Township council debates budget ‘wants’ vs ‘needs’

Even to seasoned politicians, municipal budgets can be a confusing maze of numbers.

Even to seasoned politicians, municipal budgets can be a confusing maze of numbers that blur when the wants become indistinguishable from needs.

That was the case at council’s Feb. 13 afternoon Township council meeting, during which the debate grew heated and councillors interrupted each other.

“I am thoroughly confused,” Councillor Michelle Sparrow commented during an argument on whether certain items were being “floated” as ideas, when council had no intention of following through on them. A case in point is council’s approval for staff to study the potential for a fine arts facility.

“I thought the City is doing it,” Councillor Kim Richter commented.

“Why would we want to compete with the City?”

Councillor Bev Dornan said there may be partners that could come on board for such a facility, and another for which council approved a staff study: an agricultural and equestrian facility.

City Mayor Peter Fassbender confirmed that he has held preliminary talks with Township Mayor Jack Froese for a performing arts centre.

The Rotary Club of Langley has already taken a lead role, holding Langley Has Talent competitions to raise money.

The two facilities are what the public is asking for, Councillor Grant Ward argued.

In fact, over the past few years, there have been no interest groups lobbying council for a fine arts theatre, and council has only on rare occasions been asked to support an agricultural/equine facility.

As for the latter, “Now is not a good time,” said Councillor Bob Long, who tried unsuccessfully to convince council to only present items to the public that the Township is serious about funding.

Richter agreed.

“It gets back to ‘nice to have’ and ‘need to have,’” she said, questioning the timing of the facilities, given the current economic pressures.

Staff have recommended a cost of living increase of 1.70 per cent, with another 1.5 per cent for three separate items. Richter said that the Township should follow the lead of Air Canada which is now showing ticket prices that include all taxes. The Township’s actual proposed increase is 3.2 per cent.

An item that received no comment at the meeting was Aldergrove Elementary School site. A recommendation that staff report on providing more money for an Aldergrove Recreation Centre forms part of the budget, and is contingent upon the Township buying the Fraser Highway site from the Langley School District.

Administrator Mark Bakken confirmed later that the Township has an interest in the Aldergrove Elementary school site “and is in discussions with school district staff about its future and a possible acquisition.”

Bakken said that if the Township acquires the school, which was closed down in June, 2007, its heritage significants “will be recognized and preserved.”