COLUMN: Backward process gets us nowhere

We’ve got it all upside down and backward. From drinking water to city budgeting, we’re just not following a common sense approach.

We’ve got it all upside down and backward.

From drinking water to city budgeting, we’re just not following a common sense approach.

It’s not our fault, really. Municipalities all over the world follow the same or similar path, developed over decades of governance.

But, just as mom used to say, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right.

Look at how we’re dealing with water.

As stated in our editorial in Thursday’s paper and I’ve stated in this space previously, we’re spending millions of dollars on making our water safe to drink, then pouring it over our cars and lawns and flushing down the loo.

Not only that, we’re wasting so much of our water (lawns, gardens, car-washing, toilet-flushing, even showering – none really require the expensive treatment process to which we subject water to make it safe for human consumption) we need to build even more costly infrastructure so we’ve got enough to accommodate our ever-expanding population.

Think more than $60 million for a new treatment plant and at least that much again for a new dam.

Seriously flawed approach.

I’m fully supportive of increasing our treatment process for water that’s actually being consumed, but totally against treating water that’s destined for the sewer pipes. Especially when we have systems proven effective at reducing our water waste, or at least reusing our wasted ‘grey’ water.

These carefully engineered pipe networks should be mandated in every new build, both single- and multi-family.

And then there’s basic water-savers that aren’t systems at all. They’re just big barrels shoved under the downspouts to catch all the water rolling off your roof. Hardly complicated science there.

Long story short. We don’t need to waste precious millions of taxpayers’ money if people could just be persuaded to stop wasting water.

And if we citizens can’t be gently persuaded, which seems to be rather obvious given our continued water consumption stats, drop the hammer – legislate it. Pass bylaws banning lawn watering (which are an outdated, archaic status symbol, by  the way – healthy lawns turn brown as they go dormant and bounce back as strong as ever come fall rains), and whatever else it takes.

Ultimately, we’ll save money.

And on the subject of saving money, our budget process is completely bass-ackward also. Calgary recently proved it.

Typically, municipal governments put together a proposed budget, figure out costs and expected revenues and a necessary tax-rate hike. Taxpayers are only brought in near the end of the process, when council and staff say, “Here’s what we think we’ll do. Here’s what it’s going to cost – what do you think?”

The big flaw is that the work is largely already done. Public input happens in the late stages and when there’s opposition to tax increases, the typical answer is, “OK, which necessary service would you like to cut?”

Calgary flipped the process and asked its citizens for input at the outset – and had 23,000 people take part over three months. Victoria is following that lead with budget open houses early in its process.

It also implemented an online tool to guide citizens through the budget process (B.C.’s government did likewise this month.)

Something similar needs to happen here also, particularly since Nanaimo taxpayers are facing some rather hefty bills coming due in the next few years (see comments above).

Bringing the public in earlier won’t necessarily result in drastic changes – Calgary’s experience found residents didn’t pinpoint any areas for cuts – but it might.

And it will definitely get people more involved and educated about how the city functions and where their money goes. That’s at least a step forward.

Nanaimo News Bulletin