Just can’t afford it

The decision by Wellington North council to stay away from a new service that would allow those with disabilities to obtain reliable transportation for their daily living could not have been an easy one.

Yet from where we sit, that decision was not only correct, but also we suspect there will be a more local governments in the next year or two that will follow suit and refuse other worthwhile proposals.

On Monday, Centre Wellington council voted to cap its grants to 12 community groups at $5,000, plus freeze the grants for 2013, and that means the local food bank will struggle. It asked for $6,500.

Both of those are what were once called Motherhood issues, with a capital M.

But some politicians, finally, are coming to understand they can’t spend money on new services when they are hard pressed to pay for those they already offer. We have always argued it is easier for governments of all stripes to refuse to provide a new service than it is to take one away once it is in place. We remember a politician telling county council he once challenged a citizen to pick services to cut, and he said he got no response.

That is why Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is having so much trouble keeping his campaign promise to “cut the gravy.” He could do it, of course, but people like gravy. We suspect there is no government service anywhere that does not have about 20 per cent of the population that will set up a howl if their favourite service is eliminated or reduced.

Councillor Dan Yake told Wellington North council he was shocked at the number of calls he received about the transit plan there – and we have no doubt he did have many calls. Many people want the service. But it was Yake who helped preside over the spending in Wellington North over the past decade – and its debt. An entirely new group of people elected to council last fall is saying loudly and clearly the township has too much debt and cannot afford a new service.

We can’t blame them, and we suggest being newcomers, they can take a tougher stand some veterans in the job might not. Rookie councillors are not used to spending money; veterans are.

We like Mayor Ray Tout’s suggestion to find private money for the transit program and we wish him luck.

The fact is Canada, Ontario and every local municipality is in a heap of debt. Any homeowner – or even apartment dweller – can explain why we can’t keep borrowing. People in Greece are finding that out; Americans found out; and so have many European countries. Now it is our turn. A lot of good projects might have to be placed on hold until finances are under control, and some councils are starting to face that reality.

Citizens who complain should be reminded we did it to ourselves over many years of saying we should have more services and not worry about borrowing. Such thinking finally caught up to us.