Loathe as I ever am to bring in the consultants with their pie charts, nausea-inducing jargon, incipient PowerPoint presentations and six-digit wages, I think we need help.
As the eminent G.D. Maxwell pointed out in the back pages of this paper not long ago, municipal employees are getting a raise this year on par with their post-strike peers in Vancouver, which is the standard we currently base salaries on. That’s despite the fact that muni workers are already some of the best paid employees in town, have enviable benefits and job security, and recently voted our muni hall as one of the best places to work in Canada. No wonder.
Those raises are part of the reason that my property taxes are going up next year, and why living here has become just a little less affordable for my family by a factor of more than $400 next spring. It couldn’t come at a worse time financially with a child on the way, gas prices through the roof, and the cost of other commodities going up. The Whistler 2020 plan has a section on resident affordability, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to apply to the cost of local government itself.
Wages are usually the biggest expense for any operation, and government is no different. That’s why when the federal government set out to balance the budget more than a decade ago they started off by freezing new hires, eliminating redundant departments and positions, and letting the size of the civil service shrink through attrition.
Our federal government also has the benefit of independent oversight, which is basically a team of accountants and investigators under the Auditor General that pore through accounts in search of waste. When waste is discovered, it’s trotted out into the media spotlight to the lasting embarrassment of the government agencies responsible.
The sponsorship scandal and spiraling gun registry costs are two examples of waste uncovered by investigators in recent years, and played a major role in removing the Liberal Party from office in 2006.
We, the taxpayers, have a right to demand the same level of oversight from our municipal government. It’s our money — who’s watching it for us?
I’m not suggesting that municipal employees are deliberately or carelessly wasting our money, or that they’re not working as hard as they should for the salaries they’re being paid. I’m not suggesting that anyone is unnecessary.
We also have to keep in mind that a lot of budget items will always be subjective. For example, some taxpayers might call a piece of public art a waste of money, while others might say we’re not spending enough on spectacle. Some residents supported the Olympics, while others did not. Some residents think the new green library is worth $12 million, while others think we could have done it for a lot cheaper.