Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Blue Hats
David Simmonds

I see from last week's paper that new County Manager Mervyn Dewing has said that the County is doing more than it can afford to do and must either stop something or find new sources of funding. Our publisher says it is "likely to be the most painful exercise this young council has yet to face."

Now I'm neither an economist nor a management consultant, but it seems to me that before Council makes it painful for itself, some brainstorming may be in order. In other words, it should hold off putting its how-do-we-cut-costs?' black hat and think creatively with its 'where are new sources of funding?' blue hat.

Let me put my mouth on the line. I have visited several cities that have levied a hotel occupancy tax as a way of raising revenue. Now I've never seen it advertised as part of the come-on to visit the place, and frankly my reaction when presented with my bill has been "#Q$%@!," or words to that effect. Indeed, whether, as an inducement to visit or to return, it seems rather ill conceived.

All right then, blue hat, let's turn that idea on its head. Why don't we levy a tax not on visitors but on residents, and why don't we impose that tax on residents who leave the County when they could just as easily stay here - not a 'coming in' tax but a 'going out' tax.

Let me give a simple example. I want to buy a jar of peanut butter, which is pretty much the same wherever it comes from. Now, if I buy that jar for $3.50 in Wellington, Ontario, I'm putting it in the pockets of a business that will enable it to pay its staff, who will in turn spend the money they earn and support other businesses and their employees, and so on. Prosperity in the County, and therefore tax revenue, will rise.

If seduced, by the Megamart ad that says, "Come to Trenton and spend only $3.00 on peanut butter," not to mention $10 in gas getting there and back, I have deprived the County not only of my humble $3.50 but also the multiplier effect it has throughout the County. I may have made Trenton, and Fast Freddy's, a little more prosperous but I will have shot myself in the foot in doing so because the County still needs its tax revenue from me.

Why shouldn't I pay some sort of tax on that choice? After all, doesn't each one of us tell our visitors what a wonderful place the County is and how it's all we need. Why shouldn't we pay for our hypocrisy

The peanut butter example expands easily. Why buy gasoline on Smoke Alley when you can buy it almost as cheaply in Picton? Why go to Winners for your haberdashery when the County Farm Centre has virtually everything a man could ever want to wear, except tuxedos, which no man really wants to wear anyway. Why go to Chapters or Indigo, when you can find better selection, display and service at Books and Company?
Now there may be some who are quick to mock this analysis because, taken to logical extremes, it might unravel a bit. Am I proposing to tax you merely because you have to travel to Gravenhurst for your Aunt Millicent's funeral? Do I expect the forthcoming Led Zeppelin reunion tour to include a concert in North Marysburgh? Am I planning to post customs inspectors at every border crossing, ransacking grocery bags and claiming, "You could have bought this cheese in the County"

Well, apart from the fact that when you're offering up blue hat thinking you're not supposed to mix in criticism, you just get the idea out there, I think we could implement this idea simply. Here's how. Leaving aside the airport and the lake for the moment, there are only four ways to leave the County. To put a licence scanner at every exit and re-entry point would cost peanuts. Keep it simple and just charge, say, $5 per person for each day or part thereof a County resident is outside the County. You get your tax up front. Let's say that if each year, 5,000 people left the County for an average of two days, you're looking at bringing in a gross of $50,000, enough to buy the OPP another of those massive dark black SUV's they seem to like to tool around the County in, or about 100 patrol bicycles. That's using very conservative assumptions and before you factor in the bump from the annual mass migrations south from Wellington on the Lake.

Then, if you were out of the County for legitimate reason, how would you get your refund? Fortunately, the answer is staring us in the face. Just apply to Council for it. Mr. Dewing tells us Council will be limiting itself to setting policy and will leave day-to-day decision making to him and his capable staff. At the same time, our publisher tells us that Council really loves nothing better than to act an adjudicator of trivial disputes. Well, Council, your wish could easily come true. Once a quarter, say, Council could sit as a committee of the whole and weigh the merits of these applications. Council would be happy, because it would be giving money back to taxpayers. So too would Mr. Dewing, who might be able to get on with his job while Council was otherwise occupied.

Now that's just me, talking through my blue hat. Maybe I should pass it to someone else.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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