by Jim Bertram
Thank you to Steve Hammond for another one of his illuminating pieces of writing in last week’s Times. He makes a number of points which will be of interest to property taxpayers and those who may in future wish to locate their homes or businesses in North Grenville. We should remember that the best investment we might make in this municipality right now would be to keep tax costs down. We surely don’t need an economic development oﬃce to tell us that much. Home affordability hinges on tax aﬀordability and other aspects of municipal cost control.
What are the challenges in reining in galloping municipal tax rises coming in our future? First to come to mind is the continuing drumbeat of provincial cost downloading on the County and municipal levels of government. That’s one of the ways Mr. Ford is using to try to balance the provincial books. Is this government REALLY interested in the well-being of citizens? There will be rising development charges from the municipality which, in combination with MPAC, will drive new house prices up with a consequent upward eﬀect on house values in general. Market demand for housing will be another factor as well as current planning provisions. The “index of affordability” of housing in North Grenville, if such a measure had been created to date, would be deteriorating under the weight of the factors mentioned as the future becomes the present. Especially so for those in the lower 50 % of the income pyramid.
Of course, the aforementioned municipal cost pressures are not the whole problem. There are other components. I have not yet heard our Council significantly address these cost issues in any of their comments either at Council meetings or in public. I am not reassured that an organised approach to municipal cost-control measures is being considered at Council. I have not seen vocal leadership on this subject from the Mayor or individual Councillors and I have attended many Council meetings, including many of the afternoon Committees of the Whole.
Mr. Hammond referred to civic engagement as a possible way of helping to meet expressed needs for service. Encouragement of community members to organise and fund raise for projects would tend to lower demands made on the tax base. But the opposite process actually seems to be true, in fact. Recently, for example, the municipality refused to encourage a dynamic proposal from a local church group for a new outdoor ice rink to be built on church property. The church had already raised in excess of $100,000.00 for completion of said project. Following signiﬁcant opposition to this ﬁne example of community enterprise put together by people whose ﬁrst reaction was to raise money for the project themselves, thus sparing the taxpayer, our Council washed their hands of the project entirely. They have opted instead to spend $72,000.00 on a “Master Plan” for Parks and Recreation, which should provide cover for additional spending in this domain. Will the Master Plan propose the building of a new outdoor rink at Riverside Park, I wonder? Will we see “splash pads”, as requested in the past? A pool? All at the taxpayer’s cost? Possibly.
I guess the preceding is an indicator of the small extent to which the taxpayer’s plight is to be found on the Council agenda. I ask, where are the plans to drive down the tax rate in order to compensate for the upward pressure from downloading and upward reaching MPAC adjustments? Does it really make sense for a new Master Plan for Recreation and Parks, if one is interested in curbing costs?
At last year’s budget meetings, only two people, including myself, bothered to attend most meetings and express their questions and concerns. Given what’s coming down the road in terms of tax raises, I am more than surprised at this apparent lack of interest. But, who knows? Perhaps things will change this year. Budget meetings will be starting soon. Nothing on the municipal website about this yet, but I heartily encourage you to join me and, I hope, other interested citizens – apart from those seeking municipal largesse, who certainly will be present. Citizens who can energetically and insistently oﬀ er their ideas on the subject of municipal cost reduction. I know that as I campaigned during last year’s election, residents at EVERY one of the many homes I visited stated that taxes were a problem. Among other things, the most common comment was that they didn’t move to North Grenville to pay Ottawa taxes. Well folks , that’s what you are doing now. So – join me at Council meetings when budget discussions and presentations occur. You know all you have to know in order to participate if you are a taxpaying citizen. That is your qualiﬁcation! If you wish, you may address questions to me at 613-552 1946 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to speak with anyone who has questions. See you at the meetings?