Photo credit: Jason Lang/THE RECORD
Is it wrong in tough economic times for Mayor Wright to spend $374,162 on a party?
I was just about ready to send off my cheque to the City of New Westminster for my annual tax bill when a copy of the local New Westminster Record landed on my porch. The front cover is plastered with yet another in a long series of cheesy photo-ops from lacklustre three-term Mayor Wayne Wright. Why is he smiling? He was announcing that city taxpayers are going to be on the hook to the tune of $374,162 for the City's 150th anniversary party.
Alright, before all you bloggers get all revved up and start tapping your keys about the hypocrisy in this post, let me say that I'm all for civic celebrations. Recognizing and celebrating key milestones within your community is a great thing. However, it should always be done in moderation and be mindful of taxpayers ability to pay.
So when I heard that New West' City Hall was not simply planning to order a big cake with 150 candles and inviting us all down to have a piece, I paid a bit more attention. In fact, according to the Record, the prospect of spending several hundred thousand dollars on a party made some Councillors almost giddy. Based on their reaction, I'm surprised they didn't dive right into the planning process and begin ordering the catering themselves.
Take for example longtime labour endorsed City Councillor Laurie Williams. Did she have any concern that homeowners in New Westminster who face some of the highest property taxes (and worst public amenities) in Metro Vancouver might be a tad concerned with the largesse associated with this party? Nope. Quite the contrary.
Williams was openly musing about a massive garden party on the front lawn of City Hall. Here's what she told the Record:
"We could get the symphony there, choirs singing. It could be a garden party like no other."
You said it Laurie, for $374K, you could order up one heck of a garden party. In fairness, the funds being allocated are for more than a garden party, they also include plans for a showcase of the city's arts, a heritage fashion show, a heritage neighbourhood trolley tour and fireworks at the Quay.
Not all Councillors share William's enthusiasm for spending taxpayers dollars on a big party. Voice Councillor Bob Osterman told the Record he was "aghast" at the expense. Here's what else he had to say:
"I simply can't accept that...that is too much money."
In times of economic prosperity, spending this kind of cash on a party would barely merit a passing mention. In today's global meltdown, it makes front page even in a city the size of New Westminster.
New Westminster has had 150 years to plan this party, so perhaps the more prudent thing would have been for Mayor Wayne Wright to have locked down a few private sector or union sponsors to help defray the costs. How about requesting funding from the Federal Government like the City of Quebec did for its recent 400th anniversary?
These are troubled times, and city politicians should be more in tune with voters who I believe will become increasingly less tolerant of politicians engaged in wasteful spending on needless activities. On this one, Mayor Wright got it wrong, but he can make it right again (sorry folks...just couldn't help myself on that one).