ward Three, saying that the proposed expenditure made no sense at this time, and asking if there was any way of impeaching certain members of council. I had to tell him that I agreed with his take on the expenditure, but sadly, legislation provides no way of removing council members just for doing stupid things. Perhaps residents are starting to get tired of the continued lack of accountability in the way their money is spent.

Once again, image trumped common sense. For the record, we did have a recorded vote, and Councillor Miller, Councillor Cheryl Ring and I voted against it.

"You will find that truth is often unpopular and the contest between agreeable fantasy and disagreeable fact is unequal." - Adlai Stevenson

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