By Medicine Hat News Opinon on October 12, 2017.
Medicine Hat is drowning in taxes, home to entrenched bureaucracy and a horrible place to do business.
At the same time, however, it’s one of the best, featuring low taxes, a new, business-friendly attitude at City Hall and opportunities galore.
Such is the line that divides city council candidates as the municipal election campaign draws to a close.
So, too, is it a riddle for voters to solve with less than one week remaining in the campaign.
It’s also a textbook example of political posturing and an important example of why critical thinking is, well, critical (pun intended) in an informed electorate.
Voters over the past month have heard a variety of opinions from 19 candidates for city council and another four for mayor.
They have alternately lashed out at a closed-for-business attitude or lauded reforms at the city planning and land departments. They highlight an ongoing hotel and retail construction boom or call for measures to bring higher-paying jobs.
The council members of the recent term say they’ve been united in moving forward issues that have vexed this community.
A little too united, respond challengers, who charge incumbents have been unwilling to give voice to concerns.
It’s been said that every election is about change, but it’s also about the economy.
The 2013 election was certainly about the economy, and the 2017 event may be piggy backing on that vibe as a matter of habit
After a quick, deep recession that began in 2015, we might now be seeing greenshoots of economic activity again.
The debate from the one and only set of forums revolves around expanding breaks to lure new business.
A number of other issues that track vaguely back to new budget plan to cut resource revenue out of the operations.
The Financially Fit budget review is probably the biggest item from the recent term, and the biggest issue in an election that’s generally lacking big issues.
Council was resolute last year to put the 10-year plan in place, but found massive opposition after transit changes were more radical than advertised.
Two schools of thought have developed ahead of the 2017 vote.
One is that budgets cuts haven’t nearly gone deep enough. The other is that chopping some programs, like the much discussed transit changes, should be off limit.
Another problem involves the eternal question of keeping taxes as low as possible.
Balancing the city’s budget without either program cuts or tax increases is a mathematical impossibility.
Mayoral challenger John Hamill says a spending review is crucial. Candidate Scott Raible proposes support for city programs and services as a growth strategy.
A wide array of council candidates state their position is that growing the tax base with new business and homeowners will fill the gap.
However, that’s a long-lead theoretical plan that won’t work unless it’s coupled with major cost containment. (New communities add to expenditures, after all.)
Incumbent mayor Ted Clugston shouldn’t get a free pass on this either. He continually argues there is no annual deficit, but it’s a technicality as he defines it.
The Financially Fit plan itself aims to close a $19 million difference between revenue and expenses. Many in the community would call that a deficit.
Council candidates can agree on certain things.
Medicine Hat is either a great place to raise a family or retire.
It’s either a growing logistics hub, home to skilled tradespeople, ambitious business people.
Almost all temper their criticisms just enough to remain enthusiastic about future prospects.
In the nearer term, however, Hatters have their own minds to make up in the ballot booth.
(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)
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