“The inaccurate justifications for the increases given by the mayor and some councillors brings me to one of two conclusions, either they are very stupid, or they think the citizens of Brandon are very stupid. I’m not sure which one is worse.”
— An anonymous post on eBrandon last week
The easiest thing for anyone to do under any circumstance is to go with the flow.
The less stressful route to take is always to follow the path well travelled.
And for the past few weeks, it hasn’t been easy for us here at the Sun as we’ve taken on a pile of extra stress defending our position supporting the city’s interim budget and its admittedly stiff tax increase.
We’ve come under fire from a few quarters, as witnessed in the many Sound Offs, letters to the editor, and various emails and phone calls.
As for myself, I’ve received the expected personal attacks from the usual suspects.
Let me share a couple of the barbs tossed my way in the form of Sound Off submissions:
• “James, sure hope you enjoyed Christmas. Is there any chance in the new year you might actually write something other than NDP accolades? Especially Mayor Shari and your BFF Drew?”
• “It certainly is obvious the editor of the Brandon Sun is NDP. He certainly is a fan of the mayor and Mr. Drew Caldwell. We, as readers, don’t need to read every day how wonderful they both are. Does he not have any other contacts?”
Yeah. Sure, I’m NDP.
I’d rather be dead than red.
And all of that is irrelevant in any event, as it in no way impacts how we’ve covered this city’s budget process.
As I posted recently on eBrandon — yes, I’m a member and I have used my full name, title and photo in each of my four posts offering responses to various comments made about the Sun — our news coverage of the city budget process has been complete, accurate and unbiased.
We have reported both sides of the issue and have published a variety of views in our Sound Off feature and in our Opinion pages.
The latter have included lengthy letters from former city treasurer Grant McMillan, Brandon Real Estate Board president Michael Barrett and current chamber president Cam Clark.
And it’s there — and only there, in our Opinion pages — that the Sun has taken a position in editorials that we understand the financial predicament the city is in this year and the resulting need for a substantial tax hike.
If council can find ways to whittle the thing down a bit, great. But the bottom line is there will be a sizable property tax hike this year for a number of reasons.
And while we don’t like it, we certainly don’t think it’s helpful just pointing fingers or tossing out old saws such as “they better tighten their belts” or “they better sharpen their pencils.”
Sometimes, there is a price to be paid for progress.
We ran this Sound Off yesterday:
“Perhaps the Sun’s editorial writer would back up his/her claim that to roll back the proposed tax increase would ‘slow Brandon’s growth’? Simply making the statement isn’t enough.”
OK, here’s just one small example. There was $150,000 allocated in the interim budget for a Black Farm study.
The Black Farm refers to a large tract of undeveloped land that sits on the North Hill.
It has been discussed for years as having huge potential for housing/commercial development, but, alas, no action has been taken.
It makes perfect sense to start working on that 160 acres of city owned land that would finally connect the city to the Trans-Canada Highway.
But let’s say that study would be cut from the budget by anxious councillors and delayed another year. That would be “slowing Brandon’s growth.”
We also know that our editorial position has flown in the face of respondents to our online poll that was posted Tuesday.
The results as of yesterday had 63 per cent of respondents indicating city council should reopen the budget, with 36 per cent agreeing that the time to make changes has passed.
I also note that the responses to the budget poll question were unusually low — just 73 after three days — while we regularly receive more than 100 responses to polls on other less serious topics and in a shorter period of time.
And not all councillors have told Sun reporters that their phones or email inboxes have been red-hot with angry ratepayers.
So we wonder how deep and widespread serious opposition truly is.
We certainly don’t support this type of proposed increase being an annual event and we will carefully monitor how the city spends the taxes it collects.
In fact, if it wasn’t for some good legwork by chief political writer Keith Borkowsky in our Dec. 31 and Jan. 2 editions, we never would have known that some pro-budget councillors were getting cold feet and perhaps could be changing their minds.
We also would never known about the closed-door meeting yesterday at city hall that you’re reading about today, where Borkowsky camped outside waiting to find out if the interim budget still had the 8-3 support from mayor and council.
We believe the budget to date has been explained to us in a fashion — clumsy, yes — but enough we understand and accept that we’re paying a price for what’s to come and for what has been left behind from previous city councils.
But if new information were to come to light, our position could very well change.
