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OP/ED: On park ponds and parcel taxes

One of the arguments I'm hearing most in opposition to the city's proposed parcel tax is criticism over city council spending money on the Millennium Park Ponds – the argument being that council self-indulgently bought a shiny new toy we can't afford and now residents are footing huge tax bills as a result.

Regardless whether you are for or against the parcel tax, at least present an intelligent argument either way. This argument is childish and beyond nonsensical, and here's why:

The Millennium Park Ponds cost roughly $1.8 million – offset by a $400,000 grant, so in reality, they cost the city about $1.4 million.

Had the city done what detractors are saying they should have, and put the money toward the storm-water system, it would barely have made a dent in what the city needs for this infrastructure, and it most certainly would not have eliminated the need for a parcel tax.

For storm water alone, the city has already identified more than $10 million in required projects to fix our aging storm-water system (this happens with all infrastructure over time, it's just a fact of life for every community, everywhere in the world). While climate change has altered the timeline on some of the projects, it is but one factor in the overall cost – we would have to pay to fix and replace crumbling infrastructure with or without climate change.

That $1.4 million for the Ponds would have made little difference in that at all – and the $10 million for upgrade and repair projects is only what we're seeing this year, that number is flat-out guaranteed to increase in the following 10 years (the life of the parcel tax).

Treating council like they blew their allowance on a chocolate bar is following a logical fallacy called 'post hoc, ergo propter hoc' (after this, therefore because of this) – in this case, the speaker believes that because we spent money on the Ponds, then found ourselves needing a new tax later on, we must need a new tax because we spent money on the Ponds.

It may look good at first blush, but it's absolutely naive rubbish.

And the foolishness of it goes well beyond just the numbers stated above. Council knew that foregoing the cost of the Ponds would not offset the costs of storm-water system work (in fact, it would have paid for less than 10 per cent of what we've identified in a single year), but they also knew that one of the only things that actually does have the potential to offset those costs is … wait for it … building the Ponds.

What's that, you say? But the Ponds cost money.

Yes they did. But it's simplistic, naive and … dare I say it ... stupid, to think you can treat a municipal budget they same way you would a household budget, in which money is either in the incoming or outgoing column, and never the twain shall meet.

Municipal budgeting is much more akin to business budgeting. Savvy, successful business owners spend money on things like advertising, curb appeal and community goodwill – all of which seem like losses; expenses, if you look at the budget line items – what any smart business person knows is that they are really investments (expenditures that will bring in money).

And so it is with the Ponds.

How can the city increase its revenue base without increasing your taxes or cutting your services? One way, and one way only: by attracting tourism, new residents and new business.

Attracting tourism injects money into the economy, making residents wealthier and the city more attractive to potential residents and businesses. As far as attracting tourism goes, the Ponds are a no-brainer. Until the Ponds, we were the only one of the tri-cities without riverside attraction, which was short-sighted in the extreme. You think a Calgary tourist who just drove nine hours to get here won't drive an extra 20 minutes to Trail or Nelson to enjoy a beautiful riverside park? Now they won't have to.

Tourists mean more businesses: restaurants, corner stores, etc.

More businesses mean more jobs, which mean more residents.

And the small businesses, in turn, attract big businesses.

Fortis building their new administration building here is going to be huge boon when it comes to this sort of expense (storm-water infrastructure) – commercial enterprises pay a significant portion of our tax base. Have you ever wondered why the big corporations never build their head offices in tiny little towns where the land is cheap and the tax rates are rock bottom? Simple. Their employees won't want to live there.

The combination of appealing amenities like Millennium Ponds, as well as plenty of thriving service-oriented businesses brought to us by tourism, makes us very appealing to companies like Fortis.

It also makes it more appealing for existing people and businesses to invest back into their community (on a household level, think renovating their house instead of buying a holiday property elsewhere, thereby increasing their tax share … thus lowering everyone else's – including yours).

Millennium Ponds actually prove this point in terms of inspiring existing businesses to invest here – very little was going on down at that park before the Ponds. After the Ponds, we saw Celgar invest in a beautiful (and expensive) new pavilion, CBT offer $450,000 for Phase Two of the park upgrades, etc.

There's your real post hoc ergo propter hoc.

The prosperity we'll enjoy and build on for years to come will be, at least in part, because of that ever-so-wasteful $1.4 million spent on the Ponds.

The only intelligent way you could characterize that as council buying a shiny new toy would be if said toy prints money, and lots of it.

And even if I was wrong on all of this – and I'm not – there's one final argument to be made. Council is accountable to the people who elected them. Residents overwhelmingly identified having a riverside amenity as a priority. They overwhelmingly approved the plans for Millennium Ponds. Council followed their direction, as was right and proper, and which they are beholden to do.

If you really want to run with the 'shiny new toy' metaphor, let's do that – for residents to criticize and attack council now for building the Ponds is very much like a parent urging, encouraging, demanding that their child spend their money on a shiny new toy … then punishing them for it later.

Use whatever argument you like in opposition to the parcel tax – except this one. Mostly because using it will only make you look bad.