Devolin prepared to be judged by public
As Minden Hills councillors passed the township’s 2018 budget last week, Mayor Brent Devolin said he was prepared to be judged by the public regarding its contents.
Council passed the budget, which includes a tax levy increase of 8.6 per cent over last year during a March 8 meeting.
Most of that increase will be directed to the roads department budget and the budget for the environment and property operations department, after the township received two clean-up orders for the Scotch Line landfill from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change last year.
As treasurer and chief administrative officer Lorrie Blanchard explained using some examples, the levy increase does not mean residents’ individual property taxes will increase by 8.6 per cent.
“I did pull some properties, and these are actual properties that I pulled from the roll,” Blanchard said, explaining she had applied the Minden Hills, Haliburton County and school board tax rates, along with any increases in assessment, to the subject properties.
As Blanchard explained, if one was to think of one’s total property tax bill in terms of a pie chart, for residential properties, approximately 50 per cent of that pie would be comprised by Minden Hills taxation, and approximately 25 per cent by each of the upper tier of Haliburton County and the school board.
This year, the county tax rate is increasing by just less than three per cent, and the school board tax rate is actually dropping.
Blanchard said for two, non-waterfront residential properties she’d done calculations for, one would see property taxes increase by 3.26 per cent, another 2.73 per cent.
For two waterfront residential properties, the increases were 4.75 per cent and 1.90 per cent, respectively, with the latter property seeing no increase in assessment.
For two commercial properties located in Minden, the increases were 2.07 per cent and 5.75 per cent, respectively.
“I just wanted to share that, if it sets your mind at a little bit better comfort level,” Blanchard told members of council.
Councillor Jeanne Anthon called the budget a brave one in an election year, and, in a prepared statement, explained why she thought the tax increase was necessary.
“I joined the rest of council in deliberating long and hard and agonizing over this budget and I completely understand the implication for taxpayers and regret that a tax hike is necessary, but it is necessary,” Anthon said. “I feel this budget is the culmination of three and half years' work by this council and staff and we've done our due diligence in finalizing this budget. This council was entrusted with public funds to make decisions for the long term and we've invested much time, commitment and taxpayers' dollars to this long-term planning. We paid for a new asset management plan to not only fulfill the provincial government's regulations, but we recognize that the assets of this community deserve an intelligent, thoughtful oversight and administration. And similarly, we've invested in a 25-year-plan for our landfill operations, roads needs study, municipal economic development plan and we shortly expect to have access to a community improvement plan.”
Anthon noted the township had recently received a complimentary report from its auditing firm, KPMG.
“So we know we're on the right track,” she said.
Anthon also questioned why council would invest in expensive plans, if it was not going to act on the recommendations laid out in those plans.
“So let me call this a brave budget,” Anthon said. “The politicians around this table who will seek re-election know they risk criticism and even rejection over a tax hike. The public needs to understand municipal governments must not be self-serving when they make decisions for the betterment of our public. So I'm excited to see the culmination of our three and half years' work finally becoming a realization, with the new fire hall, arena and potential new downtown project, landfill improvements, emergency preparedness improvements, another housing development around the community centre area, to name a few.”
Deputy Mayor Cheryl Murdoch spoke about why she thought the increase was necessary, saying that if it didn't happen now, there would be even larger increases down the line.
“I'll repeat what I've said over and over again,” Murdoch said. “Are we going forward, or are we going backward? We need the percentage to maintain services and if we don't do that, in my opinion, we're going backwards.And if we want to attract more people to come to this area, more businesses to come to this area, they don't come places that are going backwards or not developing something new. So, yes, it's a big percentage, but as far as I'm concerned, if we don't do this now, the next council will have to look at probably a double-digit increase.”
Both the roads projects and landfill work laid out in the budget must be completed, the deputy mayor said.
“The roads need to be maintained, everybody uses them and the've got some serious problems that need to be fixed,” Murdoch said. “The landfill is dictated by the ministry. If we don't clean it up to specs, they'll close it, and then you will find out exactly how expensive it will be to have our garbage shipped some place else. These are things that must be done.”
Councillor Pam Sayne has been critical of the budget, saying she thinks the increase will be too large for some residents to sustain.
“People know that I'm not happy about an 8.6 per cent increase and I do appreciate what everybody has said and I don't disagree with anything anybody has said here,” Sayne said. “And I appreciate also Lorrie putting that into a perspective. I think this 8.6 per cent, however, I have a little bit of a different take on how we got here and that has to do with what we've done over the last few years. I think we tried to build and grow faster than our community can afford.”
Sayne brought up the new fire hall, and how council had proceeded with the project after receiving only one quote, as an example of something that could have been done differently.
“I'm really pleased that the school board levy is down, because that makes it less of a hit for our people,” she added.
In a recorded vote, Sayne voted against the bylaw to adopt the revenues and expenditures for the year.
For his part, Devolin acknowledged the budget may not be popular with everyone, explained why he thought it was necessary, and said he was ready to be judged by residents.
“I think that it's a wiser, longer-term investment and I would agree with Councillor Anthon, it's a bold move and I'm prepared to be judged by the public,” he said. “Today, and as we go forward, this was, from our perspective, a wise, future investment.”
Devolin acknowledged there had been some disagreement at the council table, which he said wasn't a bad thing.
“Do we have a divergence of opinion?” he said. “And that's fine. It makes us think and look again . . . so in that sense, it made for the best outcome, given the circumstances.”
During a public question period at the end of the meeting, a man identifying himself only as “a taxpayer” rose to speak.
“I have no problem with budgets I have no problems with, every year, taxes do go up. However, 8.6 is unheard of in this municipality,” he said.
“Do you have a question, sir?” Devolin asked.
“Don't cut me off, because I'd like to get this off my chest, and I have that right,” the man said. “Half of the budget [tax levy increase] is due to environmental mishaps and missteps by the council. I don't feel the taxpayer should be paying four per cent of the 8.6 per cent . . . for mistakes. We know what they are. We got the MOECC orders, and nothing was done about it. And I don't think it's fair to the taxpayer . . . for mistakes by the town, running the environmental aspect of it, which is Scotch Line, is not the fault of the taxpayer. It's incorrect. If this was the private sector, the people that made those mistakes would be out of work, with cause, and you know that.”