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The challenge of community-based priorities

Posted on September 4, 2013 by Taber Times

Elected officials certainly don’t have an easy road, particularly when it comes to determining the projects that should be undertaken for the betterment of a municipality.

Once elected, members of town and municipal district councils often operate in a unique bubble. They are surrounded by administrative staff and professionals within the municipal government sector such as accountants, engineers, project managers and lawyers. They can seek advice from these professionals on the most effective or economical way to undertake a project but first they have to decide what projects warrant channeling both a community’s economic and physical resources.

Municipal budgets are tight and likely to get tighter in the coming four-year municipal term.

Municipalities have to allocate a large chunk of tax dollars and grant funding to keep infrastructure current and effective. This doesn’t leave a lot left to focus on improvements such as recreation and cultural developments. Recreation is often at the top of the list when municipalities are considering projects to fund or facilitate.

It certainly costs more to upgrade sewer and water lines and pave roads but residents often take those things for granted.

Ice arenas, swimming pools and playgrounds seem to generate more interest than new water lines or sewer lift stations. While a community’s infrastructure is certainly a necessity, there could be some room for argument swimming pools and arenas are not necessary, but rather perks.

That argument can go either way. Those who favour spending tax dollars on new recreation facilities can successfully argue that if a community doesn’t have such amenities, it will lose residents, fail to attract new development and eventually the tax base won’t be able to support the necessities. On the other side of that argument are those who believe recreation facilities should be built using fundraising and grant initiatives rather than tax dollars. The reasoning being that those who use these facilities should be the ones who spearhead the fundraising in partnership with the municipality which can assist with funding and accessing of grants.

In a number of communities the cultural facilities often have to take a second seat to recreation facilities. That isn’t to say that our communities haven’t done a great job of supporting libraries and other cultural events and facilities but not to the same tune that support is generated for recreation facilities.

Recreation has always been a priority for our communities and this certainly has merit but there also needs to be a balance, due consideration for cultural facilities.

Often the project that generates the most buzz in the community will get the support from the municipality. Members of town council, the ones who ultimately approve the yearly budget can only make decisions based on what they hear from the ratepayers. If they don’t get a lot of feedback then it’s up to them to determine where the funds will be spent and which projects will be a municipal priority. Not only do local residents need to support the projects they feel are important, they also need to let their elected officials know where their support lies. It’s amazing how often a project such as a swimming pool, arena, ball diamond or playground is completed because a core group of volunteers had a vision and worked hard to see it brought to reality. With an election looming — just two months away — local residents need to take a moment to not only consider where they feel tax dollars would be best spent but they also need to consider who would best represent them on their town or county council. Change will come, whether or not it is change for the better will be determined by whether those in the position to make the decisions have the good of the community — as a whole — at heart.

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