It has been a great privilege to be able to attend the various conferences and training sessions over these past three years. By attending these gatherings a person is able to ask questions of the other attendees around what works to make their communities better, the best way to deal with issues that are common to communities both big and small and to form and further cement relationships with other government officials.
We are not alone here in Barriere with our issues of aging infrastructure, lack of new businesses and industry, the need for increased health care and seniors’ facilities and precious few things for our youth to do. The sad fact is the majority of communities not only have the same issues as we do but are in much worse situations.
While in Saskatoon we noticed that the streets and sidewalks were heaved and potholed just as they are in other communities. This despite having a huge potash industry that contributes to the economy. In Ontario the provincial highways are getting some attention but the local roads in cities like Niagara are showing their age just like here in Barriere. In most every community we have visited there were many houses for sale, businesses boarded up, schools closed and, in some, a definite lack of drive and desire to improve their situation. The residents were moving to where the work was and I suspect there was no intention of going back.
This is not the case here in the North Thompson Valley and in Barriere. We do have people returning to where they grew up and new people moving to our community as the increase in kindergarten enrollment attests to. More and more people are realizing the value of seeking out a community that will give their family the lifestyle that they desire. It is this common ground of choices based on personal and family safety, clean water and a welcoming community that will bring people to our area.
With them they will bring new ideas, their own desire to help grow the community and their own views as to how that growth should occur. I suspect though, that for the most part those views will be aligned with keeping our community as it is now, welcoming and safe with few if any of the problems of larger centres.
Essential services like clean water, safe streets, good schooling, medical facilities and proper police and fire coverage generally top the list of what people look for in a community. Local shopping is on the list but in communities close to a major urban centre that can be on a limited scale. It is providing the essential services that seal the deal.
Budgeting for municipal services and other needs is, at best, a trial and error process. Unless a community has had many years of experience with local costs it is, indeed, difficult. Experienced staff and qualified consultants help with the process. In the end though, the decisions around how your tax dollars are spent must be in the hands of those you have elected to represent you. The budget must be set by and governed by the council, not staff.
In some cases Council members may think that by cutting funding to various departments the budget can be balanced. In some cases this might be just what is needed and it may fix the problem. It involves hard decisions and will need to be based on solid facts.
Council has a huge responsibility to insure that the community is best served by the taxes collected. In the search for a balanced budget it is all too easy for a council member to suggest trimming items from high dollar budgets like the fire department. They may think cutting funding for training or for an upgrade to the fire hall exhaust system would save money. It might but to what end?
Here in Barriere we need to realize that we best not and, indeed, cannot go down the road of saving a few pennies by cutting funding to essential services. We need to properly assess what it is we all deem important and spend our precious tax money to make those things happen.