For several years, I believed the most thankless task in local politics was being chair of a board of education.
With the provincial government centralizing taxation, curriculum and enacting new policies hourly, the only task seemingly left to boards was the dreaded accommodation review (i.e. closing schools).
When declining enrolment and escalating salaries collided with provincial fiscal reality, school closings were inevitable to everyone but parents.
The first closures were met with angry protests accusing boards of being heartless destroyers of communities. Demonstrations, letter writing and telephone campaigns were the rule of the day.
It took a while but eventually parents realized they had no power and, like a punch drunk boxer, they’re now so used to being hit it doesn’t seem to hurt as much.
Given that, the newest contender for the political version of “world’s worst job” is Chatham Kent budget chair.
Counc. Art Stirling, a man undaunted by last year’s marathon which ended with him admitting the process was broken, is again the ringmaster.
Council is working through its second week of sessions and has managed to anger animal lovers by chopping more than $200,000 paid to the OSPCA. It narrowly averted a crisis in Wallaceburg by removing Sydenham Pool from the chopping block.
While local volunteer fire halls in rural areas seem safe for this year, the roads and bridges they drive on may not be due to lack of funding.
Local crows are happy that the decades old war of attrition against them has been cancelled due to its nearly $60,000 annual cost. The surrender came about after best quote of the budget process, courtesy of C-K infrastructure and engineering GM Thomas Kelly who said “this is not a business that we’re good at at all.”
Of course the municipality could have saved some of the thousands upon thousands of dollars wasted in the crow wars by merely forcing residents to use cans instead of bags but what’s the fun in that?
While citizen involvement is commendable (council even had to move one pre-budget session due to higher-than anticipated attendance), there is a disconnect in the rationale of many.
A common theme is that taxpayers want no tax increase and expect council to get to that point by cutting staff and not reducing services.
It’s not going to happen that way.
Staff provide services. You can argue that the municipality is overstaffed, that workers aren’t pulling their weight, but it’s only an argument, not a fact.
If we have any situations similar to Hamilton where 29 city workers were sacked this week for various performance infractions, they haven’t come to light. And you can bet the spotlight shining on municipal spending has C-K administration looking.
At the root of the problem is that the current budget process is set up to manage the status quo, not to make sweeping changes. There will be no significant change of course in the good ship Chatham-Kent until council (or voters) decide one is needed.
The current service review could give mayor and council the courage to make sweeping changes. Whether that courage is used is another matter.
If only crows could vote, councillors would feel somewhat more secure.