We get what we voted for

The average homeowners, carrying a mortgage and perhaps a car loan or some other debt, just received notice that their daughter’s dance lesson fees are going up and school fees are rising. And every hockey or soccer road trip costs more. Never mind that grocery prices are also up, month after month.

The average homeowners, carrying a mortgage and perhaps a car loan or some other debt, just received notice that their daughter’s dance lesson fees are going up and school fees are rising. And every hockey or soccer road trip costs more. Never mind that grocery prices are also up, month after month.

Against this rampant inflation, their income isn’t keeping pace. And they want to save for their retirement and other longer-term life goals.

How do they best address those costs?

By making choices, based on all the factors at hand.

Mortgage and other lending interest rates remain astonishingly low, so accelerating your loan payments and diverting money away from day-to-day costs seems like the wrong choice, on balance. Debt is never a great thing, but sometimes it is the lesser of two evils. And sometimes diverting significant money into savings, in the short term, just isn’t feasible.

Most families would choose to ensure their quality of life remained relatively unaltered instead, by paying the extra for various programs, and spending less in other areas, like consumer goods. In essence, they are willing to let the debt linger and will deal with it later, when their income improves or expenses decline. And they defer or trim savings plans. The alternative, to deprive their family of quality of life, is not a choice they would happily make.

If you run a multimillion-dollar civic entity, should your choices be any different, particularly when you are making those choices on behalf of the very families whose income isn’t keeping pace?

We can’t, and shouldn’t, quibble with the bottom line of the recent Red Deer city council budget deliberations: a $272.6-million budget and a 2.2 per cent increase in taxes to fund ongoing operations seems fair. Inflation and expectations always rise, and so too will taxes to keep pace, and 2.2 per cent is modest.

The other 2.1 per cent of the 4.32 per cent tax increase goes to savings, to pay debt, and prepare for future debt. The capital budget for 2012, at $94.8 million, is relatively modest, but longer-term projects that are planned will require greater financing. And this is where many taxpayers will reject council’s decision-making.

Each of us would have made different choices about some programs (or the contrarians among us, including Councillor Chris Stephan, would apparently have made different choices on many or all programs).

But we entrusted council to look after our money and ensure we get the best possible services for that money.

When we elected them, they were clear about their personal priorities, and those are now reflected in the work the group does. The only candidate in the 2010 municipal election who made a big deal about spending restraint was Stephan. The rest talked in reassuring tones about prudent spending but none of them campaigned as fiscal hawks.

For the most part, this council has remained true to its promises, individually and collectively. A tax increase of 2.2 per cent to manage programs and services is consistent.

Certainly there are areas where questions remain. The movement to formulate and adopt six charters to help define the city’s mission statement will take $200,000 out of the operating budget and $400,000 out of reserves. A great deal of work must be done on these charters before they provide the kind of worthy civic mantra that council apparently envisioned when they first talked publicly about the project last August.

But maybe the project should take longer, and the expense be spread out over more years, to make the total cost more palatable.

And the communications department at City Hall seems to gobble an unnecessary amount of money. Certainly it is important to keep citizens informed, but a $925,000 budget seems excessive.

In the end, we need to trust council to manage our money and ensure our quality of life is maintained.

And we need to have confidence that the savings they are building up will help provide critical infrastructure in the longer term, but isn’t too aggressive and based on unreasonable expectations.

And then we can go back to the business of our lives, making ends meet as best we can.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

Just Posted

Red Deer record store celebrates its last Record Store Day

The Soundhouse, a guitar and record shop in downtown Red Deer, closes its doors next Saturday

WATCH: On 4—20 Day in Red Deer, marijuana users say legal weed a long time coming

Not wanting to wait for the federal government to legalize recreational marijuana,… Continue reading

Former Central Alberta MLA appealing fine for not protecting a list of 20,000 electors

List included names and addresses of voters in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre

Proposed Alberta legislation would protect consumers

Alberta Utilities Commission would be given power to penalize natural gas and electricity providers

Red Deer beginning two major construction projects

Ross Street’s 1935-era water main to be replaced and 67th Street roundabout landscaped

WATCH: Central Alberta bouldering competition

Central Alberta climbers looked to prove they’re the best at a competition… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer RCMP and Emergency Services play for Humboldt

Red Deer police officers and firefighters laced up their skates to raise… Continue reading

WATCH: Flooding closes portion of Red Deer’s 43 Street

A portion of 43 Street in Red Deer was closed Saturday morning… Continue reading

After air accidents, survivors grapple with flying again

Hundreds of hands grappling with oxygen masks. Flight attendants warning passengers to… Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth to attend pop concert for 92nd birthday

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth is marking her 92nd birthday with a Saturday… Continue reading

‘Such a great person:’ Funeral being held for assistant coach with Broncos

STRASBOURG, Sask. — Mark Cross was a ferocious competitor when he played… Continue reading

UPDATE: Missing Innisfail woman located

A 54-year-old Innisfail woman, who had not been seen since Wednesday, has… Continue reading

Hellebuyck makes 30 saves, Jets beat Wild in Game 5 to advance to Round 2

WINNIPEG — Bryan Little’s teammates were happy they could deliver something special… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month