Wednesday, June 19, 2024

We Can Blame Ourselves For Property Tax Increases

By Stephen Vance, Editor

The more I think about it, the more I think that Meaford Mayor Francis Richardson might be right.


When asked during a recent public budget presentation meeting at Meaford Hall if he was disappointed with the low public turnout for such an important meeting, the Mayor said he wasn’t disappointed at all, and in fact the Mayor said, he took it as a sign that Meaford residents were happy with the decisions being made by he and his council.


When it comes to budgets, the Mayor is not wrong.

Our council received endorsement for the 2012 budget on October 26 of 2010 – the day voters cast their ballots in the most recent municipal election.

During that election campaign the issue of Meaford’s ‘five-year plan’ which was adopted by the previous council, was hotly debated. Some of those running for council opposed the five-year plan, while other candidates expressed strong support for the plan, and some in fact claimed that the plan itself didn’t even exist.


The term ‘staying the course’ became a popular catch-phrase among the candidates supporting the five year plan, and voters responded by electing a council in which most of the members had publicly committed to stay the course.


The candidates who campaigned on platforms identifying cost cutting as one of their primary objectives did not fare as well on election day.


So while the frustration of many residents who are seeing their property taxes increase for a third straight year is understandable, in a democracy majority rules, and the majority supported the course that we are on.


Our in-box has filled up in recent weeks with people asking how a municipality that has seen such terrible financial difficulties in recent years can possibly think that it is wise to continue to increase spending while attempting to dig out of a hole that became so deep that we in Meaford had an accumulated deficit of more than $3 million. For many, the natural reaction to financial difficulty would be to slash costs rather than increase spending.


We must remember though, that a big portion of the annual tax increases we have seen over the last two years and will experience for the next few is not increased municipal spending, but a replenishing of our municipal reserves which were stripped to nothing in order to pay off that $3 million in deficits. A municipality without any funds in reserve is a less than ideal situation, so those reserves must be replenished, and the five year plan is the vehicle that voters supported in order to accomplish that goal.


Some have suggested that the management of the municipality is responsible for the lack of cost cutting in our municipal budgets, but municipal staff is simply doing what they have been directed by council to do – bring in budgets that result in an overall blended tax increase of up to five percent.


Others blame a council that isn’t willing to direct staff to find costs to cut. However, the current council is doing what voters asked them to do when they were elected – stay the course.


So for those looking for a place to point the finger of blame as yet another tax increase approaches, can only hold a mirror up to the voters who cast ballots in the last municipal election.


That doesn’t mean that cuts can’t be made. Certainly this council who were elected to represent the best interests of the residents of Meaford would be more inclined to direct staff to make cuts if they were faced with public pressure to do so.


15 residents attending a public budget presentation is a far cry from public pressure.


While it would probably be very difficult to find anyone who wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity to save a few dollars on their tax bill, it would be much more difficult to find areas to cut that everyone would agree with.


It is a simple reality that in order to cut costs, there must first be agreement about what services we the taxpayers are willing to do without, because you can’t cut costs without having an impact on service delivery.


The five year plan is a reality. Year three of the plan is approaching, so we can expect to see an annual increase in our blended tax rate of up to five percent each year for another couple of years.


It is what we voted for.



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