Dare to be the same

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Once again, Dysart et al council has gone it alone in making a decision on behalf of its ratepayers that does not align with the other three County municipalities.

Dysart has decided to set its pending municipal accommodation tax, or MAT, at two per cent. Meanwhile, the townships of Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Minden Hills have opted for four per cent. In doing so, the three have accepted the recommendation of the County’s director of economic development and tourism, Scott Ovell.

Ovell knows a thing or two about the MAT tax, as he does about short-term rental bylaws. He was the economic development coordinator for the Town of Huntsville, which adopted a MAT about six years ago – incidentally at 4 per cent.

While Ovell has fallen short of calling it an industry standard when he made the recent rounds of councils, he did say 95 per cent of Ontario municipalities have gone with that four per cent figure.

Why not Dysart? Apparently because… in the words of mayor Murray Fearrey, Dysart dares to be different.

At the meeting, Fearrey said while he supported the four per cent at the outset, he started to think about it, worrying Dysart was piling too much tax onto people.

Coun. Pat Casey, naturally, agreed with his mayor. The businessman said he’s worried about discretionary income being eroded. The township doesn’t want to kill the entrepreneurial spirit of someone making a dollar. After all, money is often reinvested into the community via cottage renos and downtown shopping, he said.

Ovell said the County’s townships could split more than $2M in revenue from the tax. Dysart’s decision will erode that figure somewhat. And since 50 per cent of a township’s take goes to tourism while 50 per cent can go to almost anything else, roads for example, I guess Dysart taxpayers are okay with that loss of two per cent of revenue – and it coming onto their tax bill instead.

Coun. Pam Sayne made a good point at Minden Hills’ meeting on the MAT tax, saying townships cannot run deficits, but with provincial downloading and rising infrastructure costs, they need other sources of revenue to stay afloat.

I wonder what Dysart’s plan is to recoup the lost two per cent in MAT tax?

Further, we’ve seen the confusion that comes with four different sets of rules in four townships. The service delivery review was supposed to eliminate this silo mentality.

Dysart set the tone in this term of council when it refused to come on board with the County-wide shoreline preservation bylaw. It adopted its own set of rules and regulations.

And, it has also dismissed the idea of single-tier waste management, as recommended by its own staff – before the County even fully discusses the idea at a May 22 council meeting.

When the largest township in the County says ‘no,’ chances are this file will be killed or watered down. So, once again, taxpayers are left with four townships operating landfills and transfer stations four different ways – leading to confusion, inefficiency, and wasted money.

It’s hard to understand why Dysart dares to be different. Surely, it would be better for the entire County of Haliburton – and all of its taxpayers – if that council dared to be the same.