Recently, Coun. Russ Wyatt made the press (again) by suggesting significant budget cuts to projects deemed excessive. He suggested the city faces "tough decisions" in the coming months in the wake of the provincial budget.
It is rather convenient that during Wyatt's hack-and-slash tirade, he avoided the Plessis underpass at $77 million and the expansion of the East End Community Centre for another $12 million. These are his projects, though, and one supposes do not require the same level of scrutiny.
Also, it's ironic that Wyatt is the same elected official who spent over $100,000 in taxpayers' money developing and promoting an arena and healthy-living centre project in Transcona when there was a similar plan approved and already on the table by another local volunteer group. But that wasn't his plan. So the $100,000 was worth it?
We can all agree it has been a long time since any serious dollars have been spent on recreational facilities in Winnipeg. So as someone who has been involved in this process for several years, I would challenge our elected officials to make sure we get it right and spend our scarce taxpayer-provided infrastructure dollars wisely.
The first question or criterion when spending tax dollars should be: What do the residents need or want? I think we all assume when decisions are made on how to spend our money, elected officials always consider what we want and or what is needed. A group from another local community centre did two separate surveys and learned that while residents were supportive of a new arena, what respondents were adamant about was having access to a healthy-living and fitness facility.
More important, in 2010, Wyatt commissioned a survey as part of the Transcona Recreation and Leisure Village process. The results were clear:
1) The comments suggest a clear support from participants of this meeting for the concept of a YMCA in Transcona, a fitness-type facility.
2) Most felt the arena was aging and could be replaced or reused for something else such as soccer or lacrosse. Nearly all participants that provided comments regarding green space, noting green space is an important part of the community and should not be eliminated.
3) There was divided commentary among meeting participants on the topic of housing. While many meeting participants expressed non-support for housing on the site, numerous others noted a distinct need and desire for new 55-plus and seniors housing.
So residents, when given the opportunity, made it clear they want a fitness facility, Roland Michener repurposed, green space maintained and plus-55 housing, but not necessarily at the Roland Michener site.
Apparently, that wasn't what the Wyatt wanted to hear. He pushed forward with his plans anyway.
The recent announcement about expansion at East End ignores what residents have stated they want. So why are we spending $12 million, money hard to come by, without listening to local residents or having further discussion?
So Wyatt wants to cut significant spending by the city? Not necessarily a bad idea, but it rings hollow when the same councillor ignores cutting his own pet projects and has a history of using taxpayers' money to pursue his own agenda.
Problem is, politicians count on us to either not pay attention, have short memories or to display typical voter apathy so they can get re-elected. Complaining about decisions we disagree with in the coffee shop or at the local rink is ineffective.
We need to hold our elected officials more accountable. The message might be: "Please don't use our hard-earned dollars building the legacy you want. Build the legacy we want."
Scott Donald is the past vice-president of sports at the Park City West Community Club and a longtime Transcona resident. See the Transcona leisure survey at http://winnipeg.ca/ppd/TRLV/pdf/Results.pdf.