Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

Scary budget times ahead



If I were Mayor Ken or councillors McKeever, Lorriman or Wake, I might have looked out over the empty seats in Myrtle Philip a week ago Tuesday and thought to myself, “Nobody in town really gives a damn about the budget or the proposed property tax increase to fund it, so what the hell, let’s just go for it.” Fact was, I thought for a minute I’d read the notice erroneously and had accidentally stumbled into a muni staff meeting, not a public meeting. The few members of the non-media public who bothered to show up during Tuesday’s snow storm were outnumbered by council and staff.

The woeful turnout might have been the fault of the snow. For that matter, it might have been my fault. After the budget meeting in December I wrote, in no uncertain terms, that I’d think twice about wasting my time attending another one since everyone who actually gets a vote on the budget seems to have already made up their minds. And to be honest, nothing I heard on the last Tuesday in January made me rethink that conclusion. If anything, the defensive, even churlish way so many of the questions were handled — not necessarily answered, just handled — reinforced the notion that the wagons have been circled, the bunkers been built and the decisions cast in stone.

That’s not to say it was a waste of time. It wasn’t. What it was, quite unexpectedly, was a glimpse into the future. I used to think our Olympic-tinged future was simply scary It isn’t. What it is though is downright terrifying.

In his opening remarks, Mayor Ken said words to the effect that we’re in for budget problems for years to come. Whatever illusions we might have had about this year’s proposed six per cent property tax increase being a silver bullet, a one-shot deal, bitter medicine we’d only have to swallow once, vanished when Ms. Mombourquette led the assembled few through a barchart of projected cumulative budget shortfalls we’ll be facing in the years ahead.

The sobering reality is that this year’s tax increase — which, of course, becomes the new baseline for subsequent budgets — will be repeated next year… and the year after that… and the year after that. After which point, the picture becomes fuzzier.

Without going into a primer on the mathematical magic of compound interest, let’s just say the leg of the sustainability stool that is economic sustainability — at least personal economic sustainability as opposed to municipal economic sustainability — is about to take a shitkicking.