Thursday, 29 January 2015

Budgets aren't the only taxes we pay

It’s budget time across lower tier municipalities and all our newly elected politicians are going to learn the real work they were elected for.

               John Tory has introduced his budget in Toronto, with slightly higher taxes and a TTC fare increase, more shelter beds and many other things. He also pointed out the destructive nature of the previous administration, who ran on a platform of taxpayer respect.

               According to Tory, “...cuts to city transit services resembled something done with a “meat cleaver.”

               Locally, county and municipal councils have entered budget deliberations, treading warily as they attempt to balance the many and varied interests at play.

               One of the critical issues to be faced in Owen Sound and regionally is public transportation.

               This past Christmas I heard many parents lament that they had to risk dodging snowstorms to drive their children to college and university. I know we live in Grey Bruce where snow is just part of the winter landscape, but I also heard of one family making a trip of over 1,000 km in one long driving day to dodge snowstorms and get their children to school.

               It did not used to be that way. We used to be able to put kids on the train (years ago, I know) and they could switch at Guelph to get to Waterloo or London or Toronto.  

               It wasn’t that long ago that kids could get on the bus and be delivered safely, in a few hours, to Toronto and then onward to their final destination.

               No more. One bus a day in and one bus out of Owen Sound.

               Locally, the city council will be wresting with a transit subsidy of $785,000 and perhaps a decision about the current bus terminal.

               I would point out that there is no public transit system on the face of the earth (except for Hong Kong) which does not receive a government subsidy of some kind. For any municipal government to think that it can opt out of a significant municipal responsibility such as public transit is simply delusional. To think it can reduce services and, in this weather, put riders outside on our central hub system is downright dangerous.

               The new buses (especially the mobility transit bus) have been sighted on city streets, perhaps doing test runs and driver familiarization. That’s a good thing to see. But transit is more than buses. It’s routes and infrastructure which we all share. And part of that sharing is our support of that infrastructure through our taxes.

               I recently learned that Sudbury has restricted its mobility transit system, claiming that their regular buses are fully accessible. Riders of the mobility transit bus have to be assessed by an outside consultant, presumably a professional, to qualify to ride specialized transit.

               That’s just another form of system and resource rationing which requires a disability means test to access the transit system.

               Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here.

               The challenge for our elected officials will be to cut budgets a bit while giving taxpayers a bit. There is very little fat left on the cow, so to speak.

               It’s my hope that as our politicians make their decisions, they will do so carefully and diligently. They certainly have my prayers, and I trust yours. At the very least, think kind thoughts of them.

               In turn, I hope our elected officials will not forget the people on the edges of our community who need an affordable way to get to medical appointments, food shopping and entertainment. They count, too.


Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.