Sunday, January 6, 2013

And Another Year Begins

Once again, we're looking forward to another year, which I'm sure will be filled with surprises.  2012 was certainly an interesting year.  As with most years, there were lots of happenings that no-one would have predicted, both good and bad.  That uncertainty about the future is what keeps life interesting.  While it's important to remember and learn from the past, I think that it's more important to look ahead, plan as best you can, but accept that there's only a certain amount of life that is actually within our control.  And when the unexpected happens, deal with it.

In the area of things that are classified as within our control, I'm hoping that this year, council takes a good look in two areas.  I think that we need to look at everywhere that we're spending our money, and how we spend our time, and make sure that we managing both money and time efficiently and economically, because both are limited.

Managing our money is done mainly through the budget process, which I hope will be a longer and more open process this year.  There are two components to budgeting - what do we need to spend money on, and where can we cut our spending.  It's no problem getting people's ideas on where we need to spend more money - snow removal, street sweeping, infrastructure repair, better management of our urban forest, a new bridge - these are just a few of the areas that have been identified as needing more financial attention.  It's harder when it comes to identifying areas where efficiencies could be made to save money that could then be redirected to these higher priorities.

We need to identify services that the city provides that cost more than the benefits received - one example that comes to mind is the way the city recycles residential grass clippings, branches, and other yard waste.  Right now, we ask people to place such waste in clear plastic bags, and periodically a city truck carrying three employees cruises the back alleys, looking for these bags, separate from regular garbage and recycling pick-ups.  The bags are then taken to the landfill, where they are cut open and added to the organic sludge that is used as ground cover for the cells where garbage is dumped.

This is a service that our family has never used.  Andrea is a major proponent of composting - she grew up in a family where it was taken for granted that you dumped your coffee grounds, tea bags, apple cores and orange peels in a bucket that was periodically taken out to the compost pile behind the garden.  We currently have three compost bins in the backyard, as well as a worm composter inside.  And I know that many families do the same.  I think that we first have to question whether we should be offering this as a door to door service, or if we would be better off with having a few centralized locations where people could bring their organic waste.

We could also save a step in the process by requiring that organic matter be put into paper bags, rather than plastic, which isn't recyclable.  The last time that we were in Stratford, we noticed that people put out three kinds of garbage for pick-up - regular, blue recycling bins, and large paper bags filled with compostable material.

This is, of course, just one example of a service where we could possibly save money by doing things differently.  Everyone at the table, and the city staff who provide us with information, need to start looking at every service provided to see how it can be done more efficiently and effectively, or if it is something that needs to be provided at all.

In the area of spending our time more efficiently, I think that we're taking a step in the right direction by looking at the current plethora of committees that we have, and eliminating some of them.  The management committee will be bringing forward to council a list of committees that we see as being no longer necessary, for council to make the final decision.  Then council as a whole will decide who will be on which committee.  This should result in a lower overall workload, and a more fair distribution of work.

This council is just at the start of its mandate, and I'm sure that we will make plenty of mistakes over the next four years.  But I think that if we remember to focus on the areas where we can actually make real differences, and keep ourselves open to new ideas and ways of doing things, we'll be able to see improvements that benefit the city as a whole.  And that's a positive way to face our future.

"Look at life through the wind-shield, not the rear-view mirror." - Byrd Baggett

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