Taking its queue from the tunnel?



Barring a major reversal at Tuesday's city council meeting, or an anti-spending revolution in the October 27 election, the Brock Trail will now become a fixed part of Brockville's capital budget for the next 10 years.

What this means is, rather than Brock Trail advocates having to come to council for the next 10 budget processes to get their funding included, the spending will be in the budget already. It will be up to anyone wishing it removed to argue his or her case.

Should the full council accept this arrangement Tuesday (and the political momentum from this Tuesday's finance committee meeting suggests it will), the volunteer Brock Trail Committee will celebrate a great victory long in the making.

These are all hard-working people with a particular vision for a city asset that is often taken for granted: a green vein running though the heart of Brockville. It's hard to argue against the merit of this plan.

What might be argued Tuesday, however, is the matter of where this meritorious plan fits in the city's priorities – and whether the entire method of setting those priorities needs to be changed.

I am surprised no one mentioned the question of “queue-jumping” at the finance committee meeting.

In April of 2013, Councillor Jeff Earle questioned council's decision, a month earlier, to enshrine a contribution of $300,000 toward the the railway tunnel revitalization project, over a four-year period, on the city's list of capital priorities.

Earle worried at the time the twin-pad arena project was similarly “jumping the queue of the priority list,” because of the tunnel backers' success.

We set a dangerous precedent with the tunnel,” Earle said back then. “Personally, it makes me very nervous.”

Whether the Brock Trail group is now taking advantage of this queue-jumping precedent to get its own project in front might be a matter for debate next week.

(Technically, the project is not jumping any queue for the next three years, since it's already in the capital plan. The motion before council, however, would ensure it remains in that queue all the way to 2024.)

Surprisingly, Earle did not seem particularly nervous about it during the finance committee meeting.

I'd like to get this in and I'd like to get this locked in a budget,” said Earle.

In my personal opinion, it’s probably the most important project that we have in front of us … But there are no blank cheques,” he added.

If one of council's biggest fiscal conservatives is speaking in this way about prioritizing a project, rather than arguing the trail committee needs to get back in line after 2017, it could mean one of two things.

First, the Brock Trail is so important, and has been kicking around on the city's to-do list for so long, that it's just bloody well time to get the project done.

Second, the whole system of queueing up projects for capital funding is flawed. It is flawed because, no matter how city officials prioritize things, projects that gather a sufficient number of citizen volunteers to champion them will jump the queue as a matter of course.

In this case, I suspect both propositions are true.

So we will hear some complaints from some quarters about excessive spending on a nicety, and forget all those complaints when we end up with a better Brock Trail.