Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Will 2023 be a Bright Light, or More of the Same?

On Sunday we welcomed in a new year, and from what I heard from friends, and read on social media, not many were sad to say goodbye to 2022, and high hopes for 2023 abound.

Over the holidays I spent some time mulling the year that had passed. The year of 2022 was highly anticipated for many, as we were regaining our freedom of movement, and our ability to gather in numbers, so it was to be the year to finally put the pesky pandemic behind us, which we largely did. Crippling inflation took the shine off of 2022, with most of us struggling to adjust to ever increasing prices while wages for most remained stagnant. Add in a frustrating war in Ukraine, civil unrest in Iran, the overturning of Roe v. Wade south of the border, and fears of a Monkey Pox outbreak quickly soured many on the year that was 2022.

Locally we saw continued frustration with development proposals, along with lingering fears for some about the potential pumped storage facility proposed for the local military base, two issues that are certain to raise our collective blood pressures.

So I can understand folks being eager to see 2022 to the door, and to welcome in a new year. But the reality is that we can expect more of the same for the coming year. Inflationary pressures are still very real, as is the lack of affordable housing (which is a living wage issue in my humble opinion), and developers aren’t going away, so we can expect to quibble about more development proposals over the coming year.

Oh and, it is budget time for our local council, and this one won’t be pretty. Those inflationary pressures noted earlier will most certainly impact the budgets for this municipality (and all others) in 2023. Most everything is significantly more expensive today than it was a year ago, and we will see that reality reflected in the budgets that are to come, and our newly elected council will have much to grapple with in the coming weeks. For those who insist that we need an indoor swimming pool, or that we need to groom our section of the Georgian Trail in winter, this very likely is not the year for such requests. Inflationary pressures aside, this municipality has roads and bridges to maintain, an arena in dire need of an expensive overhaul, and a very expensive but necessary expansion of our wastewater treatment plant is on the horizon; this will not be a year to entertain frills.

Budget time is always stressful for both members of council and ratepayers, but over the years I have become increasingly convinced that much of the frustration felt by ratepayers comes down to not understanding the role of council and how budgets are created. Many also have misconceptions about how a municipal rate increase actually impacts them personally, whether it is a 2% increase or a 7% increase. Over the years I have seen people melt down over a 3% municipal increase that might add $100 to their annual property tax bill, while the federal and provincial government increases to various taxes can pick hundreds of extra dollars from our pockets with barely a peep from taxpayers.

As we enter municipal budget season, I would encourage everyone to set aside a little time to watch council meetings online, whether live, or after the fact, so that you can hear the discussions, and understand the pressures facing council as they grapple with the budget. Simply taking in a budget meeting or two can help to appreciate the realities that face a municipal council, particularly in a year such as this where inflation has been crippling for many, including municipalities. I know from experience that it can be very difficult to explain the reasons for budget decisions to folks that have never taken the time to understand how a municipal council actually operates, and how they develop a budget. The pressures are many and they are wide ranging, and whatever is on your own personal wish list, there are 6,000 other wish lists competing for council’s attention, but the pot of funds available from ratepayers is small when compared to the needs to be met.

Communication is key of course, and Mayor Kentner’s strength is communication. He is a natural communicator that many trust, and that can certainly help when attempting to gain support for a budget that is likely to include a rate increase that nobody wants to see.

My hope is that our new council will engage in fulsome, healthy debate over the draft budgets that will be brought forward, and that common sense will prevail. But one thing we can know for certain is that no matter what council does with respect to the budgets, many won’t be pleased.

The inflationary pressures that have been felt by all of us over the past year will no doubt be reflected in the municipal budgets, so brace yourself for the inevitable, and perhaps leave your wish list for another year.


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