Balancing books on two fronts

In her enthusiasm and, I suspect, to make it more difficult for me to say ‘no’ to her request my seven-year-old is hopping up and down.

In her enthusiasm and, I suspect, to make it more difficult for me to say ‘no’ to her gleeful request – i.e. demand – my seven-year-old is hopping up and down.

She is hopeful I’ll take her and her brother to see The Lorax.

I sigh as dollar signs flash before my eyes.

“We just went to a movie two weeks ago,” I say. “Remember, we’re trying to save our money for our vacation this summer.”

“Does that mean we can’t see the movie?” she asks me, no longer bouncing.

“No. We just want to be able to save our money for other things. Bigger things.”

Ahh, the juggling act that is the family budget.

Without missing a beat – The Lorax temporarily forgotten – my kids begin rhyming off a list of things they’d like to see and do during their vacation, though it’s months away.

“We won’t be able to do everything that week,” I warn them. “Let’s vote on it, so that everyone can have a say.”

No one likes to be outvoted, but the discussion gives me a better sense of everyone’s expectations. And it allows the kids to appreciate, however temporarily, that there is a spending cap.

It makes me think back to interviews I conducted last week about Esquimalt’s 2012 municipal budget. ’Tis the season, as each municipality goes over the books and crunches the numbers.

It won’t be long before property owners find out how much their municipal taxes will cost them. Esquimalt property owners will likely face a tax hike, possibly higher than the year prior. According to Black Press council reporters, municipalities from Saanich to Sooke will likely see a property tax increase this year.

To make matters worse in Esquimalt, few residents have taken a proactive interest in budget deliberations. Four residents attended a public budget presentation last month.

It can’t be for lack of interest, since many people are quick to express their views after the budget is passed.

Modern Democracy co-founder Jason Ross, who donates his time videotaping various public meetings held in the Capital Region, filmed the recent Esquimalt budget meeting.

After posting the videos on YouTube, they were viewed 96 times. Granted, it’s not the stuff you want to spend a couple of hours watching, even if you are in the comfort of your own home, with a bowl of popcorn in hand.

But if your taxes go up and you didn’t attend any budget meetings or send in an email with your input, do you still have a right to grumble about a hike after your municipality’s budget is approved?

Sure, you do. But, what’s the point?

“(Residents) are obviously looking at a tax increase, and if they have concerns they should show up,” Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said last week. “You can’t complain after the fact if you don’t have an understanding of the process, and (aren’t) aware of all the cost implications.”

Attending the meetings, or, if possible, watching them online – cue the popcorn popper – gives taxpayers a better sense of the financial health of their communities.

“Everybody wants cheaper taxes, but I’m not sure they realize the impact,” Esquimalt Coun. Meagan Brame said recently.

True. Everyone in my house wants a fantastic vacation, and the kids are beginning to realize that we’ll have to tighten our belts now so we can maximize our fun later.

That’s not to say my daughter won’t jump up and down excitedly from time to time, asking to see The Lorax or making other such requests, or hold back her complaints when I say ‘no.’

But my hope is there will be fewer complaints and a bit more understanding.

Can your municipal councillors and mayors expect the same from you?

Erin McCracken is a reporter with the Victoria News.

emccracken@vicnews.com