A story in CollingwoodToday says the latest draft of the town budget puts a 4.25% increase on property taxes for 2024! WTF is council thinking, adding more costs to residents during a period of high inflation? People are already struggling with rising costs for food, electricity (the Saunderson-privatized EPCOR got a 5.23% rate hike this fall*), gas (vehicle and natural), water, clothing, mortgages, transit, lumber, vehicles, and just about everything else.
A property tax hike this size will send our already-steep rental prices soaring even more. This will be a huge burden to the most vulnerable residents: those working low-income jobs, seniors on fixed incomes, and people on disability pensions. But do you think our council gives a damn? Me, either.
Any claim this council cares about affordable housing will prove a blatant fabrication with this tax increase. They already waved their hands at the homelessness problem.
“This is a change from what we thought we were going to the public with,” said Coun. Kathy Jeffery.
A “change”? It would be a fucking lie from everyone on council who campaigned on fiscal restraint and responsibility. And, as I recall, that’s everyone at the table. In 2010-14, we had one — ONE! — tax hike in four years, and the average rate per year that term was 0.5%. Since then we’ve had a tax hike, as I recall, every year. The town’s operating budget has grown from $27 million in 2014 to a bloated $68.2 million as more and more staff get added to the payroll. Yet council keeps approving the budgets with higher and higher increases.
And let’s not forget: councillors themselves will get a hefty pay hike with every budget approval: Council gives themselves an automatic raise, tabled as a “cost of living allowance” (COLA) increase. So every year they raise our taxes, they pay themselves enough to mitigate any tax hike they foist on the rest of us. I believe council’s salary should have a deduction equal in percentage to any tax hike they pass.
In part, I suppose it’s because a mostly rookie that council seems willing to approve every staff request without offering any serious challenges or questions about the costs, including a business analyst ($98,000 plus benefits) and a part-time administrative assistant to the mayor and council ($50,000; remember that it was Saunderson’s Block — including Jeffrey and Doherty — who voted to eliminate that position a few years back).
Council has already approved a new website and “engagement portal” for $128,500, despite having a full-time IT staff with 5.3 people and a budget topping $1 million (WTF are they doing for that money?), and adding $224,000 to their “affordable housing reserve” — a hypocritical expense if ever there was one.** And the “Climate Change Specialist” position will be elevated from contract to a full-time position for an extra $15,000 a year. Why does a small town even need a full-time person in it?***
Staff recently added a “Georgian Bay Business Accelerator” expense at $120,000 (this seems a private-sector operation; I can find nothing to suggest it is a non-profit group) and a “Crossing Guard Policy” for an astounding $20,000 (a policy which, as a writer and former councillor, I suspect could be cut and pasted from other municipalities in an afternoon).
My suggestion: freeze all new hiring and send the budget back with instructions for staff to come back with no more than a 1% increase over 2023. It can be done — if council has the spine to stand up for residents.
Town hall has to stop treating Collingwood property owners like we’re just ATMs. Despite what some councillors think, money doesn’t come from a magic money fairy. Every tax hike makes this town less affordable; a more expensive playground for the rich and, of course, for well-paid municipal employees.
Collingwood deserves better.
* After 37 closed-door meetings with no public consultation or input, Saunderson and his Block of sycophants sold our public electricity utility to a for-profit corporation, EPCOR. However, in the secret deal, Collingwood never received the full amount: about $8 million was amortized over 25 years and is paid to the town in small amounts. See EPCOR’s financial statements. Our public utility, COLLUS/Powerstream paid an annual dividend to the town. EPCOR pays us nothing, but does pay the City of Edmonton more than $185 million a year. That’s where your money goes, thanks to Brian Saunderson‘s cabal. Had they kept our public utility, Collingwood would have received $3-$4 million in dividends from them by now.
** In an earlier post, I included a footnote about a Third-Street house that was left to the town, Habitat for Humanity, and Home Horizons to “help address homelessness in Collingwood,” as per the previous owner’s handwritten instructions. Instead of managing the property and caring for it, the town let it decay and it was sold (to be demolished). The funds are still tied up in court. Instead of donating the money to these organizations to help them build affordable housing, as would be the ethical thing to do, our greedy town will keep their share (after it pays the lawyers from it, of course) and stuff the money into the town’s bank account without making any effort to meet the request that it be used to help relieve local homelessness. Just shows how much town hall really cares about the problem. And how has council dealt with this? Right: by ignoring it. This just adds to my contention council is not serious about addressing affordable housing here, let alone homelessness.
*** As noted in CwoodToday:
The program includes a five-step milestone framework. The first step is creating an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, the second is setting a target to reduce the emissions, and the third is developing a plan to meet reduction targets. The fourth step is implementing the plan for greenhouse gas emission reduction and the final step is to monitor the impact of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Collingwood has completed the first three “milestones.”
If I understand it from the above, paperwork has been produced, but nothing has been implemented to actually reduce emissions, which means nothing has changed since 2021… but somehow there will be a 30% reduction by 2030. Has the town switched to any electric vehicles yet? Built any green roofs? Planted more trees? Created boulevard pollination gardens? I can’t find any evidence of it. On the negative side, the town PAVED a vacant downtown property instead of doing something that was actually climate-sensitive like planting greenery on it, basically giving the bird to any climate consideration.