It was a small but feisty crowd at the Meaford & St. Vincent Community Centre on Wednesday night (December 4) when just 15 residents attended the final public input session for the proposed 2014 municipal budget.
Municipal staff had placed 120 chairs in the community centre, however the number of councillors and staff present roughly matched the audience with only Councillor Mike Poetker unable to attend the meeting.
In 2010 Meaford increased municipal taxes by 16.6 percent, followed by increases of 15.9 percent in 2011, 11.4 percent in 2012, and 9.7 percent in 2013. All of those increased were softened by a lack of significant increases by Grey County and the school boards over the course of those four years, which allowed the overall blended rate increases from 2010 to 2013 to come in under the five percent blended rate increases approved under the much debated five-year plan. At the request of Mayor Francis Richardson, earlier this year council voted in favour of abandoning the five-year plan a year early and staff was directed to produce a budget with a maximum increase of two percent to the municipal operating budget for 2014.
While the audience may have been small in numbers, they brought with them a large number of concerns with regard to the proposed budget - which Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told the audience that the 1.99 percent increase in the municipal portion of the overall property tax bill would result in a 1.28 percent overall blended rate increase on ratepayers' 2014 tax bills.
That increase would amount to approximately $32 for the average single family home in 2014.
The proposed increase is a drastic shift from the last four years.
The ratepayers who attended the meeting though, were not nearly as impressed with the budget or the relatively low tax increase proposed for 2014.
Several residents took the opportunity to express frustration with yet another property tax increase in a community composed of an ever growing population of retirees on fixed incomes, who residents say are now facing the reality of being unable to pay their inflated tax bills.
Suggestions offered to council by residents at the meeting included making significant cuts to municipal staff, cutting services – though which services should be cut was a subject of debate amongst those in attendance with some desiring further cuts to the museum budget which has already been reduced by 20 percent in the proposed budget, while others suggested that money spent by the municipality on harbour operations and a host of community and cultural facilities and services could be cut in order to produce a budget with a tax reduction.
Councillors will now reflect on comments of residents collected during the three public input sessions (the two other public input sessions were held in November in Woodford and Bognor) before voting on the proposed budget on December 9.