by Stephen Hammond
Last time, I reported on the first North Grenville Municipal 2018 budget meeting. This week, I discuss the other two public meetings that were held to discuss budget items.
The second meeting dealt mainly with new staffing requests. I missed the discussion of some of these positions, but heard the request from the Fire Department for upgrading a part-time bylaw position to full time with benefits. The Deputy Mayor asked for comments from the public. Since I was the only member of the public on location, and despite my desire to avoid a tour of duty in the hot seat (that podium they have that’s right in the firing line of the municipal powers that be – I mean, there are 11 pairs of eyes staring at you like laser beams in a semicircular formation), I decided maybe someone should step up. So I did.
If I remember correctly, at this point in the meeting, I made two main points:
a) that from my reading of the budget, and since staffing is the largest cost in the municipal budget, very descriptive and analytical reasons to justify new staff requests must be provided.
b) that many taxpayers do not have high incomes and generous benefits such as a defined benefit pension. This is something that government at all levels need to be reminded of. Let`s face it, many, if not most, of the people who pay the taxes have lower incomes and benefits than people in public service. It`s a serious lapse in fairness, equity, and the social contract that this is so.
We then heard from the head of the building department who made a very good case for their staffing request. The bottom line is that the net increase in costs to the budget is $128,000 for the total increase of five new staff.
Once again, the public was asked for comment, so back to the hot seat I went. I asked about Federal and Provincial funding levels to the municipality, with follow-on questions concerning the policing, and justification for funding reductions, and whether there are legal, historical or other reasons to compel funding from the other levels of government.
Cripes, we pay massive amounts of taxes and fees to the higher levels of government.
Here are some numbers to compare on provincial funding:
– 2012: 19.18% of municipal budget – $1.67million
– 2016: 7.8% of municipal budget – $927,000
So there was a decline in yearly provincial funding of $743,000 from 2012 to 2016. With a cumulative effect in the millions! Conclusion: Are you mad yet?
At the third meeting, I was late again, but heard a little good news from Parks and Recreation. Apparently, they are obtaining more revenue from the Municipal Centre, which thankfully offsets the enormous costs of running and paying for the place. Principal and interest currently cost $979,000 per year. Yikes! Till 2035. On the bright side, we`ll get over the hump of this costly place eventually, and then we`ll be happy that we have it and don`t have to build a new one. People are using the facilities more and more.
Back to the hot seat. I had a few general questions, some of which had been gone over in the early part of the meeting that I had missed. This article is getting too long, so I`ll summarize.
The Good News:
– the capital reserves have grown from about $1.5 million in 2012 to about $5.1 million in 2017. Projections for $6.4 million in 2018. This means that when we need the money to maintain and fix infrastructure, we’ll have it.
– the Municipality is steadily upgrading dirt roads to pavement or tar and chip. They look forward to the day when we no longer need road graders.
– we now have control of most of the former Kemptville College and, if we implement some good ideas, it has potential as a renewed educational and profit centre.
The Bad News: taxes are still too high, and they’re going up. Facing up to the reality, in my opinion, Canadians in general are past the limit of fair taxation at all levels. Municipalities are really part of the provincial government. Since this is the case, municipal funding should be largely sourced at the provincial level through non-regressive forms of taxation. This is especially important as the Province keeps forcing more regulation and responsibilities onto Municipalities. A strong argument can be made that we have created too much complexity in governance. Maybe we need to figure out ways to live with fewer rules and more common sense.
This is not to say we let the municipal government off the hook. We need to stay focused on controlling costs in managing our own municipal affairs.
A further note on the hot seat. It`s really not that bad when you`re up there facing the council and department heads. Actually, everybody had smiles on their faces a few times, and we actually had a bit of fun. Generally, they are an intelligent bunch who know their business, and they take the time to fully answer questions.