21 Jul Let’s Talk About Taxes
I’m sure many of you have read in the St. Catharines Standard or listened to 610 CKTB, that on Monday, July 24, there is a motion being brought forward to reconsider the 2023 City of St. Catharines budget……..AGAIN.
Let me say that to reconsider a budget more than 7 months into the fiscal year – when over 40% of our budget has been spent – is beyond all logic.
The motion that is being brought forward by Councillors Kushner and Garcia is looking for the city to freeze all hiring starting in 2023 until 2026 and that before any position at the city can be filled it would have to be presented to and approved by the Budget Standing Committee. The money that is saved would then be rebated to residents or put into the Tax Stabilization Fund.
The notion that freezing staff hiring will result in huge savings is false. The savings will be $312,000 or about $4.41 on the average household.
A significant number of the new staff hirings are because of legislative requirements. We have to fill these positions – we would be breaking the law if we don’t.
The remaining are to maintain our current service levels, fill some much needed positions that were deferred during the pandemic and convert contract positions into full time permanent jobs that already exist at the city.
By freezing the hiring, we will impact our ability as a city to provide the services that residents expect and deserve and will likely result in overtime hours that will cost more than the ‘savings’.
Some of the services that could be impacted include: asset management, planning and building services, fire services, park maintenance, cemetery services, health and safety and bylaw enforcement.
If you watch the YouTube video you will see the councillors who are bringing the motion forward are the same ones who on budget night in January – asked staff to make cuts (3:10:27). Staff clearly stated that they were not in the position to make cuts – that it had to be a council decision. The Mayor gave them an opportunity at the meeting to look at the increases to the budget and make recommendations about what they would like to cut.(2:31:53) They refused to identify any cuts because they said they wouldn’t know where to make the cuts (2:36:25). The Mayor then went through a long list of where we could cut items from the budget (2:37:58). Not one councillor offered to list something that could be cut – they again asked staff to do it.
As the Mayor said on budget night, staff gave us a recommended budget and that if councillors wanted to make cuts – they would have to do it. No one made a single suggestion.
If I sound frustrated, I am. We as elected officials are asked to make decisions. Every council meeting we make decisions. Sometimes those decisions are easy but often they are difficult. The budget is – so far in my experience – a difficult decision. It’s one that often will make some people very upset.
The reality of the situation is that we are city that has over the last decade not had a significant increase in population. Our tax base has remained stagnet.
We have neglected or chosen not to pursue opportunities to find new revenue streams to lessen the burden on property owners.
We have chosen to not invest in new technologies and upgrade systems that would improve effciencies and help to improve service levels.
We have chosen to keep the tax increases artificially low by spending our reserve funds.
Is this finger pointing or blaming others? No. This is just where we are.
Please don’t think I’m being cavalier or don’t understand. Like everyone I pay property taxes and the impact of the increase is having an impact on me too. My business, like so many others, is still working to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Honestly am I happy about paying more tax? No. But I know that when professionals with many more years of experience and much greater knowledge come to me with information, provide sound and reasonable explainations – I listen to them. I ask questions. I listen to the answers. And then I make decisions. I stand by my decision.
These are difficult times. There are more on the way. The budget we passed will make sure that in the future we are better prepared to weather difficult times and make sure that our city will be healthy for generations to come.