Jul. 18, 2020

Now is not the time for councillors to be window shopping

When we were kids, having money meant it had to be spent, that’s what it was for. That’s seems to be the feeling of some city councillors. For them it feels like Christmas in July. Most Nanaimo property owners have paid their 2020 taxes, so some city councillors feel the jingle in their jeans, the signal to go window shopping. 

Coming off a 4.5-per-cent tax hike this year, they have a starting point of a three-per-cent increase for next year but they appear eager to jack it up. They have asked staff to come up with pricing for some of their favourites.

Councillors don’t seem to recognize this is not an ordinary year, everyone has suffered through the Coronavirus pandemic and that includes the city. They better be prepared for less revenue and reserves, lower parks and recreation user fees and facility rentals, less parking revenue and less casino revenue. That will likely be a big hit.

News Bulletin editor Greg Sakaki had an excellent report on the of the latest finance and audit committee meeting where councillors laid bare their wish lists. It’s worth a full read HERE.

Coun. Ben Geselbracht set the tone when he said a three-per cent increase is a good goal, but said he’s inclined to entertain business cases for investing public money.

Geselbracht also wants a sustainability manager, which he said could be partly funded by B.C. Hydro. 

He also wants a community watercourse restoration grant stream to leverage community volunteer labour to help with shared natural restoration objectives. (Volunteers? Prime Minister might be able to help)

Coun. Zeni Maartman wants a mobile response unit to have mental health workers accompany RCMP officers on certain calls.

Coun. Don Bonner, who prides himself in his First Nations ancestry, wants an indigenous engagement position to incorporate a First Nations and urban indigenous perspective into council’s work and decisions.

Coun. Erin Hemmens wants a housing manager, an interim position while the health and housing task force continues its work.

Coun. Tyler Brown wants an e-bike rebate program.

Coun. Jim Turley wisely questioned the city’s role in mental health and addictions which is a provincial responsibility. 

Mayor Leonard Krog, who knows the ropes, agreed that falls outside the city’s jurisdiction and will not address housing and institutionalization for severe cases and a fully-funded system that protects and enhances health systems so that people with mental health issues get the care they need.

Amen, to that!

In the end, all the goodies on the shopping list passed, though Krog, Turley and Coun. Ian Thorpe opposed the mobile crisis unit. Turley also opposed the watercourse restoration grants and e-bike rebates. Coun. Sheryl Armstrong was absent.

The good news is that this is only a shopping list at this point, kicking the tires, checking the prices. Hopefully the light of day will penetrate their rose-coloured glasses in the remaining months before budget time. 

While councillors may not have felt the pinch personally, there are many in our city who lost their jobs while expenses piled up during the pandemic. The same story for the business community, much of which is still shut down, with no income but expenses continuing to pile up. Few of them have slush funds set aside.

If ever there was a time for councillors to show empathy, this would be it. Instead of window shopping, their time would be best invested in studying how to lower the three-per-cent bar instead of raising it.