The District of Tumbler Ridge five year financial plan is a public document, available on the front counter at Town Hall. I suggest that all concerned citizens take the time to read it, especially the 2016 – 2020 operating budget, which appears on pages 8 to 10. These numbers give a good idea of what kind of community we may inhabit a few years from now, and how our tax dollars will be spent. People make career and retirement decisions based on this kind of information.
The numbers, in my view, are cause for grave concern.
The total operating budget remains stable, at around $9.5 million. Within this budget there are twelve categories. Eleven of these remain essentially stable.
The sole exception is the “grant in aid and fee for service” category – in other words, the volunteers and non-profit groups. In this case the amount drops from $726,303 in 2016 to $262,000 in 2018, a remarkable decrease of over 63%.
If such a decrease were consistent across various categories, it could be ascribed to economic hardship. However, because it is so selective, targeting volunteers and non-profit organizations specifically, it suggests that other factors are at play.
This does not make economic sense. I can only speak for volunteer groups that I am directly involved in, but the case for supporting such groups is crystal clear. For example, the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society has created 100 kilometres of hiking trails that have become a major tourist attraction. Because this has been achieved by volunteers, the District of Tumbler Ridge (and the taxpayer) have been saved many millions of dollars, and have essentially been given a freebie.
Likewise, for its part the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation has leveraged the annual contributions from the District of Tumbler Ridge, typically bringing in an extra $1 to $2 for every dollar received from the District. This creates infrastructure, jobs, diversification, enhanced tourism opportunities, etc. I suspect other volunteer groups have similar success stories to relate. Conversely, if the Museum is unable to survive because of these cuts, we will lose our UNESCO Global Geopark, on which so much of our future prosperity depends. Many other volunteer groups, the life-blood of our community, may also fold, if these proposed budgets become reality.
It needs to be accepted that each community is different, and that given our economic, geographic and demographic circumstances, the role of volunteers and non-profit groups is proportionally greater in Tumbler Ridge than in most other communities. Perhaps the contributions of these groups here has been unique in all of Canada, as they have driven the economic diversification that we so desperately need, with the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark as the prime example. Especially now in this economic downturn, the innovation and leadership these groups offer is critical to our future well-being.
Rather than elaborate on my personal reaction to this news, I prefer to repeat comments (only the polite ones) from respected community leaders and volunteers to whom I have mentioned this five year budget. “Delusional” came up a few times, along with “what could they be thinking?” and “how can they be so out of touch?” And perhaps the most worrisome of all: “Well, then, why would I want to live here?”
The question becomes: if these numbers are not set in stone, will concerned citizens request a reversal of this incomprehensible thinking, and ask for a budget that respects and appreciates the vital contributions of our volunteers and non-profit groups?