Though there are often complaints at municipal budget time, a quick look around the county will tell you that this year, by comparison, the Municipality of Meaford is starting off in a very good position to begin budget deliberations.
As presented to council at Monday’s meeting, the draft budgets for 2024 require a 5.57 percent levy increase, and a projected tax rate increase of 3.47 percent on the municipal portion of property tax bills for Meaford ratepayers this year.
Considering that the Town of the Blue Mountains began their budget deliberations facing a 9.58 percent increase, while Grey Highlands draft budgets called for a 12.6 percent increase, and West Grey began their budget deliberations facing a 30 percent rate increase, Meaford’s draft budget begins with a much more reasonable proposed increase.
True, the Blue Mountains managed to reduce their required increase from 9.58 percent to just 2.5 percent, but as was noted during council’s budget discussions on Monday, they did so using one-time funding to balance their budget, a practice that is not recommended. In West Grey, their 30 percent rate increase was whittled down to a 9.7 percent final rate increase, a hefty increase for the folks in West Grey.
Owen Sound’s draft budget calls for an increase similar to Meaford’s draft budgets at 3.89 percent, and as we are all well aware, Grey County has already approved their 2024 budgets with a rate increase of 6.3 percent.
So complain if you must, but by comparison to our neighbours, Meaford’s draft budget proposed rate increase of just 3.47 percent is no doubt the envy of most other municipalities in the county.
The bare-bones, status quo draft budgets presented to council are clearly aimed at minimizing the required rate increase for Meaford residents in 2024. Some of the proposed enhancements to the budgets are worth exploring, but of course everything comes at a cost, and in the current economic climate, there is little appetite for paying any more than is necessary.
The one enhancement proposal that caught my eye, is also a low-dollar item: opinion polling.
While there is no mechanism available to municipalities in Ontario to hold a referendum, use of opinion polling for major issues could be a valuable tool in gathering public opinion on major issues. For the past few years we have heard many calls from opponents of the proposed pumped storage facility for Meaford to hold a referendum. As mentioned, in Ontario a referendum isn’t a tool that is available to municipalities; the closest we might get is a question on the ballot at election time, but there are strict guidelines for such ballot questions, and when discussed in the past there has been doubt cast on whether the issue would even qualify for a ballot question.
Opinion polling, on the other hand, though not ‘official’ and not binding, could be a valuable tool for issues just like the pumped storage proposal. Polling could help council have a better feel for the actual opposition to the proposal, and at a cost of just $13,000 as is suggested in the draft budget presentation, I think it would be an enhancement well worth considering.
With every budget season we are reminded of course that we all have different priorities, we all have different ideas of what should or should not be funded with our tax dollars. So it is important that as many as possible engage in the process, and let members of council know what is important to you.
Council will meet for two full-day budget deliberation sessions, with an option for a third day, with the first of those meetings to be held on Friday, January 26, the second on Tuesday, January 30, and the third day, if needed, on Friday, February 2.
Those budget deliberation meetings are open to the public, for those who would like to attend in person, but they can also be viewed on Youtube, both live and after the fact, so you can watch council debate the budgets at your convenience, whenever and wherever you want.
If you would like to do more than simply watch the budget deliberations, there are opportunities to get involved and to provide council with your opinions, or to ask questions about the budgets, the process, and to request additional information.
Between now and March 11, when council is expected to give final approval to the 2024 budgets, you can weigh in with your thoughts:
1. Submit your budget questions: the municipality will post budget questions and answers to their website weekly. You can ask your questions by emailing email@example.com, calling 519-538-1060 ext. 1746, or by dropping by the Administration Office, located at 21 Trowbridge Street West, during regular hours of operation.
2. Participate in the public budget meetings: meetings are held at 157859 7th Line, Meaford, and are open to the public. You can attend in person or watch on the YouTube channel at www.meaford.ca/YouTube. To register to speak in person or virtually at a meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-538-1060 ext. 1100.
- Friday, January 26, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Budget Day 1 – Operating Budget
- Tuesday, January 30, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Budget Day 2 – Capital and Enhancements Budgets
- Friday, February 2, 9 a.m. (if needed) – Final Consideration & Additional Deliberation of Draft Budget
- Monday, February 12, 6:30 p.m. – Statutory Public Meeting (Special Meeting of Council)
- Monday, March 11, (anticipated in Council at 1 p.m.) – Final Approval of the 2024 Budgets
3. Provide your feedback to Council: Email all members of Council directly using email@example.com.
Follow the updates and discussion to learn more and provide your feedback as the Municipality of Meaford determines its annual budget.
Visit www.meaford.ca/Budgets. Paper copies of the budget are available upon request.
It’s your budget, and council members are elected to represent you, so if you have thoughts, ideas, or concerns about the 2024 budgets, engage in the process, and let your thoughts be known.