Today I attended Haldimand County’s all-day council-in-committee meeting in Cayuga. This is where detailed discussion takes place and preliminary decisions are made that will be confirmed at the evening council meeting a week later. Two items in particular revealed the lack of clear thinking that is a frequent characteristic of the work of the current council.
The first was a recommendation from staff to reduce user fees at the county’s arenas, swimming pools, and day camps. Fee reductions may sound great, but reducing user fees does not reduce costs, and costs must be covered one way or another. If they are not covered by user fees, then they must be covered by increased taxes. The staff report admits that the user fee reductions will lead to an annual revenue reduction of $100,000. That means that in order to balance the books, $100,000 more must be collected in taxes.
This is perhaps a good investment in healthy, active living for the youth and adults of Haldimand’s communities. But why were the reductions suggested in the first place? Because usage of our arenas, swimming pools and day camps is actually decreasing. Our population is growing, but usage of our recreational facilities is decreasing, and county staff are hoping to attract more users by cutting prices.
But what if high prices are not the reason for the falling usage? What if the reason is lifestyle changes like people skating on boards instead of on ice, or more people having their own swimming pools at home? Then are we not adding $100,000 to our tax bills for nothing?
Furthermore, if there are not enough users for the recreational facilities we already have, then why are we spending millions more on trails like the Cayuga Bridge Trail for which there is no proven demand?
The second item that showed the fuzzy thinking of the current council and its leadership was a request by an archeologist for a grant of $1,000. His research sounded fascinating. He has a theory that many stone tools found across a wide swath from western New York to the lower peninsula of Michigan are made of stone from the Onondaga escarpment, an outcropping of rock that runs through Haldimand County. He wants money to send some tools to a laboratory in British Columbia that will analyse the stone to see if his theory is correct.
Council agreed to make the donation on the condition that he provide annual three-page reports on the progress of his research. Mayor Hewitt suggested the reports could be put in the museum. Had he forgotten that he voted in December of 2016 to close and demolish the Haldimand County Museum & Archives, and that that plan is still in place despite overwhelming public opposition?
As fascinating as the research sounds, I’m not convinced that Haldimand County is the proper funding source. Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport licenses archeologists and provides grants to support their work. The federal ministry of Canadian Heritage also provides funding, as do major museums and most universities. Has this archeologist applied to them?
Besides, I suspect that some residents of Haldimand may be more concerned about the stones on their still-unpaved roads than about the stones in this archeologist’s collection. There’s also not much point in collecting documents for a museum you are in the process of emptying out and are about to tear down.
Throwing money at problems is not always the best way to solve them. Sometimes what’s needed is a little clear thinking. That’s what the county’s senior management and our elected representatives are accountable for providing, but that wasn’t happening very consistently today.
David McClung, Cayuga