As the County of Haliburton and its four lower-tier municipalities continue to work to finalize their 2021 budgets, it might not be too late for staff and councillors to have a look at a report released Feb. 2 by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and public policy think tank SecondStreet.org.

The two have cautioned townships that they could stall post-COVID-19 economic recovery if property taxes aren’t curtailed.

Their report looks at 10 ways municipal governments could reduce spending and property taxes.

Their thinking is straightforward but worth reviewing.

They figure if a business or household is struggling right now, a property tax increase, even a freeze, could really hurt their ability to stay afloat.

SecondStreet.org president, Colin Craig, says just as households and businesses have tightened their belts, there’s room for municipalities to do the same.

He says if they curtail their expenses, then they can help save some jobs by reducing the property tax burden on struggling businesses.

Here’s some examples that apply locally.

While part-time salaried politicians do not make a lot of money, some executive staff do. They could lead by example by taking pay reductions and curbing discretionary spending.

Every township is recommending hires, some multiple. And the salaries and benefits packages for these new employees far exceed what most of us are making in the private sector. Townships argue that it is due to the competitive nature of attracting municipal employees to our area. However, they have to always factor in affordability in their decision-making.

In Minden Hills, Coun. Bob Carter has asked for a fourth-round draft budget without the suggested new positions. He also queried moving existing, underutilized employees due to COVID, around. While more difficult due to unions, it’s worth exploring.

In addition, townships need to prioritize spending. For example, most of Haliburton County’s population would like to see a focus on things such as policing and road repair, not discretionary areas such as the arts right now.

They should also tender more jobs with consideration given to local tradespeople and suppliers.

They need to review township lands and assets and determine opportunities to dispose of unneeded inventory.

Within their own walls, they should create an employee rewards system with incentives for staff to come forward with ideas to reduce costs. And, we don’t just mean department heads, but all employees.

They all have a whack of modernization funding so should be exploring opportunities to use new technology to reduce costs.

And, finally, they should spend more time speaking with other municipal governments about innovative ways to reduce costs instead of devising strategies to raise taxes.

As the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and SecondStreet. org. rightly state in their report, politicians may try to claim that the cupboards are bare, but there’s still fat for many townships to cut.

Having said that, we don’t think there is a lot of fat left locally. So, we would encourage the provincial government and Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Minister of Infrastructure, Laurie Scott, to also read the report.

Townships have faced unprecedented downloading ever since Mike Harris’ so-called Common Sense Revolution. Any taxes saved have had to go to picking up provincial government slack. Many municipalities are at, or beyond, the breaking point. They are finding it harder and harder to keep up with the replacement and maintenance of infrastructure in particular.

It’s been suggested that the province designate one per cent of the HST to Ontario’s 444 municipalities to help them with crumbling roads, bridges and culverts. It’s time for the province to retroactively put the “common sense” into the Common Sense Revolution and do just that.

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