Here’s a copy of my letter that was published today in the Guelph Tribune. Comments welcomed. Thanks for reading. James
One of the things that makes me proud to be a Guelphite is our ‘community-mindedness’. We are a city of volunteers and ‘participants’. We are for the most part a city that appreciates the value of investing in our future to sustain our enviable quality of life. It’s that quality that draws a rich diversity of new people here who share a desire to work together towards making this city an even better place to live.
I very seldom hear people say “I moved to Guelph because I was looking for lower taxes”. ( In fact our taxes are totally in line with other cities our size in Ontario.) I hear MANY people, however, say that they appreciate the VALUE they get for the taxes they pay, ( at the same time urging their elected representatives to be always mindful of that value ). For most of us who are community-minded, we understand that to keep that quality of life, we need to contribute as taxpayers and as ‘good neighbours’ to maintain that high standard we are now known for.
Those who do NOT appreciate or contribute to our sense of community are a small but vocal minority who would sacrifice services, cut back programs, widen our income gap and turn their backs on investing in the future for our children in order to save a few dollars on their tax bill. They look towards an unrealistic ‘rate of inflation’ tax increase as their definition of a live-able community. I say ‘unrealistic’ because this cannot address our infrastructure gap, our investment in energy sustainability, our efforts to address the impact of climate change, and other areas where we are falling behind. In speaking to those for whom low taxes are their main measure of a city’s success, I often find that citizens who complain the loudest about their tax rate are also those who do not draw on many of the services that their taxes support. I sometimes hear them say “I don’t use the library. I don’t walk the trails. I don’t take transit, so why should I pay for improving them?” The community-minded majority seems to understand that our taxes provide for our collective wealth, and that we cannot thrive as a society if our economic policies leave anyone behind and favour the ‘fortunate few’. It’s my job as an elected official to always be trying for a fair balance. We want our citizens to not feel overly burdened by their taxes, and we want those same citizens to feel that their city provides the amenities that make them want to live, work, and play here.
What I think some of us miss is that when we DO invest in our future with recreational facilities, our trail and river systems, an effective transit system, a sustainable infrastructure, our innovative community energy initiative, our culture, our programmes to address affordable housing, poverty, and accessibility we attract businesses here, we create jobs, we grow our economy, and we can keep our taxes affordable without sacrificing our well-being.
Guelph’s best opportunity right now to demonstrate the value of community investment is to respond to the growing demand for a new main library. We’re learning that there’s nothing that stimulates a community more than a vibrant central library. Look at Halifax, Winnipeg, or just down the road in Cambridge. When a library becomes a community hub, offering much more than books of course, it becomes a reflection of, and contributes immeasurably to, the vitality of the city it represents. An investment in a new library can pay for itself quickly in the extra business it brings to a downtown and in the social value it provides.
It is clear to me that there IS a public will for a new library. We have the chance to let it be a great example of the benefits of capital investment in our city. I believe we have a strong mandate to speed up the process to get one, and when we do, I am confident that it will be a positive asset to our city that will be appreciated by all, even the ‘library deniers’! Yes, we are community-minded, and our new library will be a wonderful way to help ‘mind’ our community!