Spending tax dollars is a delicate matter

With the community abuzz with talk about the upcoming swimming pool referendum, the main concern besides the pool concept itself, is the price tag. Many in the regional district are worried that since there are more properties in Area H that the residents there will be footing the bill for the new Aquatic Centre.

With the community abuzz with talk about the upcoming swimming pool referendum, the main concern besides the pool concept itself, is the price tag. Many in the regional district are worried that since there are more properties in Area H that the residents there will be footing the bill for the new Aquatic Centre.  I have some questions of my own, but I will reserve my judgement about the project until I have seen the facts when they are presented to us by the Aquatic Centre Committee.

This issue has made me think about the larger topic of the use of local tax dollars. Princeton has been fairly fiscally conservative over the years with a few large expenditures here and there and it has worked fairly well for us. After all, we have a small population with a small tax base and it has only been responsible governing that has kept us out of the red.

Spending tax money is a delicate matter. After all, you are spending people’s hard-earned money. Not everyone is going to agree with the way elected officials spend tax money and not everyone will benefit or use the services that will be provided by those tax dollars. At the end of the day, politicians and their bureaucrats need to not only weigh the pros and cons of the project or service, but justify the expenditure.

In December of 2010, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) released a report claiming that “municipal operating spending across the province grew 2.01 times faster than inflation and population growth over the period 2000 to 2008” and that “less than 1 in 10 B.C. municipal governments, representing only 1.2 per cent of the provincial population, kept operating spending growth at or below population and inflation.”

These are some worrisome claims, but with all studies, you need to see if there is another side to the story. It took some time to do so, but the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) did respond on May 16, 2011 with: “Contrary to the views of CFIB and CTF, local government spending on operations is not “out of control”. Municipal operating expenditures have increased over time in response to the demands and needs of communities for important local services. Expenditures have also increased thanks to the rising cost of key service inputs, and to the downloading of new responsibilities — without matching sources of funding — by senior governments.”

In defense of local governments, the provincial government did download a lot of new responsibilities to municipal and regional governments in an attempt to cut their own budgets. Locally, Victoria downloaded flood control onto the municipality. The real kicker was not so much that the dyke was now the responsibility of the town, but that it must be brought up to “provincial standards” a story that would occur time and time again across the province.

In the case of the CFIB and the UBCM, there may not be a “right and wrong,” but there is something that can be taken from it all. When tax money is being spent there needs to be transparency and communication. Local government is spending people’s hard earned money and the people are putting their trust in the government to do the right thing with that money.