The mistakes of the Town will be paid for on the backs of its residents

If Orangeville Council approves the new proposed budget next Monday night, Orangeville tax-payers will be looking at a tax rate increase of 4.21%, the equivalent of approximately $100 on the average home assessment of $313,000. This high increase is thanks to a motion passed at last night’s Finance and Administration Committee that forces the residents of the town to pay back over $1 million to the Reserves, due to previous councils depleting said reserves.

This is an accurate description of the state of the gallery last night.
This is an accurate description of the state of the gallery last night.

The initial 2015 Proposed Budget would have seen a 3% increase to tax payers, meaning that after slicing that down to a mere 0.3% (which in my opinion, would have been more than acceptable), they then voted an increase that would take that ABOVE the original recommendation.

I understand the need to rebuild our reserves – those funds are there so that if something happens, the town has money it can access without having to borrow more. I could have even understood if Council had decided to approve one of the three proposed amounts to put into reserves, which would have brought the tax increase to 1.5% or thereabouts. But 4%? Really? REALLY?

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to this term of Council knows that so far, budget and council have been nothing short of an absolute nightmare (I believe the running nickname for council is ‘The Gong Show’). From being unable to decide on important issues, to running in circles for hours about things that aren’t that important, to personal attacks, assaults, and some need to spend endless amounts of money the town doesn’t have, it’s clear that there needs to be a MASSIVE cleanup on council. (Maybe we could send them to some form of boot camp? Or, at the least, have Leonidas boot them off a cliff.).

Last night’s meeting was certainly no exception to this never-ending bad dream. Prior to the whole Reserves debacle, there were many other issues that left people in the gallery shaking their heads. Like, why Council was willing to put an additional $42,000 towards the Credit Valley Explorer for platform and parking lot expansions (for a tourist attraction that the town does NOT make direct revenue off) but refused to provide $43,000 for a Fire Prevention Officer to help bring the Orangeville Fire Department back up to the Safety Standards that the Province just revealed they are no longer meeting.

While I’m not surprised at certain members who voted in favour of the 4% increase (as it was made exceedingly clear that they view low/moderate income residents as nothing more than an inconvenience to them), there are others that I find myself in shock that they would agree to such a high increase, particularly after speaking against seeing one that high.

Mayor Jeremy Williams spoke out against the motion pretty much as soon as it was put on the table, to add an additional $797,115 and $284,140 into the reserves, on top of the $400,000 already approved by council. When they tried to update the tax amount in the computer – it froze, almost as if even the computer recognized the absurdity of such a request.

“No wonder computer having problems with that number, I think a lot of us are,” said Mayor Williams. “It’s nice to have reserves, but at what cost? We need to recognize times aren’t easy for people. It’s really nice to have reserves, but I certainly don’t support this. There’s already $400k in there for reserves; I don’t see a point at this time in these additional amounts.”

If I had to pick one word to describe the way Council (as a whole, not reflective of individuals necessarily) has dealt with the budget this year, it would be Cowardly.

The reserves are definitely an issue. According to Councillor Sylvia Bradley, our current reserves are sitting at a fourth of what they should be, placing us at possibly the lowest amount in the Province. We need to put money back in, but should it really be off the backs of the tax-payers, who never decided to spend the reserves in the first place?

If I had to pick one word to describe the way Council (as a whole, not reflective of individuals necessarily) has dealt with the budget this year, it would be Cowardly.

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Over and over and over again, this council has refused to make the hard decisions, refused to actually make cuts to achieve a lower budget, and instead placed the decisions on their staff, and now on the tax-payers.

“We have young families and seniors that can hardly afford to get by,” said Councillor Nick Garisto. “We have $400k in reserves, but we cannot force them to pay this.”

Councillor Scott Wilson however, could not seem to fathom how a $100 increase (again, only for tax-payers with an average assessment of $313,000 – it will be higher for anyone above that), would be an issue. After all, it’s only $100 more right? Except that it all adds up, especially once you factor in County taxes and School Board taxes. There are people I know who will be looking at an increase this year upwards of $300 on their taxes.

