Editorial – The right to choose

Chris Clegg

Town of High Prairie Councillor Judy Stenhouse asks a simple question: “Is it ethically correct to collect from taxpayers and [donate to organizations]?” she asked at council’s budget meeting Jan. 15.
In her opinion, it is not.
It is hard to argue against Stenhouse. Is it council’s job to take the taxpayers’ money and give it to a charity of their choice? Shouldn’t the decision to give to charity rest only with the individual?
Do the councillors who pass motions to donate to charities like STARS [we could use many different examples] also support the same charity individually when it comes from their wallet? It is a valid question. Given the number of charities councillors support, probably not.
A former High Prairie councillor was always frustrated over affairs of council when it came to spending. Wayne Forrester said time and time again it wasn’t “glamourous” to spend money on making water and pumping sewer, but if you wanted to get the attention of the people, raise the ice rates at the local rink or support a charity one did not support.
The trouble is, councils are first and foremost elected to develop policy and ensure that water runs in the taps, homes are heated by gas and the sewage flows freely from you home. It is not to give away taxpayers’ money.
We are not in prosperous times. High Prairie town council is in a cash crunch. It sometimes seems silly to argue over a proposed $39,000 sponsorship grant program and whether STARS should get zero, $4,000 or $8,000 when a grader costs $300,000 or a fire truck a half million but it is where we are at.
We must also remember every community event or charity organization brings value to a community. All serve a purpose and increases the standard of living and quality of life. The question is, can the community afford it?
For every argument that can be made to support a community event, a counter argument can be made if that same event cannot survive on its own through local community support from private citizens and businesses, it should fall by the wayside.
In a perfect world, Stenhouse is correct when she says the choice should be left to individuals. Just what makes a councillor smarter to decide which charity your money should go?
But we live in a far from perfect world where demands from the people are so outrageous small municipal councils cannot grant all the wishes coming before them. As economic times, become more difficult, there is a growing sentiment siding with Stenhouse. The rich and well-to-do citizens do not understand this but there are some people need the money they earn just to pay the bills.
As human beings, most of us are generous by nature. We like to support charities and those in need when we can; however, should it not be done with our own money? Essentially, that is what Stenhouse is saying.
“Are we not listening to our constituents and ratepayers?” she asks.
Not all taxpayers are saying this but more and more are. Governments everywhere should be listening.

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