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General News · 27th February 2011
Richard Lawton
The new library issue has been ongoing for a few years now, with repeated attempts to launch an isolated project at VIRL's prompting. The central issue for all major community hall decisions is the remaining life of the halls. Both community halls are wooden buildings that have only a few decades of useful life. They are already a few decades old. What we do, when we do it, and how much we spend is heavily conditioned by one major, inevitable event - the need to rebuild the halls (preferably at separate times, so we would be wise to pull one forward and push the other back a bit in time).

We appraised upgrade at Manson's, and it's a simple thing to extend that into a realistic estimate of how many years we have left. If there are 30 useful years (extremely unlikely) it probably makes sense to build other things now. If there are only 3 years left (unlikely too, but a whole lot closer to the truth), then obviously we should not be starting new projects, but including them, and their cost, in our plans for reconstruction. When, not if, we rebuild the halls, we'll need a place to put the new building because the existing one will be in use until construction is complete. So it may not be wise to bung up the remaining space with new buildings.

And so on the basic, simple, planning process goes ... starting with the big picture and working back towards today...

How about cost? Cost permits, or denies, just about everything. So what's the cost of a library in a separate building? We spent $125,000 for each seniors' cottage, so assuming we freely spend at the same rate, what's a library going to cost? $200,000? If we borrow $200,000 we commit ourselves to $20,000 a year, or $1600 a month in payments long before there's any new revenue, which means we have to borrow more. The lender puts most of our payment in their pocket as interest. A much smaller amount repays our debt. So we actually pay $300,000 for the library.

If we had access to three hundred thousand dollars(!) it would go a long way towards building a volunteer effort new community hall, wouldn't it? I seem to remember stories about Elmer writing a $22,000 cheque that made the existing hall a reality.

So how much is VIRL willing to pay us to tie up our credit, our land and much of our attention and energy? If they pay enough to cover our cost with a reasonable amount left over for our own kitty, perhaps building them a library makes sense.

But VIRL is currently paying a pittance in rent (around $500 a month isn't it?). How much more are they expecting to pay? And does the income, expense and involvement make financial and social sense for us? (I very much doubt that VIRL, who are playing the SCCA off against another candidate, are expecting, or willing, to pay enough to justify tying up our credit, our land and much of our energy.)

Cortes has several hundred households paying land tax on an average assessed value of around $300,000. That expresses our wealth, and determines the scale on which we can spend. In terms of tax it translates to around $1 million a year to pay for the school, roads, medical centre, fire department, recycling and much more. There isn't anything left, in fact the reality is Cortes is being subsidised by other taxpayers, and we have no residual wealth. We have no wealth because we are spending more than we earn.

Vancouver has millions of people who earn 2 - 4 times what we do and also pay higher tax. This is why Vancouver can throw money around on big projects and we cannot.

Spending habits learned in Vancouver are disastrous here.

We are trying to heavily weigh down one end of our tiny little see-saw, little realizing that we need to keep it in delicate balance. This is not a game of spend as much as you can get your hands on. We can only spend a portion of what we earn.

Mess with that simple reality and bad things happen - like the Olympic Village housing in Vancouver - where the cost was driven so high by city hall's unrealistic sustainability requirements that the cheapest little box in the air cost half a million dollars! Only one sold of the hundreds that were built, and Vancouver taxpayers are stuck paying billions in loss.

The same thing happens when we borrow - we create deficits - insidious, easy money now. That our children pay for. (Well in this case maybe not our kids, but someone's kids will pay if we spend money we didn't earn.)

Let's shift gear from a very "saleable" new library project that we can be "proud of", that creates a temporary flash of "employment" from money we don't have, and consider a more humble, rural approach...

We may be addressing this a bit late, but what are VIRL's concerns?

1. Weak floor? Bolt a nice Island-milled 4 x 10 the full length of each floor joist. Problem solved for a couple of thousand dollars (less if there are volunteers).

2. The ceiling is low? How many actual injuries has this caused in the decades the library has been in use? None? If we can't lower the floor a couple of inches when we strengthen it, how about some fluffy Cortes-made wool hats for tall people to wear, plus a couple of boxes of band aids in case someone forgets to wear a hat?

3. Not enough floor area? The room next door is vacant, isn't it? Or a simple, inexpensive extension at the other end that is much appreciated down below too?

These may not be the actual solutions. What I'm trying to emphasise is the ease with which the existing arrangement can be inexpensively extended for a while longer, providing we have sincere, convincing intent to accommodate a new library in our own construction plans, that offers better long term solutions to both parties - no separate building to service, maintain, heat, secure, snow shovel, manage and so on.

Once we have evaluated our position we can probably take the initiative and offer VIRL a choice of

1. a new building costed to ensure that we have a fair return, which may not be cheap, or

2. a considerably less expensive extension to the current arrangement with real but temporary solutions for their concerns, and a far more favourable long term solution.

What if VIRL balks, or someone else bids lower? That's OK. Rural should not compete. We'll have a room with a low ceiling and some fluffy, Cortes-made wool hats to rent to someone else - that was only paying $500 a month anyway...

We need to get the hang of this economy stuff. And stop the crazy spending. We can only spend a portion of what we earn. Sounds old fashioned, almost quaint, doesn't it.

But it works.