Tax­ing times: Ratepay­ers de­serve stress re­lief

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]­gar­

With the ar­rival of tax bills, ratepay­ers’ pa­tience and bank ac­counts are be­ing taxed as they strug­gle to digest and pay their in­voices. For those with cal­cu­lat­ing minds, high frus­tra­tion thresh­olds and lots of time on their hands, fig­ur­ing out how their as­sess­ments and tax class trans­late into a to­tal is as sim­ple as punch­ing in a few num­bers on a cal­cu­la­tor.

How­ever, many other tax­pay­ers merely pay their bills with­out even at­tempt­ing to un­der­stood the charges, which al­ways seem to in­crease, year af­ter year.

Suf­fice to say most of the tax dol­lars ru­ral res­i­dents pay to their town­ships end up be­ing spent on roads. The handy and colour­ful pie chart that ac­com­pa­nies the North Glen­garry no­tices shows that 42 per cent of North Glen­gar­ri­ans’ taxes go to the United Coun­ties of Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry, 39 per cent to the town­ship and 19 per cent to school boards. The town­ship spends 43 per cent of its bud­get on roads, bridges and snow re­moval; at the coun­ties, roads ac­count for 51 per cent of the ex­penses.

Waste man­age­ment, recre­ation, po­lice, am­bu­lance and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment all take chunks of the pie.

We def­i­nitely do not want to add any more costs to al­ready heavy bur­dens.

How­ever, it would be use­ful if some new items could be added to the litany of ex­penses, or “in­vest­ments,” as govern­ment spin doc­tors like to call them.

When the 2020 bud­gets are be­ing drawn up, num­ber crunch­ers and bean coun­ters should be ad­vised to find some money in the cof­fers to cre­ate a We Are Fed Up With Be­ing Over­taxed (WAFUWBO) fund.

Say that aloud real quickly and it makes as much sense as North Glen­garry’s re­cy­cling sched­ule.

This spe­cial WAFUWBO al­lo­ca­tion could serve many pur­poses. In or­der to help tax­pay­ers safely vent their anger, this en­ve­lope could sub­si­dize the pur­chase of large punch­ing bags for irate ratepay­ers. Or mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties could of­fer dis­counts on cannabis, to per­mit poor prop­erty own­ers to take off some of the “edge” as they won­der how their tax bill has risen while fi­nan­cial re­serves have shrunk. Free yoga lessons, primeval scream and re­lax­ation cour­ses could be or­ga­nized.

The need for a wide-scale, col­lec­tive tax­payer men­tal health break be­comes more acute with the pas­sage of every day and an­other On­tario govern­ment aus­ter­ity mea­sure.

Since our rep­re­sen­ta­tives are cog­nizant of our con­cerns, they will un­doubt­edly re­lay our angst when they con­vene with the pow­ers that be at the Au­gust On­tario As­so­ci­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties con­ven­tion in Ottawa.

With the theme “Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties: On­tario’s Front­line,” the meet­ings are a must for mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials who will be seek­ing qual­ity face time with the peo­ple at Queen’s Park, those who es­sen­tially de­ter­mine the fu­ture of our com­mu­ni­ties.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties rely heav­ily on provin­cial money, funds that are

be­com­ing scarcer as the year-old Govern­ment For The Peo­ple forges ahead with its cost-cut­ting man­date. The govern­ment is not com­pletely tone deaf. For ex­am­ple, Premier Doug Ford re­cently backed down on plans to dras­ti­cally cut mu­nic­i­pal funds af­ter big city may­ors protested that the re­duc­tions came down af­ter bud­gets had al­ready been adopted.

In a mes­sage to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the Premier re­called that he was elected to bal­ance the books, save money and res­cue the prov­ince from fi­nan­cial ruin.

“Hav­ing spent time at the city level I also un­der­stand that, with mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets al­ready set for the 2019-20 fis­cal year, our part­ners need to have flex­i­bil­ity to achieve those savings,” he wrote.

Thus, “af­ter lis­ten­ing to the con­cerns of our part­ners,” the prov­ince agreed to de­fer chops in funds for am­bu­lance, public health and child care ser­vices for one year.

The idea is that “as part­ners, On­tario’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties will use the ad­di­tional time to work with the Govern­ment of On­tario to trans­form crit­i­cal shared public ser­vices and find the ef­fi­cien­cies that will en­sure their sus­tain­abil­ity.”

The mantra is that “every govern­ment needs to step up and do its part; there is only one tax­payer, and the job of find­ing savings while pro­tect­ing core ser­vices rests with every elected of­fi­cial in On­tario.”

Elected of­fi­cials would note that they are con­stantly try­ing to save money while pro­tect­ing essen­tial ser­vices.

The govern­ment that is clos­est to the peo­ple of­ten does not get a lot of re­spect.

In­ter­est­ingly, one of the AMO ses­sions, “Com­mu­ni­ca­tions 101 for Elected Of­fi­cials,” will cover “gen­eral the­ory on why me­dia is im­por­tant; the dif­fer­ent types of me­dia; the chang­ing me­dia land­scape; what makes news and why; in­ter­view prepa­ra­tion and how to an­swer ques­tions well; and how to de­liver strong photo and video mes­sages.”

Del­e­gates will be also be busy tackling sub­jects such as the plan­ning process, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, blue boxes, polic­ing, wa­ter tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tions and recre­ational cannabis.

Weed con­trol

The pot file con­tin­ues to be hazy. Many On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are draft­ing zon­ing amend­ments in re­sponse to the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational weed. Cannabis pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing, cul­ti­va­tion and use will all have to be ad­dressed in reg­u­la­tions of this “agri­cul­tural” prod­uct.

Every elected of­fi­cial is prob­a­bly feel­ing pres­sure af­ter be­ing given a year to pull off what seems to be an im­pos­si­ble task -- cut costs with­out af­fect­ing ser­vices.

There will some dif­fi­cult and un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions to be made when the 2020 bud­get.

And by that time, the con­cept of a WAFUWBO fund may not seem all that far-fetched.

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