United Counties council members will be thinking hard about budget cuts in the coming weeks. The draft budget presented by the counties staff last week included a four per cent increase in tax revenue, well above what most local mayors want to see.
Still sitting squarely on the chopping block is the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail. The path is expected to cost $240,000 in 2017, and Warden Guy Desjardins, at the last meeting of council, suggested its budget should be cut down to $100,000. Even getting rid of it entirely would represent savings of just 0.6 per cent, according to the United Counties’ budget presentation, meaning more cuts would need to be made if the mayors want to hit their goal of limiting the tax increase to two per cent over what was collected last year. It’s great that our local mayors are committed to keeping costs low, but it’s not that getting rid of the trail or slashing its budget in the next few weeks would be a responsible move. Unless there is information that isn’t being shared with the public, the trail is in jeopardy because it seems expensive and it doesn’t seem like it’s being used very much. The budget could be cut down to $100,000 because… it’s a round number.
Maybe cuts need to be made, but the United Counties aren’t facing financial disaster – council has time to make a careful decision. We don’t have very much information about how many people actually use the Recreational Trail or if it’s possible to operate it with $100,000 per year. Instead of arbitrarily making cuts because a service seems expensive, council would be better off spending a few months actually looking into where cuts are possible, or figuring out ways to increase use of the trail, and coming back to it next year.
Just because there are some problems with a service doesn’t mean it needs to be cut entirely. Town of Hawkesbury, for example, has shown how to turn around a bad situation with its multi-functional room. In a few years, the formerly underused second ice surface at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex has become a successful space for all kinds of activities, and possibly a source of income for the municipality, now that a deal has been signed with local gym Fitlife. Gym instructors will offer a variety of classes for people of all ages and interests, including Zumba, dance and “bootcamp” classes, with any revenues split 50-50 between Fitlife and Hawkesbury.
The advocacy group Participaction found in its 2016 “Report Card” on physical activity among young people only nine per cent of Canadian children between five and 17 years old are getting at least an hour of physical activity a day.
The recreational trail may have its faults, but it’s free to use, and it’s safe. The problems with the trail were first raised just a few months ago, right away in the context of the trail’s possible closure. If the trail is too expensive, or it’s not being used enough, we should try to fix those problems instead of drastically reducing its budget or shutting it down entirely.
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