This column appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Saint City News.
When it comes to birthday parties, $1.7 million is too much.
Even if all the money isn’t going to come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of St. Albert – as indeed appears to be the case with the birthday bash planned for 2011 by the St. Albert 150th Anniversary Celebration Committee – the optics are terrible.
The fact is, even with federal and provincial grants and corporate sponsorships, it sounds very much as if about $1 million is going to have to be paid by St. Albert taxpayers. And $1 million is too much for a birthday party in a city where municipal taxes are a hot-button issue.
Someone at St. Albert Place needs to sit down with the committee and explain the political realities of spending this much on a party in a community where many voters are still fuming about their past tax increases, and many others are concerned.
Now, St. Albert deserves a significant birthday bash for its 1500th anniversary. While there are party poopers here who would have us spend nothing at all on this historically significant event, it’s appropriate to pay a meaningful sum for our celebration. It’s great to think about trying to get St. Albert into the Guinness Book of Records by organizing a huge birthday picnic, and, yes, there will be substantial costs associated with that.
But making a budget request for close to $2 million – which is what it will be when the dust settles if we proceed down this road – smacks of arrogance and a complete disdain for the opinions of that significant group of taxpayers who are unhappy with local tax rates.
In the last civic election, the cost of building and opening Servus Place became a huge issue. If the facts about Servus Place’s operating deficit had been available before October 2007, instead of a short time after, there are grounds to believe St. Albert would have a different city council today.
Since then, however, our council has done a pretty good job of getting tax increases under control and persuading citizens that Servus Place is a real benefit to our community. Sure, there are those who are still steaming about this issue, but it’s a safe bet that the majority of St. Albertans are reasonably happy with things as they are.
But the level of spending proposed for this 2011 birthday bash is so high it has the potential to reignite the same kind of political rage we saw back in 2007 and 2008.
Even people who are not opposed to incremental tax increases will probably raise their eyebrows at spending on activities that leave only a limited legacy. Why not party less and leave more – say, by starting work on a Sesquicentennial Branch of the St. Albert Public Library…
One would think that successful politicians getting ready for a civic election just 88 days away would see the potential for outrage from spending so much on a party – even one that’s supposed to last for most of a year.
Already there are the stirrings of awareness on council, if Councillor Gareth Jones’s questions reported in the last edition of the Saint City News are anything to go by. The committee anticipates raising $400,000 in corporate sponsorships, Jones observed. “How realistic is that $400,000 going to be?”
Good question. Good for Jones for asking it. But just asking is not enough.
Our city council needs to sincerely thank the committee for its hard work and its excellent first draft of the party budget.
Then council needs to task someone in the city administration with a cool head and a durable adding machine to come up with a budget that is under $1-million.
They need to do this, at least, if they want to be re-elected!