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Basic math eludes council on economic development

Woolwich councillors were true to form, missing a chance to save taxpayers money and eliminate an unnecessary position from the township’s bloating staff roster.

The economic development position has been vacant for months, providing an ideal time for councillors to take note that the absence has not been felt save for less of a hit on the public purse. Yet they voted in line with an unsubstantiated staff report calling for the position to be retained despite no financial justification being offered for the role since its inception more than a decade ago.

The most current pitch provided no numbers to justify the position, which has cost residents more than a million dollars and returned not a dime that has ever been fully attributed to the job.

The role has never been shown to be a good value proposition for taxpayers, just as is the case with the $200,000 and counting sunk into the regional economic development scheme. Neither has borne fruit, let alone enough to cover anywhere near the money spent without any benefit to the public.

Missing in this week’s Woolwich council discussion about economic development was a willingness to question the need for the program in the first place. Nor was there any weighing of the significant costs against the number of people who make use of the service – who benefits and at what cost should be the starting point with all expenditures.

Fact is, there’s precious little to show in the way of economic benefits for the work done since the position was added to the payroll in 2009.

At the very minimum, the residents footing the bill for this unproven exercise have to be guaranteed a return on their investment. Not some nebulous benefit, but tangible, cash benefits. Instead of dollars and cents, residents are typically treated to platitudes.

While there is at times talk of measuring efficacy and metrics, no specifics have ever been offered. That some councillors approved the spending under those circumstances says they’ve learned nothing from the fruitless multi-year foray into economic development, where money has been spent to little avail. There have been no numbers to support the money spent, let alone to justify the continued expenditures. To the chagrin of residents concerned about accountability from the township, there was no mention of any of that from those councillors prepared to spend yet more money … again without any assurances.

Blindly dumping money into unproven schemes is not a habit citizens would care to encourage in the township’s administration.

Woolwich’s economic development position appears to have been set up without any real goals or benchmarks. Larger centres provide economic development services that aim to recruit businesses and employment, often through the servicing of land, favourable development incentives, streamlining of red tape and the like. None of that is in play in Woolwich, which doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to do so.

Instead, there’s a lot of busywork. And much of it thus far has included jobs that don’t pertain to the economic development or tourism portfolios. The addition of an extra staff person makes it easy to spread the workload rather than becoming more efficient. The generating of reports – classic bureaucratic time-wasting – helps fill out the schedule and attempts to justify more of the same.

We’ve seen this become more pervasive in the township in recent years. It all makes perfect sense inside the bureaucracy. But there’s little if any benefit to the taxpayers, who are footing the bill. It’s the job of council to curb the bloat and to ensure there’s value for money spent. That’s certainly not been the case so far. The public deserves more.

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