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Mission Heading for Disaster
Two things are now distressingly obvious.
We have an economic crisis which will getw orse and governments do not really know what to do about it. But, it would be encouraging if they, at least, knew what not to do. Not the case in Mission, where most of Council has shown a disturbing instinct to do exactly the wrong thing. It should be obvious that this is not the time to embark on a huge capital program, the cost of which is unknown, with operating costs of the facilities not even considered and the effect on taxes still a total mystery.
The only thing that would be worse would be to add a huge increase in taxes on a local industry, which is already fearful of economic slowdown. Yet, with an unerring instinct for their own jugular this is exactly what Mission Council (with the exception of Councillors Stevens and Pearson) appears ready to do.
Apparently unfazed by the Leisure Centre spectacular overrun, they are ready to embark on a wish list of capital projects costing at least $166 million, although the estimates are so vague it could easily be double that amount.
The wish list includes a new Leisure Centre and Sports Park, a Stadium, a new Public Works Building, a new Museum and a shiny new City Hall on the waterfront. All very desirable, but is now the time?
For example, despite the fact that the existing City Hall could easily (and cheaply) be expanded at its current site the plan is to spend $30 million on a new waterfront Civic Centre.
Council and staff both admit that the $33 million is just a guess. The land is contaminated, clean up costs are unknown and the centre is totally unplanned. It is entirely possible that the ultimate cost could be double the estimate.
Worse, this land would not ever produce tax revenue and there is no sign of a willing buyer for the existing City Hall.
One day that area will flood. It makes little sense that in an emergency the nerve centre of the District would only be accessible by boat.
The plan assumes that part of the costs will be paid through property taxes and part through an additional $10,000 levy on every new house. Adding that cost at a time of economic slowdown is not a brilliant strategy.
If development slows down, which seems a certainty, the whole plan falls apart. Every one of these new facilities will incur increased running costs for additional staff. Those costs have not even been guessed at. What will be the effect on property taxes?
Sadly, Council and staff admit they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know.
Planning ahead is desirable but this is not a plan. It is a dream, a dream in Technicolor.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m certain we are all fed up with elections but the upcoming municipal election may provide an opportunity for sober second thought.
Samuel Johnson wrote, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The realisation that one is to be hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully.Ã¢â‚¬Â Similarly, the thought of losing an election concentrates politiciansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ minds wonderfully.
They should not stop planning but they should stop dreaming. The steps they need to take are obvious.
- Get real estimates not wild guesses. Getting such estimates has a cost but that cost is miniscule in comparison with the cost of getting it wrong. Anyone remember the Leisure Centre?
- Use the waterfront to produce tax revenue from commercial and residential development. We need the money!
- Consider a much less costly extension to the existing City Hall.
- Calculate the additional operating costs.
- Calculate, and share with the public, the effect on taxes.
- Use realistic assumptions of future development rather than assume the current boom will last for ever
Hippocrates urged physicians Ã¢â‚¬Å“make a habit of two things Ã¢â‚¬â€ to help, or at least to do no harm.Ã¢â‚¬Â This is advice politicians should also take to heart.
An economic crisis is upon us. We cannot do very much about this worldwide phenomenon. The sensible strategy is to use this time for careful planning for the future. It is not a time to rush headlong into huge expenditures based on nothing but guesses and an assumption that the economy will carry on as normal.
If Council cannot make it better, at least donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make it worse…