Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Council Has Lost Sight of Concerns of Voters

Letter to the Editor

Dear Sir,

At the last municipal election just over a year ago, the three main concerns of the voters were Reduce taxes, Road conditions, and Review staff levels.

Reduce Taxes. The 2015 budget was rushed into being by staff before the new council had a chance to acclimatize themselves to their new positions. I emphasize the fact that the budget was ‘rushed’ into being. A delay of ONE single day would have seen Grey County return $329,000 to MOM’s coffers which should have resulted, if council was serious about reducing taxes, in a 0% tax increase for the year. Neighbouring municipalities also received refunds which in most cases were returned to the taxpayers.

On September 14 of this year, council instructed staff to produce a tax supported budget with a maximum increase of 2%. In the past five weeks since October 13 when an initial 1.25% was proposed, there have been a number of changes due to new information coming forward. Yesterday’s November 23 special budget meeting started the day with a new proposal by staff of an increase of just 1.182%. This new figure was based on ‘changes in assumptions and OMPF funding’. At the close of the meeting, it was unclear whether the new figure had increased to 2%, 2.12% or even possibly 3% due in part to staff ‘losing’ $14,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Our taxes will not be reduced.

Road Conditions. Council all agreed with the fact that our roads were in poor condition and that more money had to be allocated for road and bridge infra-structure. The discussion was ‘how much? Suggested increases ranged from less than 1% to over 2%. A 1% tax increase dedicated to infrastructure will result in raising approximately $126,000, just enough to repair 630 metres of road. There are over 460 kilometres of roads in MOM! It appears that only one councillor can remember the $50,000 plus road consultant’s report which recommended that MOM would have to spend $3.3 million a year to achieve the ‘roads preservation model’. Only one councillor had the integrity to state the very unpleasant truth that a 1 or 2% dedicated infrastructure tax increase was simply ‘not enough’.

So much for the voters’ concerns over road conditions.

Review of staffing levels. There has been no decrease in actual staff levels even though two staff members were let go. It appears that they have been replaced by permanent full time contract positions whose services are not put out to tender. Many jobs formerly performed by volunteers are now performed by MOM staff. Last night council spent time debating over the cost of changes to the arena and the perceived economic benefits from such changes. This facility is the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation department which in 2014 managed to incur losses of $803,000. In the last five years, wages in this department alone have sky-rocketed from $359,000 to $933,000, an increase of $574,000, whereas revenue has only increased by a mere $24,000.

Over 50% of the budget, more than $6.5million, will be spent on staff wages, bonuses and benefits. An automatic 1.5% COLA for the CAO will increase this salary by $2,250 per year. A taxpayer in Annan living on an income of $17,000, will with her 1.5% COLA if she is fortunate enough to get one, amount to an increase of $255 which will be spent paying higher taxes to pay for staff increases.

“Municipal inflation adjusted operating spending has increased at 4 times the rate of population growth over the past 13 years. Most of that spending goes to wages and benefits for public employees.” (Laura Jones – CFIB)

Contrary to the instructions from our elected mayor, the loss of two staff members has not resulted in a decrease of staffing levels or the expected savings on salary expenditure. MOM with a full time equivalent of 80 staff will share in the $6.5 million staff budget. The average wage for each MOM employee will be $81,000 compared to the average wage in Grey County of $35,000.

Overspending on a ‘wish list’ rather than concentrating on real needs and the ability to pay cannot be tolerated.

This council has lost sight of the three main concerns of voters and taxpayers. The three RRRs have to be revisited, reviewed and refreshed before constant automatic increases for our public sector destroy the ability of the taxpaying base to support them.

David Long, Meaford

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