Column: Do you want your taxes raised or services cut? Answer: No

by Ed Cowley, freelancer

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Surveys are wonderful. They can produce whatever results you wish.

Instead of actually welcoming residents to an open house or council meeting to receive comments that it can consider in preliminary preparation of the draft 2023 budget for the town of Morinville an online survey tool was used. Although the results are not yet in, they will support a reasonable tax increase to maintain services and the cutting of some non-essential services if necessary to avoid an excessive tax increase … because that is the result the survey is designed to get.

Included with your last town utility bill was an information sheet which had the following advice to encourage residents to complete the survey.

“The budget is the plan for how tax dollars and other funding will be invested to provide the services residents count on, as well as plan future capital investment. “We want to build a budget that meets your needs while balancing what’s actually possible given the current economic realities and pandemic recovery.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn, Council minimized property tax increases in recognition of the financial challenges residents were faced with. This, coupled with rising costs, resulted in consecutive budgets that included tax supported operating deficits – budgets that did not include enough revenue to support general operations. This required utility surpluses, funds intended to build town savings for future capital replacement and investment, to be used to cover the deficits.

“To add to these challenges, the high rate of inflation means that cost of the same services provided last year are increasing as much as 7%, and as such revenue must keep pace with those increases in order to avoid service level reductions. This budget will be about trade-offs, Morinville Council need to know what is important to you! Your feedback will be shared with Council to inform their decision making.”

Did you notice anything missing from the advice? How about a third option: “Improve efficiency in the delivery of town services” comes to mind. No, don’t even think of cutting the front line staff, it’s the multi-layers of management and administration that can be assisted toward focussing on tasks of direct importance to residents. Thin the management pyramid if necessary. Maybe you disagree with that, but administration certainly didn’t want the public to include such a view on its survey and only offered the two possibilities in its promo.

The survey is no longer available to be completed online, so you can not fill it out. However, you can go to the town website (Contact Us – Mayor and Council) then type in your email advice, and all members of council will get it.

Here’s a real-life example of why ‘surveys’ are ‘sure ways’ to get the results you want. A young reporter about four decades ago decided to conduct a survey on the always sticky issue of councillors attending distant conventions in luxury hotels at taxpayer expense. The survey gave participants two options for response, and the results: 50% of residents didn’t think council should go; 50% didn’t think they should come back.

Surveys are fun but should only be used for silliness. If you want serious opinions, invite residents to talk directly to you through an open house or participation at a council meeting (invite letters to council for those unable to attend).

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