The 2021 Budget
At the start of the 2021 budget process Council agreed that a reasonable tax increase would be 2% and all the discussions and recommendations respected that goal.
Some new initiatives, like a climate change fund, a lakes study program, a night shift for winter patrol and the Township taking over road-side mowing were agreed to. Numerous items, like the under-serviced gravel roads and high-speed internet were acknowledged and steps put in place to bring back a program for improvement.
The approach of regular smaller tax increases has worked well in the past six years. It has provided stability and predictability for residents, avoided big tax increases when large expenses are needed and helped stabilize the township’s finances and improve services.
Two weeks ago, in the dying minutes of a four-hour budget debate, some Councilors thought that we should reduce the tax increase to 1.5% to show residents that Council cared about the hardship caused by COVID.
What we know about the hardship caused by COVID is that it is unequal. The more well-off have, by in large, survived fairly well. Those who are hurting most are those with service sector jobs, lower pay, essential work where they have a higher risk of COVD exposure, and, a variety of small businesses and community organizations that have been either completely or partially shut down.
Council recognized the significant harms that many have suffered and put a quarter of a million dollars into the budget to target those people, business and organizations.
The surprise tax reduction of .5% would preferentially benefit those with more expensive properties: a million-dollar homeowner would get a 30 dollars tax decrease while someone who lives in a $200,000 house will only receive six dollars.
And what is the source of the money to fund the tax reduction? It comes from reserves, which is money set aside to provide needed services to the community.
It is money that could be spent on:
good reliable high-speed internet;
keeping dams from falling down and historic buildings from disintegrating; or
improving our recreational facilities.
There is an urgently needed 8–10-million-dollar upgrade on HWY 38 and Sunbury Road we will soon need an up-grade: both of which are seriously underfunded.
And, we have 300 kilometers of gravel roads that need improvement.
In a small way this last-minute change shifted resources to those that need it least and away from improving services. Neither of which will create a better Township.
I made a motion, seconded by Councilor Ruttan, that we return the tax increase to 2% and allocate that ninety-one thousand dollars to an enhanced gravel road drainage program.
The motion was defeated 7-2 with myself and Councilor Ruttan voting in favour.
While ninety-one thousand is not enough to fix the gravel problems it would have been a concrete indication that the Township is going to do something. Similarly, the .5% tax decrease will not significantly to our reserves, nor be particularly helpful to residents, but it indicated that long-term stable service provision may not be the first priority.
Download the 2021 Township budget:
At the last Public Services Committee meeting a list of the Township’s 140 gravel roads, about 300 kilometers in length, was presented prioritized by traffic count. The traffic counts are very uneven, both in which roads are done and how up-to-date they are. The lack of student placements due to COVID is part of the reason none were done last year.
Traffic counts should not be the only criteria prioritizing gravel roads. The extent and danger of the ill-repair, the number of full-time families and home density are other factors that could also be considered.
The gravel roads in Loughborough District with the highest traffic counts are: Frye, Maple Leaf, Freeman, Gould Lake, Billy Green, Eel Bay, Hidden Valley and Shales Road.
Staff have also been asked to include Gravel roads in the Township’s Asset Management Plan. Being included in the Asset Management plan is in important step to the regular allocation of upgrading funds.
Download the full list of gravel roads:
In the last month Council has sent letters of support for applications from WTC and Xplornet to the Universal Broadband Fund for new fiber and 5G wireless internet access in the Township. Community members have also proposed creating an internet hub at the Fermoy hall and a Facebook petition has asked Council to take broader action. Thanks to all who are working on improving this essential service.
There is a commitment to bring back, relatively quickly, further information on what Council can do and what is being done in the Township.