During my time on Barrie city council, I once had a call from an unhappy resident saying he just spent an hour in line at the landfill site on a Saturday morning to bring in some recycling.
He asked why the city couldn’t have a depot near the entrance off Ferndale Drive for people to drop off items which were not going into the landfill.
I thought it was an excellent question. It also triggered something in my mind: I remembered city staff had proposed just such a thing in a report to council at some point in the previous year or two.
So I emailed the city staff member responsible for the landfill and asked him what had become of this great idea. My question likely made his day – in fact, he had probably been waiting for it. He quickly got back to me to say staff had included it in that year’s business plan, but the funding had been cut by council during budget discussions in our quest to lower the tax levy.
To make matters worse, council had previously approved the capital costs of building the recycling depot itself before cutting the necessary funding to staff it. The shuttered facility was sitting there at the entrance for all to see as they drove in with their recycling to join the long queue of vehicles. It was like building a recreation centre and then refusing to staff it.
I’m happy to say council reversed itself the following year, meaning residents dropping off recycling no longer have to wait in that long line that often snakes up the hill. The fact many people no longer need to go into the landfill site itself results in shorter lineups. Everybody wins.
There are lessons there for councils at budget time, which in Barrie is coming up in the next few weeks.
First, small cuts that seem relatively meaningless at the time end up making a lot of residents unhappy. We see it time and time again, whether it is closing the Georgian Theatre or shuttering recreation centres on weekends in the summer, moves made with the best of intentions to save a few dollars, but ones which upset people who use those services.
It doesn’t mean councillors shouldn’t consider cuts, especially if services aren’t being used. They just should be cautious and understand the possible effect on residents.
Second, as a councillor you always hear from people complaining about their taxes, but you hear from even more of them if they aren’t receiving the level of service they expect. We saw that in Barrie when there were major hiccups in leaf collection last fall.
We see it at all levels of government. Canadians get more upset when they can’t get everything from health services to passports in a timely matter than they do when they have to pay taxes.
That’s why, at budget time, maintaining services in a municipality is just as important as keeping taxes low.