Hard reality is about to hit us

I was not there but it was sure nice to see a Grade 6 student realize the high cost of recreation.

High Prairie St. Andrew’s students visited Big Lakes County council Jan. 22 to learn about municipal government. They have done this for several years and there is no better way to learn than by seeing council in action.

This year, CAO Jordan Panasiuk went a step further by presenting a proposal for a $40 million Blue Typhoon Water Park in Faust. The proposal was not real but the students did not know.

Panasiuk made a perfect choice in presenting a water park because it certainly piqued students’ interest. I think we can all agree it’s more interesting than a debate over closing a road allowance in Salt Prairie. One word from the students: boring!

It was also interesting to note that some students took the side opposing the water park. After hearing council put in their two cents worth, Dahlia Allan spoke. She agreed with some councillors who said it was not a good time to construct the park and double taxes during tough economic times.

“The water park will raise people’s taxes, so the council should not go ahead,” Allan says.

“There are people who may not afford the tax increase due to their jobs.”

It is no secret times are tough right now in the region. The energy industry is not doing well and like it or not, it is the economic engine which drives the local economy. It is the oil and gas industry which contributes the big bucks to Northern Sunrise and Big Lakes County coffers. When revenues fall, council is left scrambling.

Taxpayers are now being hit with more downloading as the bean counters in Edmonton try to balance the budget. There are only two options left for council: raise revenue by raising taxes, or cut spending. Both options are very, very undesirable.

As the provincial government continues to surprise the local governments with announcements reqarding cuts, the locals are left wondering where it all stops. As they begin to debate final budgets for 2020, it’s a guessing game.

The richer municipalities can dip into well-funded reserves, built on the backs to its taxpayers. It can’t last forever. The smaller ones are in trouble.

The point of all this is if you are going to start cutting budgets, it is not going to begin with water, sewer and roads. They are the essentials.

Rather, recreation and extra policing programs [enhanced policing and municipal police forces] will be targeted. Policing is interesting because there are agreements in place which should be honoured.

Which brings us back to recreation. Massive deficits running ski hills and indoor pools are a drain on the local municipal budgets. As the financial noose tightens, some tough decisions are forthcoming.

The Grade 6 student and others like her have likely heard this at the dining room table. Parents are worried over the high cost to live and taxes. Many simply cannot pay more.

It might not be pretty in the next few years, everyone. Get ready for a rough ride. Alberta has peed away a fortune in the last four decades through bad government and a failure to diversify by relying too much on the energy industry. The Edmonton bean counters cannot continue to fork over money to its municipalities.

Meanwhile, the same can be said for the rural counties and municipal districts, who relied to much on the energy cash cow for too long.

The bottom line: all Alberta governments created this mess and it’s going to hurt to climb out of it.

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