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McMurray Musings

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Billion Dollar Baby

When I heard it labeled as historic I had to agree.

Historic, not in the sense of being representative of the past, but historic in the sense that it has never been seen here before. That little slice of history being made right now? The one billion dollar budget the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is looking at for 2013.

One billion dollars. Take a one, put a bunch of zeros behind it, and then stare at it for a while. Think about what that figure means. You notice it’s a pretty damn big number. Then put a dollar sign in front of it, and suddenly it’s a whole lot of loonies. I don’t know how heavy that many loonies would be, but I’m thinking even a heavy hauler would be challenged by the weight.

And it is a big weight – a weight of responsibility on the shoulders of those on RMWB council, because this is our money they are spending. A budget this large requires some serious consideration, and some reflection. Why a billion dollars? And why now, in 2013?

The answer to both questions is the same: because we are on the cusp of something historic, too. We are on the edge of a growth that is almost unprecedented, except perhaps in far north “gold rush” towns. We are about to go from a community of 100,000 to approximately 230,000 – and in under 20 years. We are going to see exponential growth, and with it will come drastic changes in everything we know. This community, which has always been subject to change and growth, will see a change that is perhaps almost unique in the world.

And we have something else that is historic, too. We have the chance to direct that change. We have the opportunity to create our community, and make decisions to build it in a way that will serve everyone well. And that is why a billion dollars, and right now. We are about to begin a wild ride, and now it’s time to start paying the cab fare.

The 2013 budget is comprehensive. It covers the start and continuation of many projects encompassing almost every aspect of life here. I’ve gone through the presentation page-by-page and line-by-line. I see dollar signs on each item, and I see something else. I see possibility. I see the future.

The things that will make this community liveable in the future – an expanded MacDonald Island Park, a revitalized downtown core, and all the rest, are going to be made possible by budgets like this. I think we also need to recognize something else. This will not be the last one billion dollar budget the RMWB will look at. This will not be the final time we see that number. And frankly, it’s quite likely a number that will grow just as we do, at least until we have achieved what we need to achieve to be a vibrant, energetic, and healthy community.

It’s hard to not have a little twinge of fear when looking at a number like one billion. One of the comments I saw on Twitter recently referred to the RMWB as “spendy spendy”, and yes, it seems that way at this point. It seems that they’ve ripped open the piggy bank and are going a bit spend-happy. The point, though, is that this spending isn’t frivolous. It’s essential. And it’s long, long overdue.

We find ourselves right now struggling with issues of inadequacy. Inadequate housing, inadequate commercial opportunities, inadequate land, inadequate recreation, inadequate roads, and just general inadequacy for a community this size. And the reason for that is because no one before was willing to carry the weight of one billion loonies, to shoulder the burden of making decisions that affect us all. No one before was willing to think big and think long term, to look not just at the present but also at the future. And honestly no one was willing to make the tough calls, to do the things that will be controversial and open to criticism. No one has had the courage to take on the billion-dollar baby. But now, in 2013, on the cusp of growth and change (and some accompanying pain) we have a mayor and council who are willing to take it on. They are looking at adopting the billion-dollar baby.  And that show of courage is, in my opinion, pretty historic, too.

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A freelance writer, blogger and professional communicator who is passionate about her child, her work, her pets, her community and the power of words, Theresa Wells believes perfection in life is achieved when she is surrounded by amazing people, fantastic stories, cold gin and really hot shoes.