Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Duped again, Charlie Brown

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Oooooh, my aching back. I feel like I’ve been punted through the budget goalposts of life.

Come to think of it, I have.

And, to borrow a phrase from Lizzie, “We are not amused.” In fact, we are royally pissed off.

Once again, I’ve played Charlie Brown to the mayor and council’s Lucy. Once again I’ve charged the football and given a mighty kick. Once again, the duplicitous rabble have pulled the ball away. Once again I’m lying flat on my back muttering, “Never again.”

I take no solace from the fact that several dozen other people were duped along with me and missed whatever they might have done last Friday night instead of wasting their time going through the motions, expressing their concerns, imploring what were apparently stonedeaf, timid, mind-made-up councillors to sharpen their pencils, revisit the budget, leave no stone unturned and find a way to do what numerous councils have done in the past: keep the increase in property taxes dancing in lockstep with inflation.

Council to Whistler: “Screw you!”

It would probably be a good time to point out that councilors Wilhelm-Morden, Forsyth and Zeidler danced on the side of the angels Monday night. They voted the right way. They implored their colleagues to send staff back to work to find a way to keep taxes delicately balanced with inflation. They couldn’t understand the urgency to make a decision right away. After all budgets don’t need to be in place until well into next spring. There’s time enough to bring a fresh look to all the various prettying-up projects. Time enough to decide whether we can live within our already bloated budget. Time enough to… well there’s never time enough to discuss the elephant in the parlour — staff themselves.

That seems like a reasonable request. After all, less than 72 hours earlier the mayor and four councillors stood in front of the assembled, civic-minded suckers who showed up at the GLC to discuss the budget and at least one of them said, “Nothing is cast in stone.” No one in the room sneezed, “Bullshit!” in response. No one in the room expressed the opinion that council needed to reassemble under the cone of silence on Monday and rush through the budget as proposed. A number of fiscally-sound suggestions came up. A number of concerns came up. A number of crackpot ideas came up. Everyone in attendance believed this time the football would stay in place, that council would get staff to pull on their green eyeshades and at least go through the motions of revisiting the budget.

No one believed they were attending yet another collective jerkoff. When will we learn? How soon we forget the lessons of, oh, last October’s utter and complete waste of time town meeting, the various lost hours offering public input on Lot 1/9, the… you know the litany of going-through-the-motions, your-concerns-are-our-concerns public meetings that have been about as productive as watching reruns of test patterns.

For my part in these charades, I apologize. Never again will I implore any of you to put down your Gameboys and come out to do the civic-minded thing. You can choose your own way to waste your own time.

I don’t understand whether it’s the blinding light of the Olympics, the false sense of aggrandizement that this council seems to feel because of it, mulish stubbornness or just a serious lack of understanding of the nuanced points of the political process but this has got to rank among the mother of all blunders.

“We’re looking for your questions, ideas and suggestions,” said the muni’s budget ad in last week’s Pique. “Council will consider this information and your input in determining the budget guidelines….” it concluded. This isn’t the first time our municipal leaders have used the word “consider” when they actually meant its Orwellian synonym, “ignore”, it’s just the latest and perhaps the most egregious.

It is said that reasonable minds can agree to differ. But reasonable minds generally consider — v.t. To think about or deliberate upon — the other side of the coin in coming to a reasoned decision. Given the mayor’s pique at the three councilors who wouldn’t go along with this charade, one wonders about the reasonableness, indeed, the efficacy of this whole PR campaign. While never suggesting anyone should stint on full-page, colour ads in Pique, the one council ran last week was simply another example of its profligate waste of money. Actions speak and council’s actions Monday night support the reasonable conclusion their minds were made up long before they heard any of the points raised at Friday’s public waste of time.

And just to add insult to injury, council not only dismissed pleas to at least go through the motions of trying to hold property tax increases to the rate of inflation, they tacked on some service charges for good measure that will boost the total tax bill well into double digits for many villagers. Worse still, they demonstrated an almost imperial degree of callousness toward a significant swath of taxpayers who will now pay twice for the same service. In assessing a $170 recycling fee on townhouse/condo owners, no consideration seems to have been given to those many who live in condos with on-site recycling already paid for in their common area charges.

At the end of the day though, the really troubling part of this whole charade is the rush to do something that doesn’t need to be rushed. Based on comments from some of the participants, there seems to be a measurable capitulation of responsibility from council to staff on this and other matters about which council is supposed to exercise final judgment. “We don’t want to be second-guessing staff,” is a phrase that’s gained popularity.

Well, that’s just part of the job, isn’t it? Staff advises; council decides? The fact is, as good as most of the muni staff are at doing their jobs, we didn’t vote for any of them. They’re not accountable to us. Council is. It’s part of council’s legitimate role to second guess staff recommendations. Staff is not infallible. Exhibit “A”? The gridlocked reno of the Nesters compactor site, a project I’ve been led to believe was a staff initiative.

Oh well, we’ll get through this. The Goddess of Physiotherapy will fix my aching back, no one will likely lose their home because of the tax increases and new fees, those of us who are now paying twice for recycling can hope this was just an oversight in the exercise of zealousness, and ultimately, judgment day will roll around in about a year’s time on whether we feel duped or well served.

But I’m definitely going to stop falling for the old kick-the-ball trick.

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