Four guys go out for dinner and everyone eats an equal share of the food served up, but when the bill comes, one guy starts squirming and making excuses about what his actual share of the bill is. After much argument, stalling and bafflegab, he reluctantly opens his wallet and lays out some cash, an amount that is a fraction of the value of the food he’s just ate. Not wanting to cause a scene, the other three diners quietly dig into their pockets to cover the shortfall of the fourth diner. Privately they call him a cheapskate and a deadbeat, the kind of guy who always seems to need the rest room when the waiter is coming with the cheque.
Sturgeon County has been ducking out on the bill a lot lately, offering some communities a fraction of the money they need to cover the costs of Sturgeon County residents using the various facilities and services available to them under the cost sharing agreement between the county and the neighbouring municipalities. And when those municipalities dare to levy a higher fee on Sturgeon County residents to make up for the funding shortfalls, Sturgeon County withholds funding further, justified in their righteous indignation that county residents are being held hostage.
Case in point – An additional funding allotment offered to municipal libraries who charge county residents the same user fees as municipal residents, something the Morinville Public Library consistently fails to receive. Despite 18 per cent of County residents using the Morinville library and nearly one third of library patrons being county residents, Sturgeon County’s contribution, when worked out on a per capita basis, is substantially less than Morinville’s.
Case in point two – Sturgeon County Council’s decision to withhold a $250,000 CARF grant to help pay for the Morinville Community Cultural Centre, an amount that is just over two per cent of the total cost of the facility, not including furniture and equipment.
In Sturgeon County’s eyes, a $250,000 investment in an $11 million capital investment should be a sufficient financial contribution to warrant County residents renting the facility for the same price as Morinville taxpayers, residents who will pay for the approximately $3 million debenture on the facility either through taxes or Morinville’s share of speeding tickets.
Morinville Council has little choice but to suck it up and accept the $45,000 Sturgeon County has tossed their way for the cost sharing agreement between the two communities, monies that cover the arena, curling club and other local programs and services. The Morinville Public Library has little choice but to accept a grossly inadequate per capita funding of the library from Sturgeon County, their only recourse to lobby council to pony up on funding and hope the amount will increase in 2012. Morinville Town Council has a choice with respect to the soon-to-be-opened community Cultural Centre and is absolutely correct in saying the buck stops here with respect to what level of financial commitment is needed before equal user fees can be charged for residents of both communities.
There may be little that can be done to step out of bad user agreements made more than a decade ago, but Morinville Town Council can certainly put the brakes on allowing Sturgeon County to have another free ride for its residents in a new and very costly facility.
Sturgeon County’s track record of marrying its deep and soon-to-be deeper pockets with its short arms has left communities and their taxpayers footing the County’s portion of the restaurant bill for far too long. It’s time the County ponied up on the funding.
Ed. note: In the interest of full disclosure, the writer of this editorial is both a Morinville resident, Morinville business owner and board member of the Morinville Public Library.