Budget out of touch with local economy

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Clearview Council presented the draft 2013 budget for public comment on Monday evening. About 30 residents attended, seven spoke and one sent in written comments. Some expressed their appreciation for the difficult work crafting a budget. All made suggestions to improve the process and the acceptability of the budget draft.

While the prevailing view was that the proposed 9.53 per cent increase in the Clearview tax levy was too high, suggestions ranged from the need to improve the public process, attendance and input, to adding and removing specific projects, reducing operating costs, reviewing staff salary levels, cutting services, adding to the reserve funds and spending more in line with actual growth.

I will be holding a Townhall Meeting on Saturday, February 23, at 1 pm at the Station on the Green during which I will review the draft budget to receive further comments from residents, as well as update residents on other local projects and concerns.

More work is planned before a final budget is approved by Council. The current schedule is to have one more budget workshop on Monday, March 4. The public is encouraged to attend. Final budget approval is expected at the March 25 Council meeting.

In my view, Council has an opportunity to bring the 2013 budget into line with our local economy. We are spending at a much higher annual rate than we are bringing in new revenue. We have been doing this for the past few years in anticipation of growth. That growth has not happened. The slower than anticipated growth in the Township’s assessed base means that essentially the same number of households are being asked year over year to support increasing spending as if Clearview Township is actually growing. It’s not. We have to rebalance our spending to our actual growth.

In fact, our population has declined 2.5 per cent since the last census in 2006. Census families have declined 1.9 per cent while family dwellings have stayed essentially the same, up only 0.6 per cent. The median age of our residents has risen; those of us 65 and older are up 7.4 per cent. These statistics are in marked contrast to our neighbouring communities of Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Springwater, Essa and Mulmur, our usual comparators when justifying spending increases.

Combined with our aging demographics, median family after-tax incomes peaked in 2008 and have remained unchanged. More residents are entering into retirement and onto fixed incomes. Ratepayers’ ability and tolerance to pay rising taxes is maxing out.

In the private sector, businesses facing stagnant or declining customer numbers look to creative ways to reduce costs, maintain service and quality and increase their competiveness and sales.

Shouldn’t the Township, facing a stagnant tax base and increasing demands for program spending, find innovative ways to control its costs? I think we should. Municipalities who raise taxes, user fees and development charges without assessing the impact on its current and future homeowners, will evenutually price themselves out of the competitive residential growth market.

This is not a philosophical argument, it is an economic reality. We have the staff resources to take up the challenge of rebalancing sustainable spending in line with our growth outlook. A multi-year plan will position us well to encourage and realize future growth. Council needs to find the political will to set this plan in motion.

We need growth in this Township to support our families and our businesses. This cannot be done by simply branding over what is an unsustainable business plan.

I invite you to the Ward 4 Townhall on Saturday, February 23 to make your commments known. Feel free to contact me at (705) 466-6321, or tpaterson@clearview.ca.

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