Elected to make decisions

It would be interesting to watch a citizens group take over Lacombe, while being filmed for a reality TV show — in the same way people are fascinated by horrific crashes on Hwy 2, a tsunami in Japan or a superstorm over New York.

It would be interesting to watch a citizens group take over Lacombe, while being filmed for a reality TV show — in the same way people are fascinated by horrific crashes on Hwy 2, a tsunami in Japan or a superstorm over New York.

And if the citizens of Lacombe allow this stupid (and probably illegal) experiment to proceed, they might get the wreckage they deserve.

I know if there were goofballs trying to do this in Red Deer, I would join a group mounting a legal challenge to the arbitrary appropriation of my tax dollars.

The Lacombe Taxpayers’ Association is apparently organized and highly-enough regarded for a TV production group Force Four Entertainment to propose that Lacombe’s city council abdicate and allow the malcontents to take over city management, and really get priorities straight.

As if.

“Municipalities, they don’t respect taxpayers anymore,” says Blaine Dushanek, the association’s spokesman. “They don’t respect that’s where the money comes. They just feel it’s their money and taxpayers should not take any interest.”

I don’t think the taxpayers or council members in Lacombe are really all that different in perspective or priorities than Red Deer’s. We have a diversity of views of what’s important in this city, and we allow that diversity full expression.

We also have our share of gripers and naysayers who get far more attention and wield far more influence than they deserve.

Do you believe Lacombe is really that different from Red Deer? Here’s an overview of Red Deer voters, from this year’s Ipsos Reid survey on quality of life and taxpayer satisfaction:

• 84 per cent of Red Deerians say we get good value for our tax dollars.

• 93 per cent say they are satisfied with city services.

• 53 per cent say they would support tax increases to maintain or improve city services.

• 30 per cent of people would cut services to maintain current tax levels.

• eight per cent would cut services to reduce taxes.

• 72 per cent of Red Deerians either walk (35 per cent) cycle (21 per cent) or use transit (16 per cent) to get around.

• 51 per cent support growing alternative transportation routes in Red Deer, including bike lanes.

• 43 per cent want Red Deer to be a more walkable city.

• 90 per cent of Red Deerians are somewhat satisfied (65 per cent) or very satisfied (25 per cent) with snow removal as it is in the city.

You can get the full report on the city’s website and cherry pick the stats that interest you. But the picture this paints for me is that people who complain — about council wasting tax dollars, or that progressive policies toward services and amenities are wrong — are quite in the minority here.

The flood of complaints recently to city council over bike lanes, the killing of a community centre in Clearview Ridge, the demands that the city remove a local bus route, community opposition to building neighbourhood schools, these views do not represent our city in general.

And if these are the kinds of forces behind Lacombe’s Taxpayers’ Federation, I believe they do not represent the majority view in Lacombe, either.

Red Deer actually tried an experiment similar to what’s being proposed in Lacombe. In the 1990s and early 2000s, council put a moratorium on capital spending for over a decade, to keep tax increases at zero.

The only exception to that moratorium was expanding the public library in 1994 (a project that included quite hefty public fundraising).

There was a lot of money “saved” in that time, enough to pay the city’s portion of building the Collicutt Centre in cash.

But many people who “saved” the money were no longer around to enjoy the Collicutt Centre, and thousands of new residents after them got a facility they did not really pay for.

Capital costs had increased over the period of the moratorium, eating up a chunk of the savings, plus debenture income was rolled out of capital accounts and into operations, further depleting the city’s capital potential.

Those years of so-called “restraint” ended up costing us hundreds of millions in extra taxes to recover an infrastructure and services deficit that dogs our city budget to this day. We lost in real dollars, big time, from that failure of vision, from trying to plan for only one budget goal, only one year at a time.

If Lacombe allows this interest group to take over city management, they will get the debacle they deserve.

I say people would do better with a TV show about Canada’s worst drivers who think they can dance with alligator hunters.

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca. Email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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