Thanks to democracy, Council’s decision to borrow $10 million could be overthrown or confirmed
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
God bless democracy! It may not be a perfect system as Winston Churchill once said, but democracy could save Cranbrook tax payers and property owners millions of dollars this month if they get off their butts and use it.
What am I talking about? Glad you asked. I’m talking about the Alternative Approval Process (AAP) now in place until the end of the month that could over rule City Council’s decision to borrow $10 million to jump-start spending on the crumbling road and infrastructure system in our city
But how many good Key City residents even know the AAP is happening or have bothered to pick up their form at City Hall? Not many. Media coverage has been light. There seems to be no buzz around town about the AAP unlike the East Hill boundary extension proposal that galvanized voters in 2009 and almost led to rioting in the streets. So as a public service, I’m going to explain what’s going on and try to do it as fairly and accurately as I can.
After all, it’s your money and mine.
The AAP form can be picked up during business hours at City Hall. It sets out what the City wants to do, namely approve a bylaw to borrow up to $10 million over the next 20 years to accelerate road, and infrastructure development in the city. Council has already voted unanimously to do this. But because it involves borrowing money, a lot of money in addition to the taxes we already pay, the AAP provides taxpayers with the rare opportunity to overrule a decision by their elected councillors. The way it works is if 10 per cent of registered voters, which is 1,499 in this case, sign the AAP form and return it to City Hall before the deadline 4:30 pm Oct. 31, it will overturn the bylaw passed by Council and trigger a referendum as happened during the East Hill controversy.
Serious stuff for sure. Serious enough that all residents and property owners in the city should be aware of it and exercise their right to sign the AAP if they oppose the bylaw or refuse to sign if they support it. This reminds me of a famous quote by former US President John Kennedy: “We hold the view that the people come first, not the government.”
As usually is the case, there are many issues surrounding the bylaw. The City rightly points out now is a good time to borrow because interest rates are historically low. However, it could also be argued that we already pay taxes to provide services such as roads, sewer and water and our taxes aren’t cheap and borrowing would only add to the burden. Nevertheless, some may be tempted to support the City’s bylaw and not sign the AAP because our roads are in such atrocious shape, especially 2nd St S. one of the main arterials serving the residential south side and sure to take one of the biggest bites, if not the biggest, out of the $10 million borrowed.
But do we need to borrow $10 million now when this will cost residents a tax increase of $31 per $100,000 of assessed value? And will interest rates stay this low much longer? Some say the the $4.1 million annually the City is spending now on roads and infrastructure should be spread out over a longer period eliminating the need to borrow and raise taxes. But others say we’ve waited long enough to fix our roads and borrowing now makes sense. However, still more feel Council should lobby Ottawa more vigorously for Cranbrook’s share of the $120 billion Federal Infrastructure Fund, which would make borrowing unnecessary. Personally, I feel the City should have held an open house on the issue to better inform the public before they make their fateful decision on this issue.
So that’s it folks.It’s an extremely important decision for everyone in the city and one deserving thoughtful consideration. If you want to know more, check the City’s web page or go down to City Hall and get a copy of the AAP form.
But if you just ignore it you’re showing little appreciation for the hard-won benefits of democracy.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and former Cranbrook City Councillor.