By Stephen Vance, Editor
The proposed 2011 municipal budget will be presented to the public at a special meeting on Wednesday March 9 at 7 pm at Woodford Hall.
After experiencing multiple years of budget deficits, the municipality has been working to dig itself out from beneath the crippling effects of carrying that financial burden.
A ‘five-year plan’ was developed that would see a blended tax increase of up to five percent each year over the five years of the plan.
While the plan will certainly accomplish the goal of replenishing the reserve accounts that were depleted in order to pay off the $3 million in accumulated deficits, there are some that have argued that rather than increasing tax rates to generate those funds, extensive cuts to the operating budget could accomplish the same goal without placing the burden on ratepayers.
And there you have the two distinct ‘camps’ in our municipality with respect to how the current budget should be constructed.
As much as it would be easier on the pocketbook to cut costs from the budget, the difficulty is deciding what to cut, and by how much.
In the budget working sessions that have occurred over the last couple of months, which incidentally have seen little in the way of public attendance, there has been practically no discussion amongst councillors of finding ways to significantly cut costs.
I think the reasons for this are pretty simple:
The proposed budget as presented to council though it includes increases in municipal expenditures in the neighbourhood of 10 percent, falls well within the parameters of the five-year plan adopted by the previous council as it will result in a blended tax increase of less than the previously approved five percent.
Meaford voters in October voted in favour of staying the course which in itself expressed support for the five-year plan.
There has been no formal argument put forward, or request to council to explore the notion of cutting costs. Unlike Meaford residents opposed to wind farm developments who turn out en masse to council meetings to let their thoughts be known, those who have expressed frustration about rising taxes, have not shown the same sort of unified front at council meetings.
While in a democracy the majority rules, the trouble is that the vote tallies between the two mayoral candidates, each of whom were on opposite sides of the fence on this issue, were relatively close, separated by just a few hundred votes so there is a possibility that a large segment of our population would prefer to seek out other ways to rebuild the reserve accounts, and will not be pleased with another increase in taxation.
Finding places to cut sounds simple enough, but with any cut there is bound to be some impact on service delivery. And while one cut might be perfectly fine with individual ‘A’, it might have a negative impact on individual ‘B’.
Meaford Treasurer David Kennedy has done a formidable job during the budget working sessions of explaining how the budget has been constructed, and why various additions are worthwhile.
And while it is great that the budget information has been presented in a clear and easy to understand format, the lack of any real dissection of it in search of potential cost savings seems a shame.
Should we stay the course and let the five-year plan play itself out, or should we take a second look at making due with less and thereby reducing expenditures?
It is quite possible that there is little that can be shaved from this budget, but we can’t possibly know if the discussion doesn’t take place.