“It seems like it is a big hill to climb, and that is unfortunate, but it’s true,” said Councillor Wilson. “If we have to add back money to build back our reserves I think it is incumbent for us to do that, and we have to take that step.”

However, my question is, why is it incumbent for tax payers to fix what Council screwed up previously (Councils that both Mr. Wilson and Ms. Bradley have been a part of), but yet Council refuses to take the necessary steps to lessen that burden through the budget? Why is it the responsibility of residents to fix the mistakes of the people in charge? Shouldn’t the people in charge be held accountable for that?

At least two members of Council have taken to Facebook to state that ‘it’s not council that approved it, it’s the Finance Committee, and council will have the chance to approve it on Monday’. I find it slightly humourous, in a kind of sardonic sense, considering that the Finance and Administration Committee IS Council under a different name, and one of the two people making said statement is one of the Councillors who voted IN FAVOUR of this drastic increase.

Hopefully, a large number of residents will be willing to attend the next Council meeting (Monday, March 9 @ 7p.m.) and urge them NOT to pass such a ludicrous budget. And hopefully, at least one of the Councillors in favour will be swayed to vote against it.

3 thoughts on “The mistakes of the Town will be paid for on the backs of its residents

  1. What I am struggling with is the notion that there is an implication through many comments that have been made since Monday’s meeting that the Councillors who voted for the reserve increase are to blame for the sudden tax increase when those members of Council who actually campaigned on a zero percent tax increase didn’t come to the table with any ideas on what programs or services they would cut or trim.

    The reality is that Reserves are important and they should have been one of those items dealt with first. The decision may have been the same but it would have put even more pressure on Council to make tough decisions on how to trim the budget. Imagine the difference in conversation if they made the Reserve decisions on day 1 of budget deliberations. They would have then been looking at a 5 – 6% increase at that point and might have been incented to work more smartly to find necessary savings in other areas and we could be talking today about 0% increase but a list of services that have trimmed or cut that residents may have found painful. Be careful what you wish for.

    To be fair to the other councillors who DIDN’T campaign on a 0% tax increase, they got elected by their followers too, so they are not necessarily obligated to achieve that goal. If you’re going to live in a bedroom community with a relatively small industrial base, there is a reality that property taxes are going to be higher than if you lived in Toronto. However, nobody wants to see 4% every year.

    Back to the budget, using round numbers, you need to find just over $200,000 in order to achieve a 1% decrease in property taxes. Council came up with just over $8,000 over multiple meetings going back to January 2015.

    Not once did Council discuss programs or services at the Operating Expense level that cost more than an equivalent of 1% tax increase a year or > $200,000 to discuss whether we could afford to keep them in whole or in part.

    Also, you will recall that most of council chose to take Tony Rose Pool, a surplus facility that runs a $200,000 annual deficit off the table. Yes, you have to deal with people who can’t drive to Alder Street (there are low cost solutions for that) and yes, you need to find alternative uses for that space (that to me is a revenue generating opportunity), but that conversation never occurred, and that was inappropriate.

    I like reading your blog. Keep it up.

    1. Charles, you are 100% right. My original draft actually included a lot on that, however due to length, I had to trim it. The fact that the ones who ran on a 0% budget have not done anything to try and reach that promise deserves a post entirely on its own (along with many other issues, including ones you’ve mentioned, which I do hope to post on).

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I absolutely 100% agree with you Tabitha! Cowardly is the most appropriate word choice I have heard so far! Well said!
    I’m sure we can look forward to a few more 4 hour council meetings to wrap this up. I would urge any of the councillors who are actually aiming for zero to use this as their prime opportunity to show that they are serious about it! And for those councillors who are advocates of the reserves, now is your time to show that you can cut some spending to allow for reserves!
    Someone needs to man up (pardon the expression) and at least table some tough conversation about spending and where cuts can happen. It may not popular – cause as we know, we all like to have our cake and eat it too. We all want all the services and lower taxes…but reality has to set in, and cuts will need to occur. Keep it up Tabitha ~Lisa

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