Deputy Mayor Lisa Holmes has put out an interesting pie chart as part of her social media campaign. The chart, found on her campaign site LisaHolmes.ca, offers a breakdown of how your tax dollar is spent.
Without a detailed breakdown the pie slices are merely numbers that may look large to many of us depending on our personal experience and perspective.
For example, Council spends close to $300,000 in wages, expenses and training, an amount that is a clear third higher than the annual budget of this publication. That is not to say Council’s budget is too high or that we do not get good value for the dollar from that sliver of pie. But it does show how ratepayers, commercial and residential, will compare budgetary slices with their own realities.
One area that causes concern to many, including this publication, is the amount spent on programming, particularly when so many of the Town’s programs are not well attended. According to Deputy Mayor Holmes’ pie chart, the Town of Morinville spends $405,000 on programming. No detail is provided on how much of that is recovered through program fees. Community Services, who (among other duties) provide the programming, account for $605,000; a figure that we are told includes festivals. The combined total is on the upside of a million bucks. This does not factor in the $339,000 we spend on the arena or the $507,000 spent annually on parks and open spaces. Lumping it all together this community spends just shy of $2 million a year to provide things for the people to do, and yet we hear there is nothing for people to do here.
As the deputy Mayor points out with her pie chart, a one per cent tax increase generates $70,000 revenue for the Town. Two million is a lot of one per cent increments.
Few would argue the value of our arena or our parks and trails. They are extremely well used, and while the dollars might be open to the wisdom of sharpened pencils, none can argue our parks, trails and rink are community necessities.
What is less clear is the Town’s programming.
To be sure, some Town programming, including drop-in fitness programs, are highly successful; other efforts are complete duds. It would be impossible to put the finger of blame on Council or Town staff for a lack of enrolment in many programs offered by the community. We residents share in the blame for the oft-heard refrain “We did not know about it.” Twice a year the Town sends out a full catalogue of its program offerings. Each week it runs advertisements in this and other publications. Posters go up and the odd press release or Facebook post trickles out. But too many times the program is put in the guide and that is where it seems to end.
This spring and summer saw a few planned programs cancelled and others sadly undersubscribed. Cirque de Morinville and Act Up Pocket Theatre, two brilliant programs that offered youth a glimpse at theatrical arts, were both cancelled. A well intended and excellent Multi-Sports Camp, offering youth an introduction to football, wrestling and karate drew only three participants, if one does not count the instructor’s three children who joined in to boost the numbers.
This year’s Best Gardens Competition drew five competitors from roughly 3,500 residences, a number not incredibly different from the previous year.
But imagine if the money spent on that program had been given in trust to the Morinville Community Gardens folks. What are the odds of a group of people clearly interested in all things green banging the drum efficiently and creatively on behalf of the Town, particularly if the funding coming their way benefits the community and helps grow the group?
The next Council would do wise to look at the community programming model with an eye to reducing that $400,000 budget to $300,000 and giving a third of the remainder directly to community groups and organizations who perhaps have a specific grasp, passion or foot in the door on previously unsuccessful programs.
The community groups maximize and multiply the dollars available because most are fairly expert at doing much with little. Community Services staff are freed to run the programs the Town does well, oversee the budgetary dollars transferred to the community groups, and more aggressively look for other partnership opportunities within the community that will create successful and well subscribed programs. Relying on the expertise of those closest to the source – men, women and youth who may well have their finger on the pulse of what will excite and interest the community – could give us more variety in the community and more community involvement.