I fear our new city council is getting bogged down with non-essential matters.
In recent weeks council has found itself debating whether to fly the rainbow flag at city hall, whether to ban plastic bags for leaf collection and whether to give away free menstrual products at public facilities.
It’s not that these issues didn’t need to be dealt with. I am not, for example, opposed to flying the rainbow flag at city hall every June if that makes people who are often bullied and mocked feel a little better about themselves.
But council needs to keep its eye on the ball. The main role of a municipal government is to maintain our basic infrastructure, provide good police and fire protection and to keep taxes at a reasonable level. After that, it should worry about maintaining our parks system and arenas.
The number one priority must surely be infrastructure. Our roads are crumbling and anyone who owns a car knows it. Watermains are in trouble too, with many of them bursting every year. And there are sewers that need to be upgraded, especially in the south end.
These problems were not created by the current council. I can remember Mayor Andy Brandt showing me a map of the city back in the mid-1970s that showed a huge number of streets that desperately needed upgrades.
But his warnings were largely ignored by subsequent councils. As a result, we now have about 150 kilometres of roads that are in terrible condition, according to media reports.
That would be shocking enough, but the real scandal is that not nearly enough is being done about it. Reports say more than $27 million per year is required just to close the so-called “infrastructure gap” which is what’s needed to maintain infrastructure in its current condition compared to what’s being spent).
To its credit, the new council is spending a lot more on roads this year than what was spent last year.
But more needs to be done. Perhaps council should approach senior governments for help. Or redirect money from other areas to infrastructure. Or, God forbid, raise taxes and do more work.
As it stands now, city residents will either have to pay more taxes to repair more roads or face the prospects of much higher auto repair bills when they hit the ever growing number of potholes.
So by all means, council, take care of the flag issue, the plastic bag debate and the free menstrual products controversy. But while you’re at it, don’t forget the big ticket items.