Emotional budget session fails to produce final agreement

March 11, 2015   ·   0 Comments

Monday night’s budget session following Town Council’s regular meeting was one of the most packed, most emotional and most vocal meetings held in the council chambers in a long time. With more members of the gallery than there was seating room, it quickly became clear that residents were not prepared to stay silent about a potential 4 percent increase in property taxes.

The potential increase has kept the Internet abuzz, with multiple posts on the Orangeville and Area Q&A Page on Facebook, as well as several blog posts by local bloggers asking members of Council why they were content to consider such a drastic increase.

Resident Alan Thoms, who regularly voices his concerns at council, was one of the first to speak during the public question period, criticizing members of Council for not doing their jobs to represent the people of Orangeville.

“[We] deserve to have a council that approaches their duties in a professional manner,” he said.

“Many of our councillors have been acting immature, bringing forward situations that are not in the best interest of the town. Thank goodness for Town staff, who have demonstrated a professional approach, despite the less than desirable conditions presented to them by Council.”

He added that most residents recognize the need for having reserves for contingencies, but that there needs to be hard decisions made to look at cutting services or funding for options that are not helping the Town, such as the Tony Rose arena and an increased grant to Credit Valley Conservation.

“It’s a balancing act, doing what one can afford means controlling expenses if you’re going to put money aside ‘just in case’,” said Mr. Thoms. “Part of making these hard decisions should be to say no to increases that do not make sense.”

Following Mr. Thoms’ comments, Brydon Croft, a 13-year-old student in Orangeville also spoke, addressing the impact that continuous tax hikes have on youth and the future of the town.

“As the youth of the new generation, if taxes are raised, we will not be able to afford to live in this community any more as taxes are already very high,” Brydon said. “If we cannot afford to live here anymore, among many others, that’s less business for your town which means less business opportunities and less jobs, which means we go downhill and that’s very unfortunate.”

In a later interview, he said he felt he needed to speak to help Council understand that what they are doing will have a trickle effect down to the youth, particularly those about to start entering the workforce.

“I was trying to tell them that it’s not only adults who are affected by rates rising,” he said.

“I live with my grandparents, so I witness first-hand that high taxes do make a difference. Being 13 years old, I know I am not far from having to get a job and live on my own. With higher taxes brings higher rent, and that is just not acceptable.”

Several others also spoke during the question period about how these high taxes are impacting homeowners, and expressing concerns that the services the Town provides residents are not worth the constant increase in taxes. When Councillor Nick Garisto attempted to defend the Town regarding services, stating that the Town “does deliver some great services,” the gallery of over 50 residents burst out laughing.

Other speakers, among them Trevor Castiglione, criticized Council members for pursuing personal agendas, rather than representing the needs the residents, whom they represent, have brought to them.

“[This] is something that you need to all be paying more attention to – what the people of this town want, now what you think they should want,” said Mr. Castiglione. “I can’t afford to live in my home town anymore. You seem to all want to bicker like children in high school. Grow up. These people are sick of it.”

Despite the pleas of members of the community, councillors continued to argue throughout the meeting, and were unable to pass the operating budget from the Finance and Administration Committee meeting back to the regular Council meeting.

While Mayor Jeremy Williams brought forward a list of items staff had come up with to bring the Operations portion of the budget back to zero percent, several councillors took issue with the Mayor’s wanting to pass all the items as a whole, rather than examining each individually. Despite their concerns, however, the motion to decrease costs to those services was passed, leaving the reserves contributions to be debated.

“Our reserves should match the amount of our debt and we’re not there yet,” said Mayor Williams. “We could increase our reserves, or we could try to pay off our debt faster. I really feel that going up 4 percent to bolster our reserves isn’t necessary. It’s something that would be nice to have, but it’s not something we can afford. When we were almost at zero, the people were happy and I don’t see that anymore.”

A proposal from Councillor Don Kidd and Mayor Williams would have seen either $700,000 or $900,000 going into reserves as a compromise, to help the affordability. However Councillors Sylvia Bradley and Scott Wilson still felt it wasn’t enough.

“If we’re going to talk about the issue of affordability, it’s only $100 to the average household,” said Councillor Wilson. “That’s $2 a week. Most people have a mortgage that they pay weekly. I’m trying to give this whole discussion some perspective. You get many services where your lifestyle would be much eroded if we didn’t have them. I think the tax level in this town is reasonable for the services that we provide.”

While Mayor Williams admitted that he couldn’t disagree with a lot of what Councillor Wilson was saying, the bigger issue was how high the taxes already are.

“God help me from ‘it’s only’,” said Mayor Williams.

“The problem isn’t the $2 a week or $100 extra, it’s all the hundreds of thousands before the amount. It we were proposing that increase and our taxes were already at a fairly low rate, I wouldn’t have any problems with the increase. The problem is we’re already so high. This is one toad in water that is already hot enough.”

Without being able to reach a consensus, the meeting was called at 11 p.m., when staff were asked to bring back a presentation on the current numbers and figures of the budget to the next Finance and Administration Meeting, which will occur at 5:30 p.m. on March 23.

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