I am not going to write up a summary of just how horrible 2020 was for most people on planet Earth nor try to remind you all of how challenging it has been, and continues to be on our residents. The municipality managed to keep major projects like the King Street rejuvenation on-time and on-budget as well as maintain all of the services that you’ve come to expect we could in the ever-changing landscape of public health rules and guidelines that put limits and restrictions on all of us.
We move into budget 2021 discussions over the next couple months, far later than I and many others would have liked to see, but there were compelling reasons for the delay this year.
I have followed other municipalities around the Province through their budgeting exercises and watched many find ways to curtail spending in 2021 to achieve a 0% tax rate increase (for the municipality’s portion). The cost of living has increased. Union wages bargained through collective agreements have increased. Rate-based services like sewer and water pay for those vital services and help maintain the delivery systems and tuck money away for the many upgrades on the near and distant horizon.
That being said, many people’s lives and finances have been seriously impacted by the pandemic and I just cannot see any reason why we, as your municipality’s stewards of your tax money, can’t find enough savings to hold back increases for 2021. It will be deferral and not wholesale elimination. Costs for services only increase over time. If our staff can refine the priority list and we do “essentials only” for 2021 and perhaps even into 2022, we can find the savings necessary to hold the line on tax increases long enough to put this pandemic behind us and let people’s economic futures recover to some degree or another.
Yes, we have had substantial financial assistance from upper tiers of government that have, to a large degree, offset our losses in 2020, but that is no reason to budget for 2021 as if 2020 were just another year.
We have some serious challenges ahead, including capital projects for our infrastructure and in many cases, we have liability for simply ignoring some issues are arguing that we simply lack the ability to pay for them right now. For many costs, the “show must go on”.
That being said, other municipalities face the same kinds of challenges and they have been able to defer tax increases for 2021. My challenge to our staff and Council will be to follow suit and take an even more critical review than the ones we have done in years past and find a way to keep the lights on, the core services in place and forgo anything that we can agree is not absolutely imperative for 2021 to achieve the tax relief needed so badly by our residents.
For those who have the means to pay more than they did last year, I would welcome those extra contributions to the treasury, but my goal is to work with staff and Council to refine our 2021 list to the point where we can hold the line at last year’s spending, or perhaps even decrease it.
Yes, we have reserves, but drawing on those in 2021, for anything other than bare essentials, should be the last resort. I will be asking all departments, boards, corporations, committees and their teams to do more with less this year and hope to find that support with my peers.
Please continue to communicate with your Councillors and share your thoughts. We are your voice at the table.