by Jim Bertram
The budget process this year had a number of features which, having experienced several other similar events, I have found encouraging. Among the more encouraging features is the broad‑based and penetrating range of questions and proposals coming from some Council members.
I am particularly encouraged by the willingness of Council members to take sometimes differing views, and represent them strongly. The shabby notion that all of Council speaks with one voice at all times is seemingly, and happily, not something which the new Council subscribes to. Yet, at the same time, Council members discuss matters in a civil manner and conduct themselves in a commendable fashion when disagreeing. Seeing disagreement is encouraging to me, as it bespeaks an authentic interest on the part of all Council members to represent the best ideas they possess, come what may. An interest in bringing forward these ideas into the bear pit of testing, discussion and debate, so that the best ideas, or combinations of ideas, may be brought forward. Well done Council!
Council has also displayed another excellent quality in their goal setting: keeping property tax rates well under control. Mayor Peckford herself has mentioned a tax rise goal significantly less than 2%. The figure mentioned is in the area of 1.5% to 1.75%! Very good news. I would, however, caution Council not to do this at the expense of long term planning features in the budget. For example, let’s not rob our reserves to attain that goal. The reserve feature is to allow for the provision of projects/services in the future, which will impose sometimes considerable costs. While I support control of tax rises, I certainly would not support a policy which just kicks tax rises down the road to be dealt with by another administration. Other options must be considered. Options which really reduce costs.
As a consideration and a beginning, let’s consider Community Budget Requests, which add up to $165,000, or somewhere between one and two percent of the budget. $17,000 for a baseball organisation? Fundraising anyone? $50,000 for the Ferguson Forest? $60,000 for the Curling Club? And so on. Council, look very hard at those community requests. Don’t be tempted to “buy” popularity.
At the end of the day, a transparent and fair tax control policy is needed. I think strong elements of Council want to produce such a result. I believe Council should, at best, choose to retain a strong reserve policy AND as well serve taxpayers by limiting tax growth by eliminating unnecessary costs. At the end of the day, many taxpaying citizens would be hard pressed by an excessive rise in taxes. And those who could afford more taxes would, even so, not be happy with such a budget outcome.
I hope the Mayor, as a member of our County Council, will strongly present this message in that venue. The County contributes heavily to our tax load. And I encourage our various school trustees to discuss this matter energetically as well. And I encourage ALL representatives to fight any and all costly program and cost additions this year from the province to the municipal, county and school board levels. Do so actively and, especially, publicly. Your community needs you to actively represent them on this file.