Monday, April 29, 2013

Churches Then and Now

Those mighty cathedrals of the Middle Ages were built over the centuries by architects, stone masons, sculptors, stained glass artists, and hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers and labourers. In addition to seeking wages today, the workers sought an eternal reward tomorrow.

Today's equivalent is the sports arena or stadium, but with no spiritual solace in the offing.  A piece of recent history. In 1974, Metro Council was promised that the proposed SkyDome could be built "at no burden to the taxpayer." The original cost of $225-million ballooned to $650-million. When the building was later sold to Rogers Communications at a distressed price, the loss was borne by city and provincial taxpayers.

These projects are cash cows for billionaire team owners, and provide a playground for millionaire athletes. Promoters promise, not an eternal reward, as in the Middle Ages but, a debt-free money-maker for the municipality. To realize this dream, the citizen must participate by shouldering most of the cost and all of the responsibility for the debt so created.

The promoter convinces the municipality, in this case the City of Edmonton, to create a "Community Revitalization Levy" or some such subtle tax increase device. He points out that additional funds are available from the province through the "Municipal Sustainability Initiative," a program intended to fund municipal infrastructure and not a place of entertainment. If the project turns sour, the promoter can simply declare the bankruptcy of his participating company and walk away.

A similar shell game is playing out in Markham on Toronto's northern boundary. There, the province is not involved. Any shortfall in revenue will be picked entirely up by the local taxpayer.

Such projects come with no promise of eternal reward, but too often produce eternal debt, indeed a financial hell on earth.

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