Budget Matters!

Municipality Matters

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by Jim Bertram

Well, here we are at budget time once again. Actually, a little past the usual time, which generally occurs quite a bit earlier. This year, however, there was the little matter of the municipal election, which came up on our community agenda and displaced the municipal budget process to a later date.

In fact, the North Grenville municipal budget process will be unfolded during the month of February. At the present time, the NG Director of Finance is working on the preparation of this process and will announce the dates of budget meetings in the near future. I am hoping this year’s process will include a feature which evolved from a new process which had occurred at Committee of the Whole in 2016 and 2017. This process originally involved a citizen presenter at Committee of the Whole who, having completed his or her presentation, presented a motion with a request for sponsorship by a Council member. On these previous occasions when I had worked with residents in such a way, good success was had. And, as indicated above, the process was included during last year’s budget.

What the new process involved was this: a resident with a budget issue in mind would contact the Councillor responsible for liaising with the department responsible for the issue the resident had in mind. The Councillor and resident would meet and discuss the issue, ultimately creating a motion for presentation at the public Council budget deliberations. At the appointed time and date, the matter would be presented by the Councillor, who would be the sponsor of the motion. Subsequent to the Councillor’s presentation, the resident could add any further pertinent points before Council consideration. After that, Council would debate and discuss the motion, which was then followed by a vote. This process was used to bring forward more than 12 motions from residents during last year’s budget deliberations. This is a useful tool for all thinking residents who have ideas to offer!

This process is very useful, since it furthers the ability of residents to have direct access to the decision-making process. Of course, attendance at the meeting by the resident-proponent of any measure, as well as other supporters of the motion, strengthens the motion by indicating strength of support amongst residents. The adoption of this positive budget process innovation last year, through the good offices of NG’s CEO, Brian Carré, was a significant factor in offering access to decision-making to residents, something which many people have rightly called for. I hope the new Council will see the wisdom and utility of continuing this practice which only enhances the reality of citizen access to the local government process.

Bear in mind that your tax bill will include a portion of tax going to three administrations: the municipal administration last year received 52% of the tax share; the County received 33%; the school board portion was 15%. So, be vigilant and become informed on what is going on at all of these administrations which are being supported by YOUR MONEY. Have your say. Contact your representatives and make your wishes known. Look at the budget processes of all three jurisdictions, as individuals, or in groups/associations.

Another item which I shall personally be following very closely is the matter of provincial downloading of responsibility for payment of provincial services from the comparatively rich provincial tax regime on to the shoulders of municipal taxpayers. This happens in a number of ways. For example, if the province is hard pressed for money (as they are now in a big way) and doesn’t want to look bad by raising PROVINCIAL taxes to pay for its own initiatives, it can lure municipalities or county governments into taking a provincial responsibility, let’s say Affordable Housing as an example, by offering funding assistance to the municipality, the county, or both. Typically, within three or four years, that funding is cancelled, and the County, Municipality, or both, end up having to fund this spanking new area of responsibility from the property owner/business owner tax base. Something to watch for. It’s YOUR property or BUSINESS tax which risks going through the roof.

Similar processes and others have been used by the province for the last 25 years at least to effect a weight of downloading on municipal budgets which, according to representatives from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, average between 20 and 30% of the total budget. Wow. Imagine if the province just paid its own way, instead of pushing its way into municipal and County treasuries. And they keep on getting away with it because we let them. So, without downloading from the province, you could be paying a lot less business and property tax! And the province would have even more impetus to manage their fiscal affairs in a responsible manner, if they lost the power to download owing to citizen activism. Be active and be aware of this process at the local level and require your Council to be active on this file as well. If YOU aren’t active, don’t be surprised if your Council thinks you don’t care.

Be active in defense of your financial affairs. If you have questions, I can be contacted at 613-989-2424 after 6 pm most days. And, as a final thought, you may wish to join me with your own questions at regular Committee of the Whole meetings. It IS your business after all.

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