Taxing times: Ratepayers deserve stress relief
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.
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.