COLUMN: Time to differentiate between ‘need’ and ‘want’

How can you knock an organization that does great work in the community?

How can you knock an organization that does great work in the community – an organization that in some ways helped my family gain a greater perspective of those who are a part of our greater community?

So do I think having a YMCA in Abbotsford is a good idea? Absolutely! Back in the ’80s my sons became lifeguards and swimming instructors at the Chilliwack Y. My eldest son taught disabled children to swim at the facility, nurturing in him life skills that he even subconsciously may now be passing on to his own children.

The underlying reason, however, for the success and great contribution to Chilliwack of the Y was that it was the only full-facility recreation centre in the city. Back then, the Y was “it.”

Abbotsford, on the other hand, had McMillan Pool and later added Matsqui Recreation Centre, and in the meantime privately owned gyms abounded as free-enterprise took advantage of the move towards better health through fitness.

Which brings me to the point. We want the pool and programs the Y could bring here to Abbotsford, but we don’t “need” them.

And we certainly don’t “need” them enough to justify spending $17.5 million of taxpayer dollars by a city that maintains it has precious few dollars to spend on anything.

I’m sure that city hall can, and will if it makes the decision, find the money somewhere in its contingency or reserve fund accounts. But if there is money sitting around waiting to be spent, then it should be dispensed where the “need” is, not where the “want” is.

Also, should the city and your tax dollars be spent on fitness facilities that compete with the operations of the taxpaying private sector? Granted, we are already doing that with exercise rooms and equipment in our publicly owned recreation centres, but do we need more located in a YMCA that is to be constructed with 50 per cent public funding by the taxpayers?

Obviously I don’t agree with this expenditure, just as I don’t agree that the proposed site on the vacant and valuable land of the old MSA Hospital should be used for anything other than significant tax-generating development. That site is prime real estate that, along with other lands along the McCallum strip, could help revitalize a key part of the city.

It could be said, however, that the Y might become an anchor tenant which may attract private investment on and surrounding the location. And it is, of course, near the university.

All of the above, however, may be moot. At 3 p.m. on the day I write this (yesterday, in fact), the city may decide, without referendum or detailed and lengthy discussion, to approve giving $17.5 million of your dollars to the YMCA to green-light the project.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the timing is right.

A few years down the road, when and if more tax dollars are pouring into city coffers, such a proposal might be acceptable.

Today, with the financial pressures we all face (the most powerful economy in the world, the U.S., is at the cliff-edge right now), city hall and all governments that rely on taxation must curtail discretionary spending.

At least until the good times return, it is time to stop believing we can operate on a limitless credit card of tax dollars, and put aside expenditures on public art, international friendship gardens and $17.5-million giveaways, no matter how good they look or how much we “want” them.

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