Visioning and budgets go hand-in-hand
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | January 18, 2018|
When we posted the news to our Facebook page – that Minden Hills council is so far looking at about a nine per cent tax increase for 2018 – the public wasn’t happy.
At least the 20-or-so people who commented and shared on our FB page. They hit ‘angry’ and ‘wow’ and had some critical things to say.
Now, let’s preface this editorial by saying the 2018 budget isn’t finalized. Councillors return to the chambers Feb. 8 for a third round of budget talks.
However, after sitting through round two, it appeared the majority of councillors were okay with the way talks were going. Mayor Brent Devolin, Deputy-Mayor Cheryl Murdoch, councillors Jean Neville, Jeanne Anthon and Lisa Schell seemed to agree with Devolin that a near double-digit increase is needed this year, and perhaps for many years to come.
The only naysayer in the room was Coun. Pam Sayne. (Coun. Ron Nesbitt was not at the meeting).
In some ways, I admire them. It is pretty bold going into an election year with that kind of budget increase. Devolin, himself, admitted he’d far prefer sub-five per cent in a year when voters decide whether he and his present council have cut it over the past four years. Many of those who commented on our Facebook post don’t think this council has cut it. They say the township has been mismanaged, particularly the Scotch Line landfill, which is helping to drive the big tax increase. The other big ticket item is the township’s roads.
Why, these taxpayers ask, should they have to pay for the current and past mismanagement? They have a point to some extent. However, past Minden councils have not done their successors any favours by opting for small tax increases in the past. The township’s infrastructure has aged. Sure, they’ll blame the province, saying it isn’t giving them enough money anymore. They’re right but the days of upper-tier support have been gone awhile. This isn’t news.
The way some councillors talked about the increase was a bit worrying. A few said they had absolutely no pity for those on the water. They’ve got money, they can pay. Sayne was the only one to really stand up for that group. For example, she said the Bob Lake folks could see a 10 per cent tax hike but council hasn’t promised them their $30,000 boat launch.
She was the only one to really stand up for the bulk of ratepayers who aren’t fat cats, and for whom a nine per cent increase would be immense. Council’s auditor, Oscar Poloni, only told this same council a few months ago that half of its population is on a fixed income. Where will this vastly higher than cost of living increase come from there?
Yes … council is caught between a rock and a hard place. But, is there wiggle room for this year and years to come? They’ve all but finished building a new $2M fire hall so there’s no turning back on that project. But they do have to ask themselves if $6.5 million for an arena upgrade is really necessary in this financial climate. After all, many residents are not going to get the swimming pool or possibly the walking track that they desired, so maybe that project can revert to option A, a fix-up, for now, in hopes some provincial or federal government money may be forthcoming in future. And, do Minden ratepayers think we really need an Andre Lepine statue at the cultural centre and gallery? What else is on the books that might be just too pie-in-the-sky for a council of this size at this time?
Visioning sessions and budgets go together well. It’s not too late for Minden Hills council to revisit its big picture for five or 10 years down the track and reassess its current budget. It’s not about the fact it’s an election year, it’s about the ability of people to pay for the services that they have now or may have in future. If council can convince them they need to raise taxes nine per cent or our roads will go to hell in a hand basket, or assure them that the spending on Scotch Line is justified, then everyone will be on the same page
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.