Are public budget sessions worth it?

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Sir: With the exception of Chatham, Wallaceburg and Tilbury saw municipal staff outnumber resident attendees by almost two to one.

Chatham had approximately 126 people, standing room only. My head count revealed 102 residents and 24 staff, which included a few councillors. It appeared the majority of residents in attendance were in support of keeping the Bothwell arena open.

I feel the timing, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. – when people are still working, going home from work, preparing for supper, and generally being fed up with the “nobody listens anyway, so why attend” experience, including an intricately colourful but somewhat meaningless landscape of graphs and curves called the 2016 municipal budget – contributes to low taxpayer turnout each year.

In their own right, I believe staff did a professional job in displaying the budget, however, such is generally only understood by them and accounting professionals.

Explaining a $287-million corporation’s budget and operations and having it understood, takes more than a few minutes at an open public session using the hypnotic induction method of swirls, whirls and mesmerizing hues of the colour spectrum.

Municipalities are required to have public budget reviews. CK has the capability (with their JD Edwards account system, still not implemented) that would breakdown costs using direct figures, rather than mind-boggling geometry and fancy landscapes of financial scenery, where the former would clearly show exactly how, why and how much related departments, divisions and C-K overall is costing us. This way taxpayers can see almost where, why and how each dollar is being spent.

Responsible application of the Edwards system would allow every resident a true and accurate financial understanding to then be able give informed input that would accelerate our community into prosperity rather than its current liability – probably meaning no tax hikes from best prioritized spending and proper capital investments, from knowledge based resident input.

Collectively, it’s the taxpayers that know what a municipality requires. Road-blocking information from residents by using such budget presentations, foreign to most, whether intentional or not, destroys an economy.

Municipalities are “stakeholder owned” non-profit corporations. Taxpayers are actually the board of directors. Imagine not having all information – clearly, comprehensively and accurately given – for you to make informed decisions so your company stock doesn’t keep falling.

The municipality has unwisely invested and created financial liabilities of about $60 million over a limited time in capital projects only to now suggest we close an arena. Each of our rural areas has to maintain growth ingredients: things like arenas, hospitals, recreational and the base perks that assist and sustain community growth. Notwithstanding, arenas are being used less, they still represent an integral ingredient for community growth.

The community of Bothwell is an integral part of Chatham-Kent. Concerned citizens and arena users need to work with the municipality to create a shared costing initiative. It could lead to precedent-setting criteria for all communities.

We make excuses why we can’t do things; let’s create reasons why we can.

Saving a community arena, in this case, shows public budget sessions are worth it.

John Cryderman

Chatham

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