Letter: Kudos to Billings council for working toward long-term sustainability

Dear editor:

I read through both Billings’ council’s and the arts and museum group’s presentation several times. On the one hand, elected representatives selecting prudent options within severe constraints, largely imposed by decisions made by previous councils and current austerity strategy at Queen’s Park. On the other hand, a group representing special interests that are only economically viable when largely supported by the public purse, asking for yet more funds to be poured into an already deep hole.

Kudos to Mayor Anderson and his council for standing firm!

I find it interesting that the group’s presentation commences with a quote from the Asset Management Bylaw. The township has a number of property assets that it has yet to make retain/disposal decisions on. Several, not directly serving municipal operational purposes can be considered sink holes for scarce township dollars. For example, I can recall some $45,000 (capital) dollars being spent making good 91 Main Street, and then rents being set such that the recovery of capital would take several years, without even considering operational costs!

I am almost blown away by the audacity of the recommendations that are the thrust of this proposal, but since it is on the record, it requires rebuttal. First, what I agree with! I agree that the Old Mill is potentially a great asset to the municipality, an anchor and magnet both for residents and visitors. I would start with a blank piece of paper in planning its future. Without the in-kind benefit of subsidized occupancy of the Old Mill structure, I have to wonder how viable either the art studio business or the museum would be in other locations. Other well regarded artists and artisans are forced to rent space in commercial businesses within the community—no subsidized ride for them! As for the proposed museum expansion, to what purpose? In my eyes, promoting itself through wedding dress displays hardly qualifies it for documenting the history of the community. 

In fact, the history of the community was first documented by the library a generation or more ago (I was given copies of two books produced by previous librarians when I first arrived here in Billings). When I offered to have them scanned and digitized a number of years ago, I was delighted to find that the current librarian had had that daunting task done by a summer student the year before. Sale of digitized copies could have provided a funding source for the library, yet somehow that asset is now in the hands of the museum.

Always tough to second guess decisions, but previous councils only got into the strategic planning/asset management mindset when they discovered upper tiers of government would consider no funding requests until these two fundamental studies had been completed. Current council is working within the vision (and constraints) those original exercises laid down.

All in all, they are getting the Good Ship Billings on an even keel and on a course to getting the books in good shape.

Paul Darlaston