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Camel wanted

The camel is dead. Timelessly tough, endlessly enduring, its strong back was finally crushed beneath the weight of straw. One minute the camel was up, the next it was down.

The camel is dead. Timelessly tough, endlessly enduring, its strong back was finally crushed beneath the weight of straw. One minute the camel was up, the next it was down.

It's hard to tell exactly when this happened, or which particular straw it was that shattered the beast of burden's sturdy vertebrae.

The beast started showing signs of overload about a year and a half ago, when staff recommended a property tax increase of 14 per cent. That increase was hacked down to a more reasonable 5.5 per cent, still well above inflation but also reasonable in the grand scheme of things. But the straws kept coming.

It was a good camel, hard working and loyal. Now it's dead, buried under a growing pile of straws that can only add insult to injury at this point. "What's a few more straws gonna hurt?" they ask. "People are already mad at us."

Was the last straw the more recent announcement that property taxes would increase 20 per cent over three years, and then being told there is nothing we can do about it with the Olympics approaching? Cutting costs, they said, was just not an option right now. Cutting staff or wages? No way in hell.

Now the camel is starting to bloat and stink. There are flies buzzing around it and vultures circling overhead. Still, some people persist in poking it with straws, like a kid might poke at a dead squirrel on the road with a stick. That camel is us.

Around budget time a few councillors wondered if a wage freeze was possible - other municipalities were doing it in recognition of the difficult economic climate and general hardship taxpayers were facing. It would be a symbolic gesture (albeit one that would save over a million dollars), as well as a chance to show the taxpayers that employees of government were capable sharing their pain.

But the motion was shot down, adding a 3.5 per cent wage increase in 2009 to the three per cent increase of 2008. Four per cent increases are projected in 2010 and 2011 - ostensibly because other municipalities are doing it and we simply must keep up with the Jonestowns. Right or wrong doesn't enter into it.

The camel was losing patience before its demise, spitting and biting, refusing to move, but the straw stackers assured the camel that they really did care, and that the camel's troubles were actually a communication issue rather than an issue of policy - namely a policy of placing straw after straw on the camel's back, year after year, until something had to give.

The problem, as they saw it, is that the camel didn't understand why they were doing this and confusing one straw with another. The camel simply needed more information.

Maybe it's all a misunderstanding. The straw stackers believe that the camel should be grateful to them for managing the straw so capably, while the camel figured that the straw stackers should be grateful to him for having jobs stacking straw in the first place.

But now the camel is dead, though the stackers don't really believe it. They think the camel is just being stubborn, that it will rise up off the ground and carry straw like it always did. We know better.

Was the final straw pay parking? The stackers admitted that the timing was bad and took it back, so why won't we forgive them?

Was it the median thing on Blackcomb Way maybe? Those roofs at the Nesters waste transfer station? The library? The five-year Lot 1/9 debacle? Those jackets? What about that request for proposals to spend $15,000 on a muni staff yearbook that turned up recently? Or any one of the Olympic-related expenses/inconveniences that we have been told we have no choice but to absorb?

What happens if we find out our library is going to be closed for the Games? Or that we spent more than we budgeted? Or that few tickets to the medal ceremonies are available to locals, effectively shutting us out of both events and celebrations?

More straws, dumped unceremoniously on a camel that has ceased to be. It is an ex-camel. And with no camel to carry those straws, the burden falls on us. Our patience is frayed, our tempers rising. How could the straw stackers be so deaf and blind to the camel's suffering we wonder. How could they not understand?

Look on the bright side, we're told - this is still the most awesome place on earth (even if it is slightly less awesome than it was a few years ago). We get a lot for our money. It could always be worse. We had no choice. It's the Games. It's the provincial government's downloading. Everybody else is doing it.

The camel's just in a funk, they say, he'll snap out of it in February 2010 and after that everything will be great, super, stable, even better than before.

But the camel, buried under a mountain of straw, hears nothing. Camel? Camel? Uh oh!

Maybe we can add a new one to the 2010 budget. One with two humps this time.