Friday, January 22, 2021

Draft Budget Calls For 8.7% Increase in 2021, Is it Time to Get Real About Bag Tags?

Stephen Vance, Editor

Municipal budget season is now in full swing with the tabling of the draft budgets for 2021 at Council’s October 19 meeting. After several years of relatively low annual rate increases, the proposed 8.7 percent increase for 2021 will no doubt be a shock for many, including members of Council, although Council does have some (limited) options.

Given the external uncontrollable pressures on next year’s budget, we need to be realistic, and we need to understand that no matter what Council does, short of major changes to some service levels, we are not going to see that 8.7 percent chipped away until it is in the three percent range – it is simply not going to happen.

That said, while service levels are certainly something that we need to seriously explore, with the greatest impact on next year’s budget being a whopping $365,000 increase to our waste management contract, it would seem fitting that we look at the cost of bag tags.

Bag tags for trash collection were reintroduced to this municipality in 2009 at a cost of $2 per tag. Eleven years later that cost has risen by just one dollar to the current $3 price per tag. From the beginning, the stated goal of the bag tag program was to ultimately have the sale of bag tags cover the full cost of waste collection, which would mean that the waste collection service would no longer need to be funded through general taxation, but instead through a full user pay system. Those who dispose of more trash than others would need to purchase more bag tags, while those who dispose of very little would pay less. In other words, everyone would pay their fare share.

Over the years Council has been told that full cost recover via bag tags would require a bag tag cost of roughly $5, and that will have increased slightly with the hefty increase coming next year.

Don’t get me wrong, increasing the cost of bag tags, even to an amount that would make full cost recovery possible isn’t a magic bullet for this budget that will see the required rate increase next year plummet from the proposed 8.7 percent to two or three percent, but I suspect it would shave in the neighbourhood of a full percentage point.

There is always push-back from residents whenever the idea of a bag tag increase is floated; councillors get an earful, and I receive some letters to the editor. But I think if we all took the time to consider the advantages that come with increasing the cost of bag tags to full cost recovery, we’d see that it makes a lot of sense.

Currently those who dispose of a lot of trash are being subsidized by those who leave little at the curb on collection day, but if we removed the funding for waste collection from general taxation, and instead funded the service wholly through bag tag sales, just as with our in-town water service, those who use more will pay more and those who use less will pay less, plain and simple.

In 2019, bag tag sales revenue amounted to just under $210,000. The cost of garbage collection and tipping fees in 2019 was roughly $280,000, leaving us $70,000 away from cost recovery of the trash collection component of the waste management contract prior to the drastic increase in the cost of the contract starting next year. Full cost recovery is within our reach, and as mentioned previously, once you fund the service fully through bag tags, the funding that currently comes from general taxation would then be freed up for use in other areas, lessening the required rate increase in 2021.

Should Council want to reduce the required rate increase further, as I wrote recently, I think the only option left is to reduce or eliminate some municipal services. What services could or should be eliminated or reduced is a question for both Council and the community at large, and I suspect that if you were to ask ten ratepayers what should be cut or slashed, you would receive ten different answers; such is the dilemma in which Council finds itself.

Nobody likes increases in taxation, and few enjoy the thought of cutting or reducing services. I would encourage all Meaford ratepayers to engage in the process this year, attend the upcoming budget meetings, submit your comments through the municipal budget email address, and help our Council develop a 2021 budget that can be as palatable as possible for as many as possible.

Don’t just sit on the sidelines complaining on social media; take some time, review the documents, and engage in the process. It’s your budget and you can help shape it.

A public engagement session will be held at Meaford Hall on Wednesday, October 28 at 6:30 p.m., and Council will have two full-day sessions to discuss the draft budgets on November 9 and 10.

A statutory public meeting will be held on Monday, December 14, with Council expected to give final approval to the 2021 budgets at their January 11, 2021 meeting.

Municipal budget documents can be found at www.meaford.ca/budget2021.

All questions about the budget from Council and the public can be sent to budgets@Meaford.ca.

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