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Council finally approves budget with tax hike tied to inflation

May 6, 2015   ·   0 Comments

In a surprising- turn of events for Orangeville’s budget committee and Council, the 2015 budget was passed Monday night in a combined 45 minutes – a vast change from the previous 12 meetings which each time ran four to five hours with little being accomplished.

After no meetings since early April due to Councillor Gail Campbell’s absence, a press release on Friday advised the media that there would be a budget committee meeting (of the full council) plus a special council meeting on Monday evening.

However, the fact the meeting was not otherwise disclosed has drawn criticism from the public who felt that this move went against the transparency the new term of Council had been promising.

For the first budget session since January, the gallery was nearly empty, with only a couple residents and the media present.

At the beginning of the meeting, Councillor Campbell was the first to speak out with a suggestion to reduce the budget and compromise with those lobbying for a zero percent increase, by removing the additional reserves contribution from this year’s budget. If supported, it would mean that only the original $400,000 proposed would be put in reserves, rather than the annual contribution of over $1 million.

“I would be prepared to support the budget as is, without the recommendation for reserves, provided that council will agree to rescind the motion that this budget committee has passed to sell the Humber College land for capital projects,” said Councillor Campbell. “I would like to see  that decision rescinded and the money that comes from selling it as soon as possible, to go to the reserves. If council will do that, I am willing to support the budget without the additional reserves contribution now.”

However, without Councillor Nick Garisto present to vote in favour, the Committee needed a seconder to support the compromise, and the remaining three members in favour of the reserves were not willing to bend.

“The money for the reserves should have been in the budget in the first place, and we’ve argued about this for 12 weeks,” said Deputy Mayor Warren Maycock. “We are all here to compromise this evening. Every year, however, we always put over $1 million into our reserves, and I’m not sure why this year it started out as only $400,000.”

Councillor Don Kidd was concerned that in 2014, despite making over a $1 million contribution to the reserves, Council approved the removal of $1.4 million, rendering that original contribution basically moot.

“I think we’ve had more than enough conversations, and I want this to be our last meeting,” said Mayor Jeremy Williams. “Rather than continuing to debate and keep arguing over the differences, we need to make a decision.”

Deputy Mayor Maycock proposed that Council look at passing a budget at the rate of inflation, which would mean only removing enough from the additional reserves amount to match that rate. The 2014 rate of inflation was 2.41 percent – which would mean $218,000 being removed from the additional contribution amount.

The Committee accepted the Deputy Mayor’s suggestion, and moved to a special Council meeting, where the first item of business was to address a motion previously passed that would require all members of Council to be present for passage of the budget. In the recorded vote, Mayor Williams and Deputy Mayor Maycock were the only members of Council to vote against that motion, which had been made by Councillor Campbell on March 9.

“I think it’s important to admit when you’ve made a mistake, and when I made that motion, I believe we would have the budget passed by March,” said Councillor Campbell, who had already requested that Council consider reversing her motion several times before her April departure. “I should not have made that motion, and I would like to see it rescinded.”

If Council had not successfully passed the motion to rescind, the Budget Bylaw would have had to have been put on hold until Councillor Garisto’s return, however, at this point in time, no return date had been provided. Council chose to rescind the motion, and moved on to the passing of the Budget, as well as the bylaw, which saw all members of Council except Councillor Scott Wilson, vote in favour of the amended 2015 Budget. Councillor Wilson had made it clear earlier in the evening that he felt no need to compromise, and was against reducing the $1-million contribution to reserves.

With the reduction of the reserves contribution, the final budget was passed with a 2.4 percent increase on the Town’s tax levy – which means a $60.77 increase to a residential property owner with an average assessment set at $313,701.

Despite the Mayor’s promise to not vote for anything above a zero percent increase, he maintains that the vote to pass the budget was the best option. He defended his support of the budget on Facebook on Monday, as some expressed concern that he had gone against his promise.

“I voted for it as it was virtually zero and would have passed regardless of my vote,” wrote Mayor Williams. “Better to try to work together than opposed. You can be upset it wasn’t a decrease or an increase, but with a budget that size, by pretty much any measure it was a flat budget. Some [property owners] will have a decrease, some an increase, for the vast majority the taxes will be pretty much unchanged from the last year.”

Because of the estimated decrease in County taxes of 1.84 percent, and the provincial education decrease of 3.94 percent, the actual tax impact on Orangeville homeowners will be only 0.29 percent, which is the equivalent of a $13 increase for the average homeowner. This means that for the average residential property with an assessment at $313,701 will pay a combined total of $4,426 in property taxes.

Several residents have commented on social media that the Town putting a spin on the passed budget as a 0.29 percent is incorrect, as they are ‘piggy-backing’ on the back of decisions made at the County and education levels, which the Town has no control over. Councillor Sylvia Bradley also took to social media, explaining this to some of the public, who have expressed concerns at the different numbers being reported between news outlets and the Mayor.

“To be clear, Council passed a 2.4% levy on the Orangeville portion of the taxes,” said Councillor Bradley. “When you take all three taxes together, town, county and education, the end result is 0.29 percent. We did not, however, pass a 0.29 increase, since the county and education taxes are out of our control.”

She went on to add that she was concerned as well with the number of special and emergency meetings that have been called by the Mayor so far, which have prevented members of the public from participating due to ‘virtually no notice’ being provided of these meetings.

Although the Mayor did not address the lack of public notice of the meetings, he did say he was pleased the budget has been passed and Council can now move forward with other items of importance.

“Council may have started with very different viewpoints, but in the end we were able to reach a consensus,” Mayor Williams said in a press release Tuesday. “The 2015 final tax bill represents a virtual zero increase over last year. I’m pleased to see that all on Council contributed to the budget process and the result is something we can all support.”

Councillor Garisto was also given the opportunity to comment, providing a statement for Tuesday’s press release.

“We worked together to bring the taxes down,” said the Finance Committee Chair.  “Never before has council had so many budget meetings, or worked this hard on a budget. It’s good to see council come to an agreement in the end.”

The 2015 Budget, which totalled $66 million (including both capital and operating expenses), is funded through a combination of avenues, including the tax levy, reserve funds, development charges, user rates, gas tax funds and government grants.

         

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