Debt and democracy: Cranbrook in hock both ways
Letter to the Editor
As a property owner I am affected by the City of Cranbrook’s primary mechanism for raising money: property taxes. As a citizen, I’m concerned about the democratic practices which we all depend on for accountable and transparent governance. The current city initiative to obtain our approval to borrow $10 million, repayable over 20 years to proceed with intensive road work in a two-year period, doesn’t meet the democratic or fiscal smell tests, and has the potential to boost property taxes far into the future.
The process the city is using to obtain support consists of property owners submitting a form indicating if they disapprove of the proposed debt. But most folks just don’t bother participating in these kinds of ballots. The city has no problem with this: it plans to count non-responses as affirmative responses. That means if you don’t vote, you get counted as a ‘yes’ vote. If this were a commercial practice, it would be negative billing – now banned. As a democratic practice, that’s right up there with registering dead people to vote. The Mayor’s response to citizens opposing this debt initiative has been to denigrate them as rumour-mongers, and offer folks who have voted ‘no’ a chance to change their votes. What kind of banana republic operates like this?
The current city budget holds one per cent annually for regular road maintenance. Mayor and council figure on boosting this by an additional 2.1% per year for 20 years. Thus, the road budget more than doubles.
The current council likes to present itself as fiscally responsible. Imagine the campaign slogans in future elections. Cranbrook will be in debt. Regrettably, time to boost property taxes, and cut “frivolous spending.” Roads are important, but there are a lot of community needs, like water, sewer, safety and culture, that are equally important. We’ll be in hock to these particular roads for about five council lifetimes if the 20-year repayment schedule holds. Future councils will be fiscally and politically hamstrung by this one decision now.
Meanwhile, the federal government is preparing to unleash billions of dollars for infrastructure projects across the country. Those are our tax dollars too. You’d think the city’s finest would be working with the local MP on applications to get a piece of the infrastructure pie for Cranbrook instead of driving us into long-term debt. Council should put this problematic borrowing initiative to a referendum to test the support in town.