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What is essential spending?

By: Jared Milne

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 29, 2014 06:00 am

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Over the last few years in St. Albert, we have had a heated debate on what we should be spending our tax dollars on. People have objected to city hall spending tax dollars on such things as the purchase of the Stuart Steinhauer sculptures by St. Albert Place, opening a city-owned Starbucks franchise in Servus Place, the proposed extension to the Art Gallery of St. Albert, planting trees on the meridian of St. Albert Trail, an LRT feasibility study and more. The current debate over the $200,000 allocated for a bike skills park is just the latest in a long list of city projects that many people have objected to.

Many citizens have supported these purchases because they feel that the purchases improve our quality of life and make St. Albert a better place to live. Certainly St. Albert has a rich artistic and historical heritage, as shown by the St. Albert Children’s Festival, the St. Albert Children’s Theatre, the history of Mission Hill and the current contributions of the Musée Héritage Museum and the Michif Foundation. It’s not hard to see where support for the arts and heritage comes from, particularly when so much of it ties back to who we are as a city. In its own way, it has made St. Albert a more vibrant place to live, and made us stand out in Alberta.

On the other hand, a lot of St. Albert residents have felt that too much money has been spent on these things over the last few years, and we would be better off focusing on what they consider the “essentials”, such as roads, sewers and support for citizens in need, such as lower-income residents, the disabled, and so forth. They have been criticized for supposedly being small-minded, only caring about potholes, not caring about the community’s spirit, and worse.

This raises the question of just what the “essentials” ought to be in St. Albert. I recently asked Councillor Brodhead when we as a community have enough public art, and he pointed out that it was a difficult question to answer. St. Albert badly needs to question what we as a community should consider essential spending. At what point do we have enough support for arts and heritage? When do we decide that we have enough money set aside to maintain our roads and utilities? When do these, or anything else we spend money on as a community, need additional support?

The results of last year’s election show that there was strong support both for politicians who supported arts and heritage spending and for politicians who would prefer to focus spending on roads, snow removal, etc. This shows that our community is still deeply divided on the issue.

Perhaps, instead of constantly insulting one another or posting signs with personal attacks on elected officials, we could maybe have a more respectful discussion on what our most essential priorities should be? St. Albert deserves no less.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.


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