Cutting Arts and Heritage won't save money
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 08, 2012 06:00 am
After residing in St. Albert for 20 of my 35 years in Alberta, I have recently retired to the West Coast. (Yes, thank you, I know that it rains a lot here in the winter!)
Over the decades St. Albert has had a good number of visionary leaders who developed amazing facilities for our community. How many other cities of our size can boast of such an extensive Red Willow trail, a Douglas Cardinal building of exquisite character, an Arden Theatre that attracts world-class talent, a first-class public recreation centre, and what a public library!
My wife is very familiar with the public libraries of (among others), Bath, England (pop: 84,000), and Oxford, England (pop: 154,000). According to her, our St. Albert public library is noticeably superior to the public libraries of those significantly larger and culturally rich cities. St. Albert’s profile in culture and heritage in general is likewise way above a level one would expect for a city of our modest size. So we have so much to be proud of.
But what news comes my way from St. Albert in recent weeks? Among seven options to be considered by Council in late August is the idea of axing one of the most vibrant cultural organizations in the capital region: Arts and Heritage St. Albert.
This can’t really be an issue over cost. The total annual operating budget of the city was $136 million in 2011; the total annual grant to AHF was $1.24 million, just shy of one per cent of the city’s total budget (and even a very small 3.5 per cent of the city’s support to all of Parks, Recreation and Culture). That investment in the AHF attracts a further $803,000 in grants from other sources. Some citizens advocate reducing taxes by hitting the “merely nice-to-have services” in order to preserve “essential services.” But the numbers show how irrational that is. The total annual operating budget of the city’s “essential services” (total budget minus Recreation and Parks and Cultural Services) was just over $100 million in 2011. So if you wanted to save $1.24 million, does it not make far more sense to cut the “essential services” by just 1.24 per cent (don’t pretend that there isn’t at least that much slack in any bureaucracy spending $100 million annually), rather than eliminating an organization that brings so much added value to the life of the city?
None of the seven options to be deliberated by council on Aug. 27 would actually reduce spending on cultural services; those expenditures would just be shifted to other bodies here or there. Indeed, some of the options would likely increase the cost of providing the same services that AHF provides now. So where is the logic in displacing an energetic, passionate and highly successful community-based organization just to expand a government department?
City councillors: Please use some common sense on Aug. 27. It is clearly in the best interest of the taxpayer to negotiate a new five-year stewardship agreement with Arts and Heritage St. Albert.
Reuben Kaufman, Saltspring Island, B.C. (but only very recently!)