Choosing a destination

By Ken Waddell

Choosing a destination is a phrase normally reserved to describe what a person does in planning a trip.
However it’s becoming more apparent as each year goes by that towns need to choose a destination. If they don’t choose one, it will be chosen for them.
In the past, many towns and villages have left their destination to default, most are no longer viable towns or villages, many are not even a dot on the map.
So what must a town do to choose its destination? The community needs strong leadership, people with vision and the ability to voice or write out that vision. Coffee shop talk simply doesn’t cut it. If the coffee chatter built towns, then every village would be a metropolis. It takes more than chatter, it takes an articulated vision of where a community wants to be in 10 years or 50 years. Few communities have had that level of leadership. In Manitoba, communities like Winkler, Altona and Steinbach come to mind where leadership has set the vision and then focused their attention, their efforts, their money and their management abilities on reaching that goal or vision.
Whatever the goal or vision may be, there are steps that must be taken to get there.
These steps are common to all towns.
The biggest challenge is infrastructure and of all infrastructure problems, water and sewage are the worst.
A town needs to decide how much expansion they want and how much maintenance and replacement is required. If water lines last 50 years, then it’s basic math that says they have to build the expansion portion plus 1/50 of the infrastructure every year. Hasn’t happened in most towns, not in Winnipeg and certainly not in Neepawa or most other rural towns for that matter. The same simple formula applies to sidewalks, curb, gutter and paving. If a town isn’t replacing the annual life-length fraction of a particular infrastructure every year it’s not going to maintain even the status quo.
In Manitoba, water and sewage or “utilities” as it’s affectionately dubbed is supposed to be self supporting. In other words no money is supposed to come out of the taxes to maintain or build the water and sewer lines. However, in most towns people aren’t paying anywhere near the cost of water and sewer costs. In most cases, utilities construction and maintenance is being subsidized heavily out of tax revenue. Few utilities are self supported by the water and sewage fees. Ironically, in Neepawa at least, even property with buildings on it, that doesn’t have water and sewer services are assessed a water and sewer fee. Go figure! I guess that’s in the vain hope that someday the property will be serviced. It’s a practise that’s been going on for decades and it has yet to produce new sewage or water lines to formerly unserviced property.
Utilities should be self supported by user fees. It would encourage diligent water conservation. When taxes are subsidizing water usage there’s little incentive to install low water use toilets or low flow showers or to not water the lawn.
Other utilities such as recycling and garbage pick up need to be self supporting. It takes a particularly courageous council to implement those kinds of policies.
And speaking of courage, the most often quoted reason why young business people don’t get into council politics is that if they make an unpopular decision, it will affect their business. As one young businessman said recently, “If people don’t like what you do on council, they can hurt your business and I can’t afford that.” He’s right. That’s why it’s usually retired or established business people that get on council.
While experience and acquired wisdom are good things some youthful energy and new ideas would be a good balance.
It’s been said that we get the politicians we deserve, not the politicians we need.
A town that accepts that course won’t likely have to choose politicians to elect in the future, the towns just won’t be there any more.

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