..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

..and when the sun rises again tomorrow, we'll see how far we've come ...

... just to remind myself why I'm doing this ...

Depending on our personalities, the world can be a crowded place or a very lonely one. For those who seek comfort in numbers, there is no shortage of hangers on, but for those who avoid that circus, keeping thier own counsel can leave them feeling quite alone and disengaged from the mad place we call home. Life is a trade off and most of us choose how we live it.

For me, I'd rather work things out as best I can, using my own thoughts and feelings to sort things out. Following the crowd has never been a temptation to me, but that has its price, one that I'm totally comfortable with every day I get to stand up and be the person I aspire to be. When I sometimes lose track of who that is, I come here to remember, to reconnect and to resume my quest.

These posts are a reflection of some of what matters to me and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to collect these thoughts as they form in my head, as they prepare the way for my life, as it evolves from one day to the next. They re-inspire me when things seem to be floating about, with no particular aim or purpose, and it does happen from time to time.

So, today I had these thoughts that I think are worth writing down for the future me to look back on when I need to ...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

thoughts on what makes a community feel like one

The last time I flew over Canada at night I came to realize the remoteness of most communities. Looking out my window I saw clusters of lights, from huge and sprawling to tiny and almost indistinguishable dotting the darkness below. The overwhelming impression though, was the distances of nothingness that lay between them.

I realized that the people under those lights all had something in common, they lived together, relatively speaking, under the same roof we call a community. They share in the assets that make up that community, and they all share in the responsibility for them, and pay for those assets in whatever proportion they themselves have determined through an endless and dynamic process, by local governance.

Accessible to all, these assets enrich the lives of those who actually use them while the costs are shared by more than just the users if paid for through property taxes. In many communities that concept is under increasing pressure for modification as the user base shrinks as a percentage of the tax-paying base. As costs grow, the user-pay approach is gradually finding its way into more and more aspects of community life, largely through pressure from politicians who want to be seen to be concerned with keeping tax increases in some degree of check. The unfortunate but apparent effect is one of making the whole thing feel like a theme park where attractions are provided through per use fees or admission tickets, if you will. The idea of sharing the community assets  gives way to selective enjoyment, determined largely by the user's ability to pay each time. assets become exclusive and the fabric of community life is left in tatters. What once was seen to be good for the whole community then becomes a burden and suffers rejection by non-users. Too often the reduction in support ends up in the elimination of what was once an asset available to all.

Yes, taxes are high wherever you go and whomever you ask, but what is a desireable level then? How do we calculate such a level? I think most ghost towns suffered from a form of this malaise before they became deserted wastelands becuase too few were able to maintain what little they had left after the mentality of their figurative parallel to user-pay became the rule.When I say ghost towns I include all the places that dot our country from coast to coast that have not only faltered for one apparent reason or another but have also died in spirit because the willingness to share was driven out by the pragmatism of an "if you want it, pay for it yourself" approach.

Today, now, Cobourg is demonstrating a move in the direction of such a phenomenon as it debates dog parks and parking issues. User-pay is making itself gradually more significant in the guise of keeping taxes lower, yet the rate at which taxes increase each year remains relatively constant at a percent that is just under the alarm point. Meanwhile, the amenities that lend themselves to the wholesomeness of the community gradually become less accesible to the entire community and ever more the purvue of those that have the means to afford them whenever they chosse to avail themselves thereof.  Canada's Wonderland would colapse under that approach. There you pay the admission, head tax if you will, and you have access to all the amenities when and as you choose. Why then do we take the opposite approach when it comes to the operation of our town which so many find welcoming, an attraction offering many amenities that make living here such a pleasure?

We should ask oursleves, how many of the amenities we presently enjoy, were made possible by the collective contributions of the tax-paying community in the first place? How many would actually exist today if there had been a requirement that users had to foot the bill to put them there? Why then is it considered appropriate to now make them available to only those that have the means to afford their enjoyment? How many will remain viable under those rules and how many of them will eventually be considered a drain on the local resources? It's a complex and interwoven system that, while it is working well for the whole community, is more reliant on widespread contribution than it appears. Only when that balance is upset by fiddling with user-pay models does that dependance become evident and by then the decline has gone too far to keep it from eventually failing altogether.

I try to add up all the things that my taxes provide to make my life here what it is. Then I try to calculate what it would cost me to enjoy the same quality of life under a system where ther are no taxes but we must provide for ourselves. I believe I would go bankrupt trying to do that and still not even come close to achieving anything that resembles what I have now. This would likely hold true for most average folks here as well. Given this reality, I can only feel that taxation, while it feels expensive when I put the money on the table, provides a far greater benefit than my individual resources ever could. This is the collective benefit of taxation and it is a similar benefit to the greatest majority of those that are paying those taxes every year.

If you're still not convinced, consider property values. If there were no taxes to provide the amenities (which must include all publicly funded ones such as roads and maintenance, parks, protection services, etc., etc.,) we enjoy here, those amenities would not exist in the public realm and what would your property be worth? Who would even want to be living here, or buy a property to do so? It's the amenities that convey value to our properties, collectively, and those amenities are purchased with our tax dollars. The more amenities in the PUBLIC REALM, the greater our properies are valued and remain desireable. The efficiencies available through collective acquisitions by tax dollars are returned to us in very real property values that remain so as long as our public amenities are healthy and diverse.

Let's all come to and retain the realization that user-pay is the antithesis of public benefit and that user-pay is ultimately the single narrow-minded concept that will render a community devoid of goodwill and bankrupt of community spirit. What would school be like without community spirit? Our workplaces? Clubs? Teams? What would our own homes be like if they fell victim to the same way of thinking, the desire to go it alone because we don't feel we should have to pay for someone else's benefits? Who even wants to think about going there? User-pay will get us there faster than most anything else.

Let's think this over very carefully.