Sunday, December 2, 2012

Keeping the Field Unlevel

With the setting of user fees for the golf course at last week's council meeting, we've once again missed the opportunity to level the playing field among city facilities.

The golf course does not pay for the water that it uses, which is considerable.  Neither do the Rawlinson Centre, or the soccer centre, or City Hall.  However, city-owned facilities like the library and the Girl Guide Hall do pay for the water that they use, and have to include it in their operating budgets.  And of course, residents and businesses have to pay for their water use.

What this means is that those facilities, businesses and home owners who do pay for their water are subsidizing the facilities that don't pay, because somebody has to cover the costs.  I don't know about you, but I think that it would be a lot fairer if all the costs for a facility are included when setting user fees, and I can't think of a single solid reason why we should exempt certain facilities.

Last year, the last time that fees for the golf course were set, I asked city administration for the water usage and related costs for all city facilities.  I know that these are available - there are water meters in all buildings, and they're read regularly.  However, like many of my inquiries in previous councils, I have yet to get an answer.  I'll be asking again, and now we have the new policy for an answer within 30 days, so I'm more hopeful of a result this time.

The proposed golf course fees, interestingly, are prepared by the Golf Course Advisory Board.  The members of this board, all of whom are golfers, say that their main concern is keeping rates low to attract more players (which, coincidentally, also saves them money).  I understand the need to attract users, but I believe that they should still have to pay a fair portion of what it costs to keep the place running, and until water rates are included as part of the user fees calculation, that isn't happening.

But this council has voted to accept the rates proposed by the Board.  The rationale proposed by some of the councillors who support this is that, by golly, raising the rates might discourage people, particularly those from out of town, from golfing there.  Personally, I don't think that adding a buck or two to the rate for what is a recreational activity indulged in by people who have that kind of discretionary money to spend is going to stop too many of them.

The result will be, of course, that the water rates of people on fixed incomes, like seniors, will continue to subsidize people who are participating in a recreational activity, which isn't fair.  I'm looking forward to our next discussion on raising residential water rates, which have increased several times over the last six years, and we're still being told that the current ongoing increases aren't going to be enough.  The arguments of the five councillors who supported this inequity should be interesting.

In talking to one of those councillors after the meeting, he said that he thought that we should treat all city facilities the same.  He's right, of course, but considering that right now, we're not doing that, I'm quite willing to work towards levelling the playing field one facility at a time, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

"Because we tend to be biased in favour of our own viewpoint, it is important to keep the standard of fairness at the forefront of our thinking.  This is especially important when the situation may call on us to see things we don't want to see, or give something up that we don't want to." - Linda Eller

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