But it wouldn’t be right for us simply to go with the flow and attack politicians for the sake of attacking them.
Some would say I’ve been doing that to the provincial NDP for years. They’ve been spending money like drunken sailors and we now face a $1-billion deficit. That seems to be OK with Manitobans, who repeatedly elect them. But I digress.
The bottom line regarding the city budget is I feel we’ve done our job if we’ve sparked some good public debate over this issue.
Amid all the personal attacks and childish rants, I think there has been some solid, honest discussion over the future of this city. But not by those still stuck gazing at their navels.
NOT SO SECRET DOCUMENT
I received an email this week from an eBrandon member pointing me to some kind of apparently secret document that had been posted for all to see that exposes some secrets behind the walls of city hall.
OMG! I said to myself (I now think in texting, just like the failed Sound Offer above) have we missed something? Where’s that Borkowsky? I’m gonna ...
Oh, WTF, I mumbled to myself when I opened the thread. It was just the 2010 City of Brandon Public Sector Compensation Disclosure Report.
It has been available to the public since August and I’ve had a copy under some fuzzy-green Tim Hortons cups on the corner of my desk since then.
Those reports are required in the public sector. They list everyone who makes more than $50,000. I have similar reports from Brandon University and the Brandon RHA somewhere in my office.
Problem is, one report by itself offers little insight. And it’s really not very helpful trying to compare the numbers in this report to those from other centres in the province or across the country.
It’s also misleading, because some city occupations require more overtime than others (such as police and fire). It’s also unclear in the report how many months of the year a person worked (people come, people go) and if it includes any extra pay for shiftwork, etc.
What I will be interested in is the 2011 disclosure report, just to see the sheer increase in staff at city hall and to also see how much some of those new high-level hires are hauling in. Comparing that with the 2010 report will make for a good news story or two.
AN OUTSIDER’S VIEW
University of Regina journalism school student Kelly Malone spent three weeks here over the holidays as a paid intern. We also put her up at the Trails West Inn (thanks to Heidi Howarth and the staff) and Malone had the use of one of our company cars and cameras while on duty.
Now that’s a pretty sweet deal for any student.
But it’s what we do to ensure our readers have some good content to enjoy over the holidays, as regular staff take their well-deserved time off.
Malone had never been to Brandon before.
I thought it would be interesting to ask for the most lasting impressions that remained with her as she rode the Greyhound out of the Wheat City last week.
Here’s what she wrote:
1.The People: The people of Brandon impressed me the most over my three-week stay. Arriving at 5 a.m. in an unknown city can seem quite daunting, but even at that early hour the people I met were helpful and kind. The Trails West Inn staff kept me functional with coffee, jokes and directions. A good example to show the generosity of the Brandonites would be Christmas. My plans were to head back to my room after work, wallow and be hungry. I was at the Westman Traditional Christmas Dinner and word of my “Grinch” plans spread. The offers for places to go soon poured in. I ended up walking into a Christmas dinner with 10 strangers and walking out with 10 new friends. So Brandonites, continue to be you, I have lived a lot of places and your spirit of kindness has trumped them all.
2. Camaraderie: This may seem repetitive but it is different. I was in charge of covering a lot of events and fundraisers during my stay in Brandon. Some events brought recognizable faces and some were all new. One thing that was the same was that each event worked cohesively and successfully. The people of Brandon are passionate about helping whether it be keeping drunk drivers off the road or giving Christmas dinner to those in need. This passion allows for people to put their differences aside and work hard together. There was never an incident with a raised voice in anger or a hurt ego. I have been involved with many organizations and boards in the past, and I have rarely seen people band together for a greater cause with such success, I think this reflects throughout your community especially during the holidays.
3. The stores: This will be my only real rant. I know I was only here for the holidays and holidays are different than the rest of the year, but getting fed presented itself as my largest problem during my stay. I thought that certain stores would be open 24/7 during the holidays. To my dismay and the grumble in my stomach, there was nothing open past 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. After two days of coffee, chocolate, cold cereal and Ichiban noodles, the stores opened and I was saved. Still I had to consider, I could not be the only one who missed the “everything closes” notice for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
But I walked into this city having never been here before — and I left making plans to come back.
So there, Brandon — give yourself a collective pat on the back. That’s mighty fine praise from a gal from The Gap. Well, except that bit about everything shutting down for Christmas.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 7, 2012