Needs vs. wants

It’s an age-old argument in local political circles: what is a “want” and what is a “need”?

The issue surfaced at a recent Centre Wellington meeting where first-term councillor Stephen Kitras suggested a $250,000 share of OLG slots proceeds be allocated to cultural pursuits, including heritage, arts and recreation.

Further to that, he wants to shuffle $500,000 into an economic development corporation reserve.

If our numbers add up, this deviation from current practice amounts to a reduction of 37% in infrastructure spending from a pool that is woefully underfunded already.

While we believe Kitras’ intent to be considerate and genuine, such a significant diversion of funds from the “need” ledger to the “want” ledger just isn’t practical.

A couple of weeks ago we went on our daily run to the Fergus post office and were a bit amused to see, yet again, the theatre is getting upgraded.

Accessibility issues and a bit of restoration work seemed to be the focus this time, but we wondered to ourselves how much money this facility has actually cost Centre Wellington in the last 20 years.

We hazard to guess makeshift repairs and upgrades would have gone a long way towards a new facility or a more comprehensive one-time investment. But there is the rub.

Further to that, we know the township does its best to secure the best pricing by way of tenders or requests for proposals. Once again, an out-of-town firm got the job and their out-of-town supplier delivered goods.

Were council truly interested in developing the local economy and cracking the nut of shopping local once and for all, perhaps they should lobby the province to change regulations to allow them to do so.

While on the subject of economic development, we understand the current budget for this department to be around $216,000 per year in Centre Wellington.

Much like the theatre question, how many hundreds of thousands have been poured into this economic development pursuit? It is sizeable and as we’ve joked with numerous businesspeople, is there one definitive result that was landed because of these efforts? Again, there is the rub.

Were money not such a tight commodity, these wants could be happily supported.

But since local government has such enormous costs associated with infrastructure, whether bridges, roads or water and sewer, every nickel has to be scrutinized.

Admittedly, our thinking is probably out of lockstep with current trends. People want stuff and councillors are often happy to oblige voters with “wants,” putting “needs” off to the future.

That probably explains the current state of affairs.