By now you have either put your name forward for a municipal election, or not. If you have, my hat is off to you. If not, may I suggest you can — and should — still participate.
From now until Sept. 24, you have the opportunity to affect the next four years of your municipality.
We trust the candidates will contact you and ask for your support. Be an active listener. Are they complaining about the incumbents or are they talking about the positive, progressive actions that can happen in the future?
If you have a would-be-politician complaining about a building/park/trail that is already built, run! We aren’t going to tear down a multi-million dollar building regardless of whether it was a good idea or not. Let’s start a conversation about its future, find a way to build on the legacy. Ask your candidates if they have an idea for how the building/park/trail can now contribute to the future fabric of your community or its economic development.
Next, what do you want your community to look like? Do you want your council to spend money on trails, swimming pools, pavement, more buildings and/or attracting new business?
Don’t wait until you disagree with what council does; tell them now and then pay attention to what happens.
While you are waiting to see if it happens, there is some homework that will help you understand there may be a reason your elected council cannot accomplish all the things it set out to do.
Let’s start with a lesson in pavement: every square foot of pavement you expect your municipality to roll out costs, on average, $25 per square metre. This does not include the cost of the foundation that must be built before it’s paved. Measure your driveway. Get perspective.
It’s easy to say “fix the potholes” and much harder to find the money to do so.
Now for that nasty money word: taxes. It feels like we pay a lot of municipal tax because the number is staring right at you when you open your tax bill every year. Did you know, of all that taxes most of us complain about paying, only nine per cent goes directly to your municipality via property tax?
It doesn’t seem like much to manage virtually all the infrastructure that touches your daily life does it? The remaining 91 per cent goes to levels of government whose expenditures we don’t see on a daily basis. And, you don’t see the amount you pay other levels so clearly because of the way it’s collected — a little here and there, as we’ve grown used to sales tax, feel helpless about income tax. Next tax season, never mind your refund or amount owed, take a good look at how much you let them keep.
Get perspective. It’s easy to say “fix the potholes” and much harder to find the money to do so.
Your municipality has to go hat in hand to do almost anything significant. Depending on the size of your community, between 70-90 per cent of your municipal infrastructure costs comes from the provincial/federal pot. And, getting their hands on that money is #justnotthatsimple. There is no gravy train in municipal politics.
Follow the money, find the truth. Here’s how the money trail works for municipal funding:
– A municipality decides it needs, say, a new bridge/water distribution system/building or park.
– Community tax base can’t afford it. The town asks another level of government for help.
– An engineer has to get involved.
– An application has to be sent to the province. (The preceding four points is a two-year process.)
– The province ranks the need as compared to the need of other communities and prioritizes funding. (By now we are at Year 3 for sure.)
– Your community may not be successful, but you, as a citizen, will assume your municipal politician did not do something he or she set out to do. Some of your fellow citizens will yell and scream about broken promises. It is not a broken promise; it is an unsuccessful effort.
– If your council is lucky enough to get financial assistance, it may get the project accomplished in the fourth year of the term but most likely, it will be the next elected council that gets the public credit, or abuse, for the bridge or building or trail or whatever.
It makes for a stronger system when we actually know the reality of expectations.
Donna Thistle is the outgoing mayor in Steady Brook. She is also a business owner in Corner Brook and has or currently serves on the boards of Flowers Canada, Revenue Canada Advisory, Junior Achievement, Marble Mountain Development Corp, Board of Referees for HRDC, Rotary Club of Corner Brook, Writers at Woody Point and many others. She has considerable experience in governance on a national and local level.
CLICK HERE TO READ DONNA THISTLE'S FIRST COLUMN