Roads paved with good intentions

The devil is in the details as election campaigns gear up.

I always enjoy elections.

Doesn’t matter if it’s municipal, provincial or federal.

And as naive as it may sound, elections are a time where I feel like I can contribute to the democratic process because my vote can make a difference.

Go ahead and laugh, but I don’t ever want to fall victim to the cynicism that my vote doesn’t matter.

I appreciate elections for the self-reflection aspect — what do I stand for and which candidate or party identifies with that?

Provincial and federal elections tend to be a little more exciting because of the scale of the campaigns and the narratives created by each party and candidate.

At the provincial and federal level, the electorate is making decisions on candidates who could be potentially be representing Canada on an international stage, or making domestic policy decisions that can affect millions of people.

Section 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act divides the separation of powers between the federal and provincial governments, detailing which level is responsible for providing services to the citizenry.

However, it’s at the municipal level where grassroots democracy really shines.

In Cranbrook, the city collects property tax as one source of municipal funding to pay for things such as Fire and Emergency services, the Cranbrook Public Library, RCMP and Leisure Services.

No doubt that funding goes to many places, but there is one other area of funding that always gets a ton of attention during municipal elections, and that is infrastructure.

Specifically, the roads and their condition.

In every municipal election, for as long as I can remember — and I grew up in Cranbrook — I hear that the roads will be fixed if so and so gets elected.

That is simply not going to happen.

This isn’t pessimism or cynicism creeping in —it’s just the reality of the situation.

It comes down to the dollars and cents.

The city drew $43 million in revenue in the 2013 fiscal year. Of that, $36 million went to city expenses —i.e. water, sewer and solid waste services, protective services and general government services. The $6.6 million remainder, simply explained, went into paying down the net debt.

That’s the layman’s explanation, and when it comes to financial matters, that’s all I can provide.

According to the city, the dollar amount spent on the Capital Roads program last year was $2,620,196. That includes general, water, and sewer fund capital expenses relating to roads and sidewalks, including storm sewers, water mains and sewer main rehab. This past year, city council approved a Capital Roads Program budget of $3,048,512.

That’s the dollar amount, straight from the horses’s mouth.

Don’t mistake this as a defence of the current council regarding their decisions around the road program. Rather, I want to establish a foundation of facts.

Those budget numbers are what the city has done this past year, and what they’ve allotted for 2014.

The question now becomes whether that’s too much, too little, or if they can be stretched further for more additional rehabilitation work.

I don’t know, I’m not an road engineer.

But we, as a community, need to have a serious conversation about infrastructure spending, which hopefully grows into a larger discussion about municipal fiscal priorities.

I hear a lot of talk about candidates who want to fix the roads, but nothing about what kind of numbers it will take to do it.

How much, annually, should we dedicate to road rehabilitation?

Should we raise property taxes to fix the roads?

Sure, there will be more money in municipal coffers, but there will be angry homeowners who don’t want to part with their hard-earned money.

Is there other funding out there that the city can access — provincial or federal grants that can be used for infrastructure projects?

Enough about roads.

How about business?

Growing business and the local economy is another hot topic on the minds of potential mayoral and council candidates.

Again, I haven’t heard any specifics from candidates regarding what they’d do if they get elected.

The devil may be in the details, but the details matter.

There will be two forums where the public can meet the candidates and hear their ideas for the next four years of Cranbrook’s future.

• The Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 5, at the Heritage Inn, running from 7-8:45 p.m.

• The JCI Kootenay All Candidates Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at the Key City Theatre, starting at 6 p.m.

In a time where municipalities are getting squeezed for funding and facing increased costs for everything, it’s important to know where candidates stand and what their fiscal priorities are.

So get researching — the election is only a month away.