Many of you have appreciated my investigations into city operations

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Shane Judge
#ShaneJudge  #LSN_Opinion

Many of you have appreciated my investigations into city operations. But some folks say if I want to be mayor I have to stop being so negative. They say I should make the case for how I would make things better in the city. This is true. But first you need to understand what prompted my entrance into municipal politics.
   
As you may know, I've been concerned about the collapse of our industrial tax base. One pulp mill survives where we had four. Our two large sawmills are gone. The grain industry is a shadow of its former self.
   
Those losses combined with successful assessment appeals by remaining major industries have undermined the municipality's revenues. Also gone are thousands of good-paying, blue-collar jobs.
   
Many of those blue-collar workers have now retired to fixed incomes. And they're dying. Just check the obituaries any Saturday in the Chronicle-Journal. I find the listings each week shocking.
   
All of this informed my decision to step out from retirement in the last election.
   
I waited for someone running for mayor to take a stand against a $114M event centre we simply cannot afford to operate in this economic climate. And I waited. And waited.
   
Finally, when no one had stepped forward by September, a month and a half before the election, I felt compelled to give a voice to people upset there'd been no plebiscite on the event centre.
   
Debate about the event centre dominated the election. Keith Hobbs labelled me a 'gloom and doomer" when I argued building a money-losing event centre was a bad bet.  
 
  I was mocked when I said a school board trustee had told me that "the writing is on the wall" that we would be closing a high school. The director of education for the public school board went on Thunder Bay Television and said it wasn't going to happen. Less than two years later, the board was looking at closing not one, but two high schools.
 
  Many people were not fooled by the sunshine and lollipops coming out of the mouths of many city councillors. Almost 10,000 people voted for me. But many voters chose to ignore the warning signs and voted for candidates who promised a shiny, new event centre.
 
  Since the election, events have proven my concerns are warranted. House construction is at a 15-year low, the public school board is recruiting students in China to help fill our schools, the College is cancelling programs because there aren't enough students, the university has begun an unprecedented effort to recruit foreign students. Even the politicians have admitted the truth. The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association has begun to investigate ways to turn around the inevitable population decline.
 
  I also urge you to watch the debate over the 2017 budget at the public school board. You will find that the province is prepared to penalize the board for failing to close that second high school. That will reduce the amount of money available to educate our kids. This is the price we will pay for ignoring reality.
  
 Meanwhile, studies over the past couple of years show that Thunder Bay is one of the most expensive municipalities to live in across the province.
  
 We simply don't have a large enough of a tax and population base to sustain existing operations without imposing a tremendous tax burden on property owners. City hall staff say we are falling further and further behind in the amount of money we should be spending on repairing roads, sewers and water lines. A few years ago the gap was $17M a year. Now it's $24M each year.
  
 On top of that, we've built water treatment facilities with built-in costs that will see water bills climb by three per cent a year for the foreseeable future. That infrastructure was needed when we had four pulp and paper mills. Not any more. Each of us is picking up a bigger share of the cost of that excess capacity.

   
So what are we to do? I will lay out some of my thoughts about reforming city government in my next column.

Shane Judge
January 5, 2017


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