We need some thought here

The City of Winnipeg budget is in the news. The federal government budget will come down March 22, the provincial budget on April 12. Municipal and town budgets are being ground out by staff and councils across the province.
The big news has become tax freezes and the corresponding increases in user fees. The trend is definitely there. Tax freezes are deemed to be a good  thing but someone has to pay for services so user fees are on the rise.
MPs, MLAs and councillors like to freeze taxes. Prime ministers, premiers and mayors like to do that as they can summarize their governments accomplishments in concise and brief terms that people tend to understand. Tax freeze good, tax increase bad. Pretty simple.
Politics in Canada has to be kept simple. Studies have shown that the average Canadian thinks about politics seven minutes a week. During an election, it goes up to eight minutes a week. And that includes all levels of politics, municipal, provincial and federal. That’s it! Seven minutes a week, one minute a day. No wonder the “15 second sound bite” is the main method of political communication in Canada. A politician is fortunate if he gets the average person’s attention for a part of one minute a day. Also consider that in that average, some people are thinking more about politics than seven minutes a week. But also consider, in that average, there are people who don’t think about politics at all.
Traditionally, it’s been a desirable thing to keep taxes low. Everybody prefers lower taxes as opposed to increasing or higher taxes. Even the most die-hard socialists like to keep their money in their pocket. Unfortunately, they like to keep everyone else’s money in their pocket too.
Over the years, a lot of true costs have been buried or hidden. Two examples come to mind. Water bills have often been kept artificially low, subsidized by the tax roll. Providing water has rarely been at its true cost. That’s changing somewhat as the Manitoba Public Utilities Board is encouraging cities, towns and municipalities to move towards a cost recovery basis on water provision. Not only cost recovery, but setting aside reserves for replacement.
Another example is rink fees. For years now rink fees have been kept artificially low by grants from towns or municipalities. 
But there’s a problem,
First look at water rate. If water rates are artificially low, then there’s little incentive to conserve water. If water is really cheap, why would you shut off the tap, fix the leaky toilet tank or install a low water use shower head? Why would you let your beloved lawn go brown in August if water is cheap?
With rink fees, it can be argued that the whole community benefits from having a strong hockey and skating program and that’s a solid argument. Youth and older people as well can be active, enjoy the ice sports, be physically fit and stay out of trouble. But what about the equality of municipal contribution. When one takes the town and municipal grants and examines them on a per capita basis there can be huge discrepancies. Some municipalities can have fairly high participation by their residents without making any contribution to a facility.
Balancing user fees for any public facility or service with the tax grants or tax funding is a tough decision to make. The worst thing that can happen is that governing bodies do “the same as last year” without so much as an examination of the taxes and fees. 
It’s time for water usage to be self-funded. That just makes sense. If people insist on watering their lawn or having a half hour shower then they should pay the price. In the rink example, it would be nice if the facility could run without taxpayer support but that ideal is so far out of reach that it’s not likely to happen. However, that doesn’t mean that budgets shouldn’t be carefully examined and probed for ways to get more income and to shave costs.
There never has been a facility or a program that couldn’t cut costs and increase income thereby reducing their deficit. It takes diligence, experience and political will. If we want positive results, perhaps the key is to engage our minds in politics for a bit more than seven minutes a week.

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