Charlottetown delivers good-news budget; city moving forward on major capital projects
Charlottetown City Police Const. Tim Keizer in this file photo taken May 1, 2013. Keizer was stationed at Colonel Gray this past school year.
It was a budget that would make even Prime Minister Stephen Harper blush, and leave his former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty green with Irish envy. And it’s one that causes P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan to wonder how to match it. The City of Charlottetown, breaking with a Wednesday tradition of delivering its annual operating and capital expenditures plans, played a late-March Santa Claus on Friday. If the city had waited until tomorrow, many citizens would have figured it must be an April Fool’s Day joke.
But no, it’s true.
The document provided a stunning series of good news announcements, combined with holding the line on tax increases, while delivering a broad, ambitious plan for future capital projects. If one could overlook the tenet of politicians playing politics, we could disregard the fact there is a civic election this November where Mayor Clifford Lee and most of the 10 councillors plan to seek re-election.
That necessary observation aside, Cecil Villard, chairman of administrative services for the city, has delivered an almost miraculous document.
For most of the past two years, the city had cited hard economic times for having limited funds to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, for being unable to afford police officers in two senior high schools except on a limited, sporadic basis and for reducing or holding the line on many other projects.
The various belt-tightening measures have paid huge dividends at a most opportune time. After all, visiting the city this year will be the Governor General, all lieutenant governors, all premiers and the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in May, as part of the 2014 celebrations.
A key announcement Friday was that the city will place a police officer in both Colonel Gray and Charlottetown Rural on a full-time basis. The city will be hiring additional officers to replace the two at the schools. Two years ago, a police officer was placed in Colonel Gray on a trial basis and proved extremely popular with students and school officials and since then the city has relentlessly pressured the province to assist with those costs. Coun. David MacDonald, chair of the protective and emergency services committee, termed it one of the best announcements he’s been a part of in his seven years on council. When asked if the city received financial help from the province, Mr. MacDonald grudgingly said yes. After all, there is only so much credit to go around.
Coun. Mitchell Tweel had pushed the school policing idea. His idea, first scoffed at, has been credited with reducing drug and addictions issues among students. It was interesting that Mr. Tweel did not attend Friday’s meeting. He has made a habit of voting against any budget put forward under Mayor Lee’s stewardship, and we can only conclude he couldn’t vote against this budget because of the school police inclusion, so he stayed away.
Friday announcements are usually held to limit press questions and reduce public scrutiny. We suspect there are hidden costs and long-range issues with this document that will come out as time moves on.
But the city is willing to move forward on important issues. Many of the capital projects will depend on Build Canada Fund monies and the province has apparently helped as well. All councillors deserve credit for coming up with such a progressive document. It is good news at a time when the city needs it and the province is sure to follow suit.
The city that stands pat or reduces is a city in decline.