Taking credit for the sunshine means accepting blame for the rain

Lake Cowichan – Much has been made of the Town of Lake Cowichan’s ranking in the recent CFIB report on fiscal management. What hasn’t been highlighted is that because the reporting period ended in 2012 full implementation of current parcel taxes, recent labor settlements, and additional maintenance costs from grant projects were not included or that previous sewer spending obligations were paid off during this time making spending look artificially low. A major factor in the current favourable ranking is the deferral of needed spending on long-term infrastructure namely water, sewer, and yes, some type of Town Hall upgrade.

In short, the report shows only what was spent, not what it was (or should have been) spent on, or how efficiently it was spent.

As with a household spending is about choices. [Former] Councillor Hornbrook noted that addressing aging infrastructure and deferred maintenance will require significant expenditures requiring hard choices between services and increased taxes in the not too distant future. How will we address this coming rainstorm? We have heard we have no debt, but there is debt on the fire hall and related equipment? Debt isn’t bad in itself but we should acknowledge it before spending more.

Grants can provide an excellent opportunity to provide amenities at lower cost if utilized prudently, but like any sale flyer the lure of free money can be tempting until the credit card bill comes and you can’t afford the basics. Lots of things are nice to have but they all cost money and we need to ask if we really need them. Giving in to the temptation to buy more than is needed because of a discount defeats the initial advantage. Such “partnerships” as they have been described are not as free as they seem or as we have been told when all the bills and increased operating costs are considered.

While the initial costs may look small per household they add up, are often ongoing, and increase over time.

Amenities are nice but painting the front door shouldn’t be the top priority when the roof and pipes are leaking. Pushing things off into the future just creates the inevitable cash crunch (just ask BC Ferries).

As we have seen, cost sharing based on initial estimates does us no good when costs come in higher and the town has to absorb all the increase and finish the project under future years’ budgets to maintain the appearance of staying on budget, squeezing out other needed spending. Budgets are only meaningful if you keep within them.

I believe we need some form of Town Hall upgrade and applaud various councils for setting money aside, however this is not the same as approval to proceed.

What confidence can we have in a $1.2 or $1 million estimate if it is not certain if such a major renovation can be done on the site? As seen with the town square and other projects, estimates are often wrong and not in a good way.

Would it not have been prudent to bring an expenditure of this size forward on the ballot for approval in combination with water and sewer upgrades to provide a more complete picture of our situation? This would have been a good demonstration of the communication and collaboration we hear about.

In addition to trying to attract tourists and new businesses we should market our community’s relative affordability to attract new residents to broaden the tax base and generate customers for our local merchants. Keeping taxes low by keeping spending in check is a part of this and while not as glamorous as cutting ribbons is really what a town council can control and should focus on.

The mayor and some members of council have become all too comfortable spending on the “nice to haves” and it is time for a change so we can put the credit card away until we need an umbrella.

Dave Allen Lake Cowichan

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