Maximum Pain for Minimum Gain at City Hall

Commentary, Municipal Government, Jenny Motkaluk

We have all seen this movie before. 

The theatrics now underway at city hall over the citys ongoing budget crisis” is just too predictable. Taxpayers have seen this movie so many times before that we know the plot. City bureaucrats float various dire scenarios, employing an old trick proposing maximum pain for minimum gain” cuts. Famous examples in the past included cancelling Christmas turkeys for the poor, slicing the mosquito control budget, and, of course, devastating flower and tree budgets. All designed to scare politicians into doing the right thing, ahem — raise taxes.

Unsurprisingly, those with a vested interest in constantly rising city spending predictably chime in. The union-supported Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives graciously rides to the rescue with a timely report calling for a 7.33% property tax increase. At that point, our fearless councillors take a hard line” — heroically raising taxes and fees by a smaller amount than recommended. Everyone breathes a sign of relief.  

This is all so predictable.

The public spending coalitions, well-funded and well-organized, buffalo a handful of harried, well-meaning councillors who lack adequate research support. Usually there is no contest, and taxpayers are out-negotiated. Most egregiously, surreal recent discussions are sure to pop out of the spending swamp again, such as establishing a $15-hour “living wage” on city contractors or expanding the citys money-hemorrhaging recycling programs.

Of course, there is plenty of money for an expensive downtown bike lane program, that is now devastating many exchange district businesses.  That few cyclists are availing themselves of all the new downtown bike lanes is not surprising in a city with 4 to 5 winter months. If the city has its way, we’ll never know the costs or the number of cyclists. What we do know is that in addition to the cost in dollars, there are harder to define costs of these projects because of disruption to the local businesses, which will lead to lower business and property tax revenue and a reduced economy for all of us.

Some of you may recall a video from the summer of 2018.  It showed a total of 12 people getting off or on a bus at one of the existing BRT stops during afternoon rush hour. At $1 Billion per leg of BRT, those are some expensive bus rides. Of course there is more. Much more.

It is time to change the horror/comedy movie burdening city taxpayers. We need cultural change at city hall, to come from long overdue legislative reform involving real cost-benefit analyses and useful cost accounting systems to identify what the real delivery costs at city hall are.

For example, what about asking for and finding the real cost of rolling not one, not two, but THREE sets of trucks through the city each week for curbside waste collection? All to sort, wash, then haul most of it to the dump. And, what about all those mounting legal bills and lost investments arising from the on-going growth fee battle. BRT, gold-plated employee benefits, the assessment bureaucracy, bike lanes … the list goes on. 

The line we often hear is that people need to just pay a little bit more.” But actually, it’s time for citizens to insist that long overdue reforms occur so government starts wasting a lot less.

Republished from the Winnipeg Sun, December 17, 2019.