All County, All the Time Since 2010 MAKE THIS YOUR PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY HOME...PAGE!  Saturday, December 5th, 2020

Looking for $ in all the wrong places

As I mentioned last issue, County Council needs to find ways to save BIG money. And, rule-bound by the province, and duty-bound by the taxpayers, they are lifting every little rock and stone to see if excess money is hiding there.
So they start with town halls, libraries and museums in the hope, perhaps, that they will find out that Bill Gates is the librarian in Consecon, and they have been accidentally paying him $4 billion per year.
This reminds me of an old Abbott and Costello routine: Lou is studying the ground under a streetlight, and Bud walks up and says, “What are you doing?”
“I lost my watch.”
Bud says, “Did you lose it here?”
“No, I lost it down the street.”
Bud asks, “Why are you looking here?”
Lou says, “Because the light is better.”
This, I think is what Council is doing. With literally millions of dollars stacking up in large scale jobs booked into their Budget for the coming year, they’re looking to save a few dimes on dump staff, librarians, curators and janitors.
This is like walking into a restaurant with an elephant and a mouse, and saying, “I’d like to order one lobster plate, five tons of hay, and a teeny-bit of cheese, because I’m watching my budget.”

I do understand that ‘user fees’ might help ease the burden. An extra dollar for garbage tags, an extra quarter for Picton parking. These little things add up quickly, until you have enough money to pay for part of one councillor’s recently-acquired pay raise. (I don’t begrudge them the raise, but they’ve got a lot to learn about ‘timing’!)
There’s always lots of talk about infrastructure, and this usually means roads and bridges and buildings. If you don’t build them, and maintain them, you will die as a community. And this costs a lot of money.
But there’s also a different kind of infrastructure. And that’s the network of people who choose to live in Prince Edward County. Unlike road repairs, you don’t just pay a big invoice to a contractor and, “Viola!” the problem goes away.
No, you build the infrastructure of a community by supporting local culture, by protecting heritage, and by maintaining places where people can gather to talk, and learn, listen to music, become enlightened by new thoughts from guest speakers, connect to Wi-Fi, read and explore.

This is a mandate that is far more important than money. And you know where you can find it? In libraries, town halls, museums and, yes, even at the dump (which, not surprisingly, is where I field most of my column ideas).
All of these are natural gathering places, and the County is enriched by their presence.
Sure, Council is exploring moving this library, or closing that museum, to save a few dollars. I question: “Where is the cost-savings?”
I hear through the grapevine that one item of discussion is moving Bloomfield Library to the basement of the Town Hall. Where is the cost-savings?

First, I’m sure the mortgage on this tiny, quaint building has been long paid off, so there’s no obvious money saved here. Maybe in taxes, but that goes back to Council. Perhaps they bill out $1,500 per year and then eagerly open the envelope and go, “Yay! We paid ourselves!”
Second: You can’t tell me that the move will cost under $20,000, what with teams of County employees loading boxes of books, moving or storing them, disassembling and reassembling the racks, and learning the Dewey Decimal system so they can put them back in the right order.
I’m sure a Book Engineer will need to be on-site, and possibly a consultant specializing in book-moving. Volunteers will not be allowed to help, because of the liability issues with ‘paper cuts’.
Third: So what do we do with the vacant building? Just ask some local real estate agents how ‘hot’ the market is now. “Here’s a good idea! Let’s list this for sale during the worst economic downturn in 20 years!”
I’ve taken the liberty of drafting the ‘For Sale’ ad: “Terrific deal! One room house for sale, suitable for people who only own a couch and a microwave. No bath/no kitchen/no bedroom. Lousy view. Smells like old paper. Must be seen! Owner must sell/doesn’t care anymore.”
Do you want to know the weird part? Of course you do.

