It’s budget time at the County of Haliburton and the four-lower tier municipalities.
None have actually passed their 2020 budgets, although some are getting very close.
I always find it a bit frustrating that no one, or very few people from the public, attend draft budget meetings. Invariably the press is there, but even then, we don’t get a lot of feedback on our stories. Yet surely, how much a township charges you and what goods and services it gives you in return, should be of paramount interest.
Not to knock those on local council. After all, they expose themselves to public scrutiny in running for office, and, if elected, get part-time jobs but often full-time hours. They have to read those hundreds of pages of agenda notes so they can represent you, their constituents.
However, looking around the council tables of the County of Haliburton, Algonquin Highlands, Minden Hills, Highlands East and Dysart et al, we would be hard-pressed to find many who are struggling to make ends meet. They do not generally reflect the economically-challenged sector of the County. They are not the marginalized or working poor.
So, when they bandy about municipal levy increases of 3.65 per cent (as is the case in Dysart) or 5.3 per cent (as is the case in Minden Hills), they tend to think they are doing a pretty good job of keeping the increases down. In most cases, they are when faced with provincial government downloading; crumbling infrastructure and our continued reliance on a residential tax base. [Bear in mind the above numbers don’t include the County and education tax rates, though education rates are trending down].
Still, make no mistake, numbers such as 3.65 and 5.3 per cent are not good news for many County residents.
We say this in light of a health unit report issued last week entitled “tough to stomach.” It has concluded that the cost of healthy eating remains out of reach for many people in Haliburton County.
In its annual pricing for a Nutritious Food Basket in this area, the health unit estimates an average family of four (two adults, a teen and child) would have had to spend nearly $875 per month to eat healthy in 2019. The basket consists of more than 60 food items that are nutritious and commonly purchased by people. Excluded are essentials such as soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and personal care products.
The health unit said while the cost of food is similar to 2017 and 2018, increases in other monthly expenses, such as housing and transportation, mean people are struggling to put healthy food on the table. Some people, whether on social assistance or working minimum-wage jobs, are simply not making enough money. Families are having to decide if they will buy healthy food or pay for other basics such as rent.
With this in mind, we urge councillors and staff to have a final, sober look at their draft budgets and ask themselves if what they are proposing is affordable for the average Haliburton County resident. If they find the percentage lacking, they should go through the document once again to see what can be cut, or in some cases added, so families aren’t making so many tough decisions about where to spend their money in 2020.