A city cannot be run on the results of endless surveys.
An urge to consult widely before making decisions is an instinct that should be encouraged in politicians. It should even be applauded.
But ultimately council members were elected to make decisions for the good of the community rather than serving as funnels for statistics.
This past Monday, a majority of council opted to add another survey onto an already survey heavy year, this time authorizing $30,000 to ask property taxpayers to rank preferences when it comes to new city facilities.
At issue in particular are the proposed new library, arena and a new pool. Library and ice users were able to successfully promote the need for an arena and library branch during the 2016 budget process. The question of a pool has come up in the wake of ongoing concerns about swimming lesson availability and space requests.
The survey, proposed by the mayor, will ask municipal taxpayers to rank their preferences for such facilities and their willingness to pay extra taxes for them. Mayor Nolan Crouse said in an interview he wants to nail down how much of a tax increase people would support in the case of each project, adding he wants to make sure if council borrows money for a project it’s for the right thing.
Of course, council could look away from borrowing and instead focus on growing the commercial and industrial base to help pay for these kinds of projects. Borrowing for Project 9 was needed, but council should heed the mayor’s previous warnings about getting addicted to borrowing.
A majority of council agreed with the mayor that those who pay the bill should get a chance to sound off. Coun. Tim Osborne and Coun. Cathy Heron disagreed. Osborne noted a similar survey was done just last fall, while Heron questioned the effectiveness of surveys.
The survey from last fall saw 63 per cent of people agree that they would be willing to pay more taxes to expand or build a new library, a result highlighted by library director Peter Bailey.
This survey will join a collection of planned polls this year that include the community satisfaction survey, a public engagement survey and an animal bylaw changes survey.
Those surveys are in addition to a myriad of other public consultations that are ongoing in 2016.
But when it comes time for council members to vote, they must realize they have been elected to make decisions, not to echo survey results.
Council has to take a good hard look in the mirror and remember that in the end, it is up to each council member to cast the vote they think will benefit the community the best.
If indeed all council members are going to do is shield themselves behind statistically valid survey results every time there’s a hard decision, maybe it’s time for the citizens of St. Albert to switch to a robust survey program instead of paying seven council salaries.
That’d be a quick way to save taxpayers some money.