Tax increase lowered; spending still high

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We can all be relieved that the budget as approved will result in a lower tax increase than originally proposed. Clearview spending, however, remains high and out of touch with our local economy. Council approved only one minor deferral in spending Monday night.

The reduction in the overall tax levy was a result of technical revisions made by our staff, not responsible financial management decisions by Council. Some of the reduction came from updates made to spending calculations in the draft budget. However the most significant factor lowering the overall tax levy is the combination of the Clearview tax increase with the estimated County and Education tax decreases.

Yes, both the County and the Education portion of the tax levy this year are lower than last year. This is due to our relative growth in population, or lack thereof, when compared to the other municipalities in Simcoe County. Clearview ranks fifteenth out of sixteen. Because we are below the average growth in Simcoe, the proportionate tax dollars requested from the County and the School Board are lower than last year.

So, the approved Clearview tax increase is 7.52 per cent. When combined with the County tax decrease of 4.07 per cent and the School Board decrease of 0.65 per cent, the combined 2013 tax levy is now an increase of 1.86 per cent or about $50 more requested from the average household. This budget is a continuation of the high average annual increases in Clearview’s portion of residential property taxes. Since 2004, the Clearview portion of the annual tax levy has risen an average of 7.8 per cent, keeping our taxes high while growth remains very low.

Spending now might seem like a good plan until you realize that the decisions we made this year to spend commit us to spend even more in the years ahead. We don’t know the impact of these decisions on our future taxes because we have not prepared a multi-year budget.

Most of the progress made in reducing what still is a high level of spending is due to the efforts of our staff having removed $352,000 by lowering contributions to reserves and deferring capital spending.

Council has decided not to look for additional ways to reduce spending. For the third year, this Council has declined to give direction to find areas where operating costs could be lowered and service delivery be made more efficient through a more thorough financial review.

We have continued to hire qualified and well-paid staff but have not taken the opportunity to do more of the work in-house. Contract services this year in General Administration alone total $417,000. Surely some savings could have been made.

Adequate funding provision has not been made yet in this budget for the preservation of our community halls.

Public budget consultation attracted less than 50 people in total to all five public budget sessions.

Despite efforts this year to contribute to new and necessary reserve funds, when accounting for all the transfers taken from reserves to cover 2013 spending increases and transfers put into reserves to save for future spending, the budget took more out of tax-effecting reserves than it put in.

Cutting taxes is not necessarily responsible financial management. Controlling spending is.

For all these reasons, I could not support the budget as approved.

Going forward, there is work underway to determine what level of funding has to be budgeted this year to preserve our community halls, to make possible renovation to the Creemore Community Arena and to fund additional crossing guards for elementary students attending NCPS from the Jardine neighbourhood.

The current plan is to approve the final tax rate by-law on Monday, May 13, 2013.

Thom Paterson is Clearview Township’s Councillor for Ward 4.

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