Been there, done that and it was the right thing

Been there, done that and it was the right thing
By Ken Waddell
The Banner
Town councils of today are faced with enormous challenges. There are always increasing demands on the tax dollars. Infrastructure needs replacing, new arenas need to be considered. Health facility challenges are mounting. And tomorrow will likely bring more old challenges and some new ones.
I served as mayor of Neepawa from 1998 to 2002. It was an experience that I’m glad I had. It was very challenging but there are some things that were done back that were the right thing to do.
Towns have to keep growing. If they don’t, they die. Each and everyone of us can hearken back to the day when every little town had a store or two, a school, a couple of elevators, a couple of garages and probably a small industry. Some of those little towns don’t even exist any more. Some are only dots on the map with a handful of residents. That trend is still marching relentlessly onward except in a few cases.
Back in 1998-2002, the council attempted a housing strategy. The previous council had made some very strong initiatives. Without going into details, basically the councils of the day bent over backwards to help developers create housing. Some money was put on the table, sometimes for land, sometimes for infrastructure. It would be an interesting audit report but it would seem that every cent of town money that went into those development has now been redeemed in increased tax dollars generated from the increased assessment base. One small project recovered it’s town investment in under 5 years.
Now those projects are paying taxes every year to the town and the school board. And they will continue to do so for 50 to 100 years. Those agonizing investments and incentives in the 90s are paying off big dividends now and will continue to do over and over again.
Towns may be faced with a cash crunch or a debt crunch but we desperately need housing in our small towns. People want to live in rural Manitoba. Not all, but many people want to live in a quiet rural setting but they want decent housing, housing as good as you’ll find in an urban centre. The problem is that many town councillors in many towns are somewhat reluctant to “give” incentives. They are afraid of the public backlash. And trust me, there will be backlash. Been there, done that. But it was still the right thing to do..
Here’s the deal. Conditional incentives bring development. Development brings increased assessment. Increased assessment brings in more taxes. More taxes allows towns to at least make an attempt at rebuilding infrastructure, facilities and services.
Admittedly the cash return isn’t instant. It will take a few years to cash flow. But let’s look at another context, a personal one, not a public one. People pay into a pension plan and it may never cash flow. One could die before collecting or die before collecting all that went into the fund. That said, nobody denies that a pension plan is a good thing.
Why then would councils be reluctant to invest in housing incentives? And the bigger question is why would the public criticize councils for doing so. Everybody gets elected on the economic development theme. But as soon as some council or councillor backs a conditional housing incentive you would think that they had given away the farm. Been there, felt that heat too. But it was the right thing to do.
So as a publisher (and former mayor) I can say this to councils. Make the conditional incentive packages, get the job done. Any councillor or council that conscientiously does that will always have the backing of this newspaper.
And for the suspicious people in the crowd, those projects that were done, I never made a cent personally from them. It was the right thing to do.

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