A ‘Good’ Budget….

February 2, 2023   ·   0 Comments

For Orangeville ratepayers, it takes a good deal of patience to watch and understand the annual budget deliberations. But it takes far greater patience for town staff and councillors to balance all the (often conflicting) demands to produce a ‘good’ budget.

Remarkably, that was the result this past week emerging from two town budget meetings, concluding a lengthy deliberative process that began last summer. Orangeville citizens have a ‘good’ (not ‘great’) budget that levies a manageable 2.35 per cent tax increase in 2023.

Let no one be deluded; there are significant operational and capital matters that the town will need to address that are impacted by this ‘good’ budget: redevelopment of Rotary Park, the future of Tony Rose arena, waste-water management, and certainly what to do about the loss in revenue from development-charges thanks to the Ford Government’s punitive Bill 23.

Nonetheless, the town sought prudent fiscal management as their policy in 2023. This was summed-up nicely in the comments of Orangeville CAO Ray Osmond, stating: “We’re living in an era right now where we [have] got to be flexible,” he said. “I think, if we’re flexible, we can make a lot of progress. And that’s what we all want to do.”

Most impressively, the council resisted the temptation to squander the proceeds from the July 2022 sale of the OBRY (Orangeville Brampton Railway) to use as ‘one-time’ tax-relief. Councillors agreed that a better use of the $32 million was to invest it wisely, utilizing the anticipated revenue from the interest to help mitigate a larger tax increase. Interest accrual from that multi-million-dollar investment will garner over $1 million for Orangeville this year alone.

Yet it is important to remember Orangeville did not need to sell the OBRY last year – indeed, the former mayor admitted that the ORDC ‘had no plan’ when it did so. 

The ORDC (Orangeville Railway Development Corporation) is a private secretive business run by the town, set up in 2000 to operate the OBRY. It holds no public meetings and produces no public documentation of its business practices that residents can see. Its decision to abandon the OBRY in 2019 and sell it in 2022 was made behind closed doors. Disregarding multiple ways to make the OBRY a success, the town accepted the ORDC deal and sold its most valuable asset without any input from its true owners – you & me.

Despite this, the newly elected council of 2023 seems prepared to chart a more transparent path – and this should give citizens comfort. Buoyed by the income from the OBRY sale, council finally appears confident enough to welcome ideas from the public about how to best make ‘progress.’

It appears that the council will resolve to hold public consultations to debate the future use of the OBRY money – something most councillors committed to in their election platforms. Such an open process can give council the perfect opportunity to:

  • Disclose the private dealings of the ultra-secretive ORDC;
  • Offer clarity to citizens as to the ‘true’ costs associated with the sale of the OBRY to Peel Region – decommissioning railways in Canada are not cheap, and the ORDC hid all the details from the sale of the railway from the voters in the last election;
  • Demonstrate to ratepayers that there are no charge-backs from the sale that will impact the town’s finances in the years to come;
  • Explain to citizens what the ‘plan’ is for the railway lands off Townline – all of that land is ‘brownfield’, contaminated with over a century of railway detritus. The costs of rehabilitation will be enormous…and who will pay for that?

Opening the ORDC books to scrutiny can provide essential context for better transparency. Citizens should know the ‘whole story’ about how $32 million landed in the town’s bank account. Over the next two years, council is hoping for robust public engagement in how to spend railway proceeds – a new Recreation Complex / housing-stock / infrastructure improvements? 

The possibilities are endless. But the public needs to be fully informed about the past in order to be fully engaged about the future.

Perhaps this is the ‘progress’ Mr. Osmond was hoping for.

While praise for this budget is genuinely warranted, it must be tempered by the knowledge that Orangeville has but a few ‘valuable assets’ left to sell. Let’s hope the era of darkness is over, and this new council never returns to its shadowy operations like that of the mysterious ORDC to fund the next ‘good’ budget.

Neil Orford


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