The County did this to themselves. Not this Council, but back when money was flowing like County Wine.
In the 1970s, museums were all little places run by local curators with lots of heart, who volunteered countless hours to keep their museums alive.
Carolyn Love at Rose House, Marion Casson at Ameliasburgh, Dave Cole at Mariners, Don MacDermaid at Macaulay House, Ruth Armstrong in Wellington. These people wove their souls into the museums we love today.
But even before amalgamation, the writing was on the wall. The museums were restructured, and all answerable to the main museum in Picton.
Suddenly, people needed degrees to be curators, and all of the signage was standardized into white Helvetica on a black background, just like the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, except without the underground parking.
Needless to say, all of the ‘heart and soul’ people were unceremoniously dumped, and replaced with people who, oddly enough, put their own hearts and souls into their respective sites.
But still, everything was now run from Picton, with lots of complaints from the outlying curators about being ‘short-changed’ on both funding and promotion by ‘Holy Picton’.
This has since settled down, but I hope you see the analogy I’m building here.
What happened to the museums also happened to the townships, when amalgamation reared its dragon head.
What we value most becomes less and less valuable as time goes on.
Now ‘value’ is equated to ‘money’. And that is so not the case.
And the Council of the time bought itself into a situation where they wanted – and took – complete control. They wanted the town halls, which were already largely handled by volunteers, and funded by groups like the Women’s Institute. They wanted – and took – the museums, and built them into a much more costly system, but with really nice lettering.
Sadly, the current council must deal with the effects of the Thirst for Power inherited from their somewhat richer predecessors.
But they shouldn’t look in the easy places, where the streetlight is brighter. The real cost savings are buried in the Big Projects … but they’re a little harder to find.
Let’s hope they don’t wear out before they can track down the places where thousands of dollars are uselessly spent. And the nickels and dimes will probably take care of themselves.

Filed Under: Steve Campbell

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    We have to many people doing too many jobs. Someone the other day said we have several people in finance,a lot of people in planning, too many in development
    Since amalgamation we have a lot more people working for the county–same county=maybe fewer prople but more expensive and we didn’t hire consultants in those days.
    Each townships ran themselves and they knew what their township needed just like Steve said each museum knew what their needs were
    Bigger is not better SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL. As Schumaker said.

  2. Steve says:

    To David:
    There is if you have a 4X4, a press pass and an RCMP Air Miles Card.
    Do not tell this to anyone, because there’s only a few parking spaces left.
    Steve

  3. Steve says:

    Now I feel foolish, because Treat beat me to hitting the send button.
    But I agree, and I address this in next week’s column.
    I suspect that targeting town halls, libraries and museums is the Low Rumble you hear before an earthquake.
    My fear is that Council will not bring out their blades in the Hallowed Halls of Shire, which we have witnessed time and time again at every level of government in this country.
    Not to be too ‘out there’, but the old ways of doing things don’t work anymore. I get the sense you’re on board with this.
    The whole concept of Fed, Prov and Municipal being Papa Doc, Mama Doc and Baby Doc is caving in on itself.
    Here in the County, we have lots of people who want to be heard. And yet we are trained to do it by the rules set out by those ‘above’ us. I know this sounds anarchistic, but it’s not.
    I simply ask for a return to the time when ‘representatives’ represented us. You’re a man of great heart and intelligence, and you would have done this for us. Todd Smith also appears to have taken up our torch, and is at least trying to slay some of our dragons.
    But it comes down, eventually, to us. Speaking our mind is the greatest gift a human can have, and I admire and respect everyone who counters my arguments in my columns. Because open conversation effects change.
    That’s where real change happens. And that’s why we need to speak out.
    Wow! That sounded like a campaign speech! Maybe I should be Premier! Or Prime Minister. Or maybe King! Nah, I hear the pay sucks.
    Steve

  4. David Norman says:

    @ Steve
    While this may sound a tad odd, I thoroughly enjoy all the County Budget discussion I’ve seen. After living in Toronto for 20+ years and not having any idea of what got spent and how, not even knowing what my Councilor did exactly, it is a pleasure to be privy to and understand the workings of council. I do not envy the council members their jobs in this respect. The only advice or input I have is, do not manage the budget as poorly as I manage mine. And Steve, there is no underground parking at the ROM.

  5. Steve says:

    I can’t believe I have had no comments on the last two columns!

    Lots of people have told me they agree, but there’s no record of ANYONE checking in with their own thoughts.

    If you agree … send the message to councillors and everyone else.

    Don’t wait until I say something stupid, so you can strap me to a tree and let the buzzards pick my eyes out and pour my entrails on the ground (though I’m OK with that too).

    Let’s hear some VOICES for God’s sake, or everything will continue to spiral downwards until we’ve lost everything but our tax bills!

    I happen to know that everyone has a story to tell. TELL IT!

    Thanks
    Steve

  6. Treat Hull says:

    Steve, you raise a very important issue with your point about internet access. There are many people in the County who either do not have rural high speed internet available or cannot afford it. Quite apart from access to books, the County’s libraries are providing an important function by making internet available to everyone.

    Five items account for 75% of all County spending, first and foremost roads at a little over 1 in every three dollars spent. While costs need to be controlled and reduced on the smaller line items in the budget, the main focus needs to be on the big items.

    While I don’t believe the County can solve it’s financial difficulties by radical action on smaller expense items like libraries, the discussion of potential library cuts has served a useful purpose to bring home the fact that the County cannot continue to maintain the current level of services it provides.

    Treat Hull

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