Found Savings

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What should our local government do with ‘found’ money? Run to the corner candy store and load up on sweets? Try to find out where it came from and give it back? Stick it in a pocket and save it for another day?

Patrick Maloney’s latest article (‘City ponders what to do with $450K‘; London Free Press; 2008/02/01) describes how $1.8-million appears to have been earmarked by the city for a bridge construction, but was $900,000 more than necessary once Middlesex County was determined to be responsible for half the cost. Although there is limited discretion about how $450,000 of that can now be used (because it’s ‘gas-tax’ money), the other $450,000 is on the table.

What interests me most about this is the almost piranha-like feeding frenzie that seems to take place immediately upon discovery of such anticipated money. As opposed to a more relaxed, longer-term, contemplative consideration of how it might best be used.

In the first place, I don’t think that it’s wise for the city to have any dependence at all on any source of revenue that cannot be depended on. And necessary future expenditures for things like infrastructure repair/replacement which we know about in advance ought to be to be saved up for incrementally, by salting a little bit away right from day #1 when those capital projects are first built. Hence my fondness for reserve funds.

How many times a year does money get ‘found’ by City Hall? How much does all of it amount to? Sure, it’s reported upon when it occurs, in isolation. And then something else is reported on, and it quickly slips beneath our radar. And then after a while another bit of money may be ‘found,’ etc. But can we currently appreciate the scope of it? Doesn’t the current way it’s treated allow local representatives a bit more wriggle-room to finesse some of it toward their own personal projects than we may want them to have?

Slots revenue is a special case in point. The city appears to have become captive to it’s continued availability, and I don’t believe that’s prudent. Planned expenditures should not rely upon tenuous sources, and I include in that government announcements about planned assistance instead of counting upon it AFTER it has materialized.

By mandating that any such ‘found’ money be put into a separate account, reserve fund, or anything else that you’d care to call it, and kept there until the next year’s budget deliberation takes place, we citizens would have a better appreciaton of how much gravy was available for pouring upon which plates. Put another way, it would make the goings-on down at City Hall a little bit more transparent and undersandable to an ordinary ‘Joe’ like me, and perhaps go a little way towards reducing my skepticism and distrust.

Don’t forget that the city has taken the extraordinary step of creating a Governance Task Force to hear from all of us about changing the way that we’re governed. Meetings are currently being held which provide us the opportunity to make submissions, either in person at one of the meetings or via the electronic options provided for on the city website.

This democracy of ours is a wonderful thing that many other countries don’t enjoy. But it was not fought for and paid for by us. Previous generations did that and gave it to us on a silver platter. Doesn’t that mean that we have a responsibility to guard and cherish and preserve it? Don’t that responsibility demand that we be willing to make the very small sacrifice of going out to vote when the time comes, and to attend the occassional meeting such as these?

I will be in attendance at as many of these as I possibly can be. And it would be wonderful to see you there also.

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