Sorting the spin

Upon his retirement several years ago, former colleague David Meyer made an astute observation about a major flaw in current-day municipal politics.

“There’s a lot more spin now,” Meyer said. “A lot of politicians today are asking ‘how is this going to look’ or ‘how can I sell this,’ as opposed to ‘how does this benefit the community’.”

His observation is most obvious at budget time, or silly season, as cynical observers might call it.

For confirmation, look no further than our front page story on the passage of Centre Wellington’s 2017 operating budget.

A Feb. 23 township press release offered numerous platitudes about the important investments contained in the budget, but nowhere did it even hint of the obvious split on council, as three of seven council members offered severe criticism of the process.

Councillor Fred Morris went as far to declare that he finds it “incredulous that this council simply nodded in agreement to this monstrous cash grab without first requesting a thorough analysis and discussion… ”

We suspect there is a degree of grandstanding going on there, and perhaps some early politicking  ahead of the 2018 municipal election, but this a clear indication Centre Wellington council is divided when it comes to the most vital issues in the municipality.

Luckily, the township’s press release spared residents from tired catch phrases about “openness” and “transparency,” which seem to permeate all municipal correspondence these days, particularly in Centre Wellington.

But perhaps there’s a good reason for that omission.

Just one sentence into the press release, the document boasts that the township’s 1.89% “operating budget tax increase” represents “the lowest increase since amalgamation, and the second lowest increase in the county to date.”

That statement left us scratching our heads for several reasons.

First and foremost, it seems to incorporate some creative math, comparing apples to oranges – in this case isolating the Centre Wellington operating budget increase and comparing that figure to previous overall budget increases passed by the township and to overall 2017 increases approved elsewhere.

Maybe we’re using different math, but a quick check of our records shows that from 2010 to 2017 annual overall budget increases in the township ranged from 1.9 to 6.42%. In those eight years alone, the overall tax increase in Centre Wellington was lower than the 2017 increase of 3.9% four times, with ranges of 1.9 to 2.3%.

Furthermore, the claim that the 2017 Centre Wellington operating budget increase is “the second lowest … in the county to date,” is also misleading.

Again, if we’re comparing apples to apples, the township’s overall 2017 tax increase of 3.9% is in fact the highest passed in the county so far this year. Elsewhere the overall increases are: 2% in Erin and Guelph-Eramosa, 2.9% at the county, 3% in Puslinch and 3.5% in Wellington North.

We’re sure others in the area will blindly broadcast/publish the figures and statements as presented by township officials, but we believe one of the primary jobs of a local media outlet is to wade through spin and posturing and present residents with a clear picture of what is actually going on.

That is what the Advertiser’s coverage this week does and that is what we will continue to do.