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Mixed up priorities

Last week’s budget deliberations at city hall rendered wins for some city groups and losses for others. On the winning side were branch library proponents and city ice users.

Last week’s budget deliberations at city hall rendered wins for some city groups and losses for others.

On the winning side were branch library proponents and city ice users. Council voted in favour of building new library space and a new arena. On the losing side was St. Albert’s working poor when council decided to cut $10,000 in funding from the housing society. While the city will still contribute $102,000 to the society, poor economic conditions might mean a greater need for the society’s services.

Only Coun. Tim Osborne and Mayor Nolan Crouse voted against the grant reduction. The rest of council suggested the housing society should be moving toward self-sufficiency. Councillors in favour of the motion said the revenue the society generates from its growing number of housing units and the success it as realized through its fundraising efforts means the city could begin weaning it off taxpayer support.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said he wants the society and other agencies to come forward with a solid business case for council’s consideration to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their money. He also said it best when he stated the city has limited resources and needs to spend carefully.

Unfortunately neither of those statements reflects the reality of city spending. There are likely very few people who drive by the city’s new colourful sidewalks, mural crosswalk or faux-brick bridge and proclaim it money well spent. Those few projects alone set the city back more than $150,000. Those are three branding projects – most would say eyesores – that are apparently worth more than helping keep families housed. The same can be said about the proposed spending of $335,000 to restore the old jet on the pedestal – a Lockheed T33AN Silver Star 3 (T-Bird).

Fortunately the poorly-drafted public branding policy has been handed back to council for more oversight and future projects will be approved only after a public debate. Seeing how much those branding projects are worth, perhaps St. Albert needs a new brand. Our new branding strategy could be something that directs such substantial sums of money toward things that will actually improve our community.

With such a strategy in place maybe councillors would not feel the need to spend so much time pondering how to nickel and dime a society that has helped 78 individuals/families secure shelter.

Perhaps if council adopted such a policy and took Brodhead’s advice about spending money on items of value, some taxpayers would have an easier time accepting when funding is approved for social programs and expensive capital projects.

There were a small few who took to social media, the Gazette’s letters page and online commenting to berate library supporters, calling them a tax-grabbing special interest group. That is despite the mass email blitz and attendance in the gallery last week, which proved the branch library generated a lot of support in the city.

The fact that an institution of learning and knowledge – libraries are more than places that just store books – can be considered a special interest group, speaks volumes about the optics of council’s spending priorities. Many citizens appear ready to criticize any major cost that goes beyond the bare basics.

Libraries and recreation facilities are as important to community building as roads, sewers and schools. Those amenities attract people to call a place home and contribute to its vibrancy. They are good for business as every other community in the capital region can attest.

It is time to toss out the frivolous spending and focus on things that matter.