24.8 C
Elmira
Friday, July 3, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Better governance starts with asking the right questions

Woolwich needs more money to maintain its buildings, councillors heard last week. When they meet again this week for another special budget session, they’ll discuss capital spending and the growing gap between available money and the cost of replacing roads, bridges and facilities – aka the infrastructure deficit.

The township is certainly not alone in that regard – every government everywhere finds itself in the same boat. Nor is it alone in failing to adequately budget for such expenses, in the past through to this very day.

The reality is that there’s little hope for most municipalities to get caught up with such deficits. They’re burdened by past spending decisions that did not account for future replacement costs, and such planning is still not part of the equation today. We’re still inflicted by short-term political thinking that wants to spend today but let some future citizens pay the bills and deal with any fallout.

To its credit, Woolwich has been setting aside more money for a rainy day – i.e. the coming infrastructure storm. It’s been allocating some surplus funds to reserves, and has in place a special infrastructure levy: it’s another tax, but with the money allocated for a real need rather than being flushed away. In that vein, however, the township has done little to rein in its operating budget in order to make a real dent in the deficit rather than taxpayers’ wallets. The extra funds set aside are a good start, but they have not kept up with the growing list of projects. Even at today’s estimates – real costs are likely to be much higher, as there’s a history of being well off the mark with forecasts – the township is losing ground.

Again, Woolwich is not alone in that regard. Despite plenty of lip service, governments continue to do very little in the way of long-term planning, let alone actual follow through. The township is somewhat ahead of the curve, even if progress is limited.

The first step to breaking out of this failing mould is for politicians to demand each expenditure is justified, the opposite of what generally happens today. There’s a simple question – who benefits, and at what cost? – that should be asked of every expenditure. Take, for instance, the recreation budget discussed in this week’s issue: programs and facilities cost more money than they generate, but there’s an argument to be made that there’s a social good to at least some of what’s on offer. Yet the debate, if it can be called such, is never framed in that way, though councillors sometimes reach that mindset when outside groups ask for money.

Leaving aside government expenditures for the most vulnerable members of society – some expenses are just things we do as part of a civil society – there’s a whole lot of discretionary spending that goes on without question. There’s often a notion that spending is good just because it’s government spending or, worse still, that because it’s always been in the budget that it should always be in the budget, unchecked.

Long-term thinking is not just for issues such as climate change, though we’re not prepared to tackle even that issue, despite the consequences. No, it’s all about living for today. But long-term planning is crucial for a host of issues that are part of today’s political reality, encompassing all levels: long-term resource consumption, human migration, transportation demands, retirement and pensions and the like. Weighty issues. By comparison, decisions at the township level should be much easier … if questions got asked.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

LIVING HERE

Local couple take DIY workout equipment to the next level

With gyms closed during the coronavirus lockdown and many of us staying put, at-home workouts became the norm. The resultant run on equipment created an opportunity for Kerri Brown and Ben Gibson.

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

You obviously love community journalism. Thanks for visiting today. If you have a great local story, let us know.

The play’s the thing, even if it’s digital

Is the future of live performance digital? If so, the Elora Community Theatre (ECT) has a leg up on the competition.

Kim Mitchell finds wishes can come true

Conventional wisdom says you keep your wishes to yourself if you want them to come true – when you’re blowing out the...

Going to market with more farm offerings

For years, Wellesley Township’s Josephine McCormick and her family have chosen to forego the usual farmers’ markets, opting for some form of...
- Advertisement -