Rather than being straightforward the last Council meeting of 2016 contained two surprises.
After two months of negotiation and compromise an agreement, supported by most Councillors, had been reached on the 2017 budget. The only step left was final approval.
Councillors Sleeth and Roberts withdrew their support just before the vote at the December 20 meeting. They questioned one of the first items all Councillors agreed to back in October: to roll the sanitation charge into the overall tax levy. The proposed budget lost on a tie vote: once again illustrating that ‘it is not over until it is over’.
Rolling the sanitation charge into the general tax levy would make the Municipal Taxes slightly fairer. 70% of township properties, the lower valued properties, would see slightly smaller increases in their taxes, the other 30% would see a slightly larger increase.
The sanitation charge has long since lost any relationship to the actual costs of recycling and waste management. Rolling those costs into the general levy, like any other service, puts greater pressure on waste management to be as effective as possible.
Rather than starting 2017 implementing the new budget, staff is now redrafting new proposals for consideration.
The other surprise was a motion to review our rules of procedure. We had just completed a review of this bylaw a year ago.
The motivation for the review raises a few questions. The intention seems to be to limit the issues that Councillors can discuss with constituents.
There are already some clear limits on this interaction. Councillors are prohibited from releasing information raised in a closed meeting. This restriction applies to a small number of issues set by provincial law. All other items must be discussed in public.
Similarly, Councillors, unless specifically designated to do so, are not permitted to negotiate on behalf of the Township; nor can they direct staff. Most of these restrictions make common sense and are already part of our legal framework.
Further restrictions limiting general discussions between residents and Councillors would be going against more openness and accountability. It may also be a violation of Canada’s charter rights.
One common, and accurate, criticism of our democracy is that staff and politicians make too many decisions without properly considering residents concerns. This undemocratic practice is based in an out-of-date way of doing Township business. It assumes that accountability simply involves voting. After the election, according to this opinion, Councillors and staff know best. They should just get on with making decisions: the less public interference the better.
Most residents want more accountability and involvement. This is what makes a vibrant democracy. This Council has made some progress with improvements in notice requirements and public involvement. But more needs to be done. New restrictions will not help.
Filling Councillor Robinson’s Seat
As many of you know Councillor Bill Robinson, from Portland District, passed away in December. On January 10, Council will consider how to fill the position. There are two main options. One is that Council can appoint a new Councillor. The other is to hold a by-election.
A by-election would be the most democratic. There are almost two years left in this term of Council and the residents should get to decide on who represents them. The arguments against holding a by-election are that the term is over half over and the cost is significant. I am interested in your comments, should we appoint or hold a by-election?
2017 is the 150th anniversary of our beloved Country. I hope you will be able to participate in the many celebrations.
I wish you, your family and friends a very happy new year. I look forward to working with you to make our part of Canada a better place. See you around the Township.