It’s that time of year again when council has debated and set out the budget for the coming year. And as usual in this yearly debate, we have the two sides. One: we need more money to run the city. Two: we can’t afford to pay more money so we need to cut expenses.
First let me be clear about where I stand on municipalities and what they are actually supposed to do. Municipalities are not supposed to be run like a business for a profit. They are supposed to conduct the day-to-day operations of the municipality with prudence, ensuring that they do due diligence to make sure that money is spent wisely for the benefit of the citizens they serve.
Having said that, I do not believe in a zero-based budget promise. My reasoning is that budgets need to at least reflect the cost of living. Let’s face it, each year costs rise. Staff get raises. Utilities rise. Unexpected expenses occur. So, municipalities need to have the money to support the services the ratepayer is entitled to and wants.
Here is where the friction comes into play. Some of the ratepayers are adamant that they are tired of rising taxes and that at some point enough is enough, while others want to receive a quality of service to maintain a certain lifestyle. These things include good roads, garbage collection, parks, hydro, sewage facilities, fire, police, hospitals, ambulance, libraries and even Christmas lights, and of course much more.
An example I can give to illustrate what I mean is that years ago when it snowed, each and every street in our municipality was plowed, and usually plowed before we woke up in the morning. Now the main streets are plowed and eventually the secondary streets might get done at some point in the future. Another is garbage collection. Do you remember when the garbage men used to come into your back yard and put the garbage to the curb? Now we take it to the curb ourselves each week and pretty soon, it will only be every other week.
My point is that if we want a certain level of service, someone has to pay for it, and if we don’t want to pay for it, then we need to stop complaining about our perceived lack of service.
There are still others who say that they are tired of paying for something they don’t use. It is this attitude that flies in the face of who we are as neighbours and proud Canadians.
I was talking to some friends from the U.S. recently, and of course we got on the topic of universal health care. They said our health care system is not actually free, because we pay for it in taxes. I said that is correct, and pointed out that if I have to pay a little in extra in my taxes so my neighbours don’t have to mortgage their houses to save their lives, then I am good with that.
Of course, a municipality’s elected officials and staff must ensure money is spent wisely, and they should always be on the lookout for efficiencies, but we need to stop cutting services that benefit the majority in order to appease the few.
You have heard the saying tahat it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village of caring neighbours who are willing to contribute some of their blessings to ensure the village is a place where people come together to experience a quality of life that others envy.
For many years now, Canada has been voted number one for quality of life worldwide. That is because we have a social safety net and a social conscience of helping thy neighbour, factors our friends south of the border sometimes ignore. Look at what just happened in Newfoundland. Neighbour helping neighbour, without asking, ‘what’s in it for me?’
I think it’s time to start thinking of this yearly battle over a few percentages as negative, and start to think about keeping and maintaining a quality of life that makes us the envy of the world.
I like clean water, and I like driving down good roads. More importantly, I am happy to pay my share so that others who follow have the same advantages and quality of life we have.
Ted Mouradian is the President of the 2% Factor Inc. and creator of the Law of Cooperative Action. He is an author and professional speaker and can be reached at ted@the2