Steve Thorlakson: Playing with the taxpayer's dime


Michael Campbell, Gordon’s brother, gives some pretty solid financial advice. In his most recent column, he asks, “Would you rather have a politician make your investment decisions or an expert with a long track record of picking winners?”

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“It’s an important question because right now politicians are investing millions, even billions, of your money into specific companies as if they have the background or expertise. Is it any wonder so much of it is wasted?” Campbell continues.

As most of us are aware, he’s talking about high profile things like SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, etc., but it also applies at the provincial and even municipal level.

I’m not suggesting the councils I was part of were perfect – far from it, but I’d just like to point a few items out over the years and ask the citizens to consider whether their tax dollars are being well spent or invested. I’m even going to dip my toes into dangerous waters and point out items not only in Fort St. John, but also in Dawson Creek.

I’ve always believed in an engaged citizenry asking valid questions and obtaining direct and honest answers. The feedback on my snow removal article was a bit contentious, as if I were slamming the present council. Not at all. The day we stop insisting on continuous improvement is the day we are all in trouble.

A number of years ago, Dawson Creek spent more than $1 million to entice a Junior A hockey club to help fill the seats of the Encana Centre. Meanwhile, Cranbrook (pop. 20,000) is losing its major junior team. You need a large tax base and deep pockets of sponsors to make that work at any level. A lesson learned for all of us.

Also, back when Blair Lekstrom was mayor, I suggested DC seriously consider buying a first class coach and provide free round trips to GP and FSJ airports. Let the DC airport — subsidy-free — cater to charters and private pilots. Blair said, “My voters would lynch me!” Since the feds downloaded airports on communities, I suspect DC has subsidized theirs in excess of $10 million. Fort St. John? Zero.

Fort St. John isn’t without its own warts. Somewhere along the road, the city has started land banking, the most recent being the Condill at a cost of $2.15 million (so far), against an assessed value of less than $500,000. What am I missing here? The city already owns the old Frontier Hotel site and Fort Hotel site, both taken back for non-payment of taxes. Why bail out the owners of the Condill? I’ve never heard a convincing reason. The old fire hall is for sale, after two years being empty, with an asking price around $750,000. But the budget provides $500,000 to demolish the building! WTF?

Taxpayers in both cities: Are you angry? Do you want answers? Good, if the answer to both questions is yes. Get involved, show up to council meetings, open houses, and town hall meetings. Don’t just post on Facebook, that’s largely “me too” and meaningless.

We owe our children and grandchildren to leave our communities not only better than we found them, but also as good as they can be. That’s not just the job of mayor and council, it’s yours too! I hope I don’t sound sanctimonious. I’m trying to follow Winston Churchill’s advice: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Steve Thorlakson is a resident and former mayor of Fort St. John.

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