Even More Feedback on Milton Budget & Tax Levy

Continuing with some of the feedback I posted earlier last week, here is another letter to the editor of the Milton Canadian Champion in todays paper.

A re-do needed on Town budget

Dear Editor:

Milton council appears to be out of touch with the reality of today’s economy.

The country is in a recession, thousands of Canadians are unemployed, and citizens are still reeling from the introduction of the HST and hydro cost increases. And still Milton council feels increasing our property taxes at twice the rate of inflation represents good government. It doesn’t.

The Bank of Canada is projecting a 2 per cent inflation rate for 2011, which should represent the absolute limit for property tax increases this year. Town council needs to get back to work and have Town staff provide them with spending reductions that will keep the tax increases within the 2 per cent target.

These reductions should include, at a minimum, a freeze on the hiring of new employees, unfilled positions being left vacant and capital projects being reduced, as they eventually create ongoing operations and maintenance expenses. The Town should also be looking to contract out any services that it performs that can be more cost-effectively provided by the private sector.

The 1 per cent hospital tax levy should be rescinded. Ontario residents are already burdened with high Provincial taxes to support health care. The Town shouldn’t be creating a ‘stealth’ health-care tax  through our property taxes.

One of the more pleasant surprises I experienced when I moved to Milton over a decade ago was reasonable property taxes. To keep these taxes reasonable, council needs to recognize that prudent management of our tax dollars is expected of our elected members of council.

The budget for 2011 needs to be re-opened and spending reductions introduced to lower the Town portion of property taxes to a maximum 2 per cent increase.

Sean McCafferty, Milton

Committee Meetings

Tonight is the first of our “non-council” meetings throughout the year.  As I’ve mentioned here before, Milton Town Council is divided up into two standing committees (Community Services Standing Committee & Administration and Planning Standing Committee)  Half of council is on one and the other half is on the second with the Mayor sitting on both.  The Community Services Standing Committee consists of Regional Councillor Tony Lambert ( Wards 1, 6, 7 8 ) Local Councillors Greg Nelson (Ward 2), Local Councillor Rick Malboeuf (Ward 4), Local Councillor Arnold Huffman (Ward 5), Local Councillor Rick DiLorenzo (Ward7) and Mayor Gord Krantz.

The Community Services Standing Committee consists of the five Councillors and Mayor. Committee members review all reports, formulate policy and make recommendations to Council on matters over which Council has authority under the Municipal Act. These matters are related to Community Services, Fire, Library, Transit and other operational programs.

Our first meeting of the Community Services Standing Committee is tonight at town hall (7pm) and while I don’t sit on that committee, we do attend these meetings without a vote.  Council members are not required to be there but the standing tradition is that they attend when possible to provide any additional information and feedback from the community that other councillors might not have.

The agenda for tonights meeting is here.

One of the items on tonight’s agenda is the by-law to be passed regarding the 4th Line / Britannia Road intersection closure slated for March to April of 2011.  You can find the report here.

Some of the questions Ive received over the past couple of weeks that I had my posting on the blog was to find out if the traffic lights set for Britannia Road (during the closure, Britannia Road will be reduced to one lane instead of two) and if the temporary lights will be unmanned and / or timers set to accommodate morning/afternoon rush hour traffic.

I received an email from Joe Proietti at the Region of Halton who assured me the lights will be unmanned but set up on timers and those timers will be set to recognize the increased amount of east / west traffic through the mornings and afternoons on Britannia Road.  This isn’t the most ideal situation and hopefully the Region of Halton will complete their work as soon as possible during this time.

Its imperative that the traffic flow along Britannia Road not be hindered during this time as it just adds to confusion and frustration of drivers looking to leave and enter Milton during the day.

I’ll keep you posted during the meeting via Twitter for any other updates.  Thanks to everyone who sent me emails about this.

Feedback About 1% Tax Levy

From The Milton Canadian Champion – Letters to the Editor

Hospital levy should be rescinded; taxpayers engaged in discussion

Dear Editor:I read with interest the article in the January 20 Champion entitled ‘Hospital levy increases tax hike by 1%.’

Reporter Christina Commisso wrote that in a 6-5 vote Milton council approved a 3.58 per cent tax increase, plus an unprecedented 1 per cent tax surcharge to help fund the possible future expansion of Milton District Hospital.

Any 6-5 decision is a bad decision, and this one is no exception.

It’s little wonder that Mayor Gord Krantz and councillors Mike Cluett, Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson and Rick Malboeuf didn’t support the 2011 budget. The 4.58 per cent tax hike is more than twice the 2 per cent inflation rate estimated for 2011 by the Bank of Canada. The 2010 inflation rate was 1.7 per cent.

Worse, monies will be set aside for a hospital expansion that isn’t even in the Province of Ontario’s current health infrastructure plan.

Our community’s ability to absorb a 3.58 per cent tax hike, let alone a 4.58 per cent tax increase with a hospital surcharge, is doubtful.

We’re in tough economic times and seniors on fixed incomes, young families with mortgages and local manufacturers and retailers that create jobs and drive municipal assessment revenues are all at risk.

Very few will see business revenues or personal incomes rise 3.58 or 4.58 per cent this year.

A re-do is in order.

Re-open the operating budget and reduce it to inflationary levels.

It’s time to rescind the unprecedented hospital surcharge and engage taxpayers in an open discussion about its future.

Council should also request Queen’s Park to immediately include the hospital expansion in its health infrastructure planning and require  it be funded through a public-private partnership, rather than using municipal property taxes.

John Challinor, Milton

Also…

Hospital tax levy tough to swallow

Dear Editor:This letter is in response to the 1 per cent tax levy approved by council for the hospital expansion.

At the time of planning for growth, where on the list of priorities was the expansion of Milton District Hospital? This should have been a top priority. How is the hospital supposed to cope with this new growth?

We already pay taxes to the Province for hospitals. Could money the Town gets from the Mohawk slots not go toward the hospital fund?

To me, there has been some poor planning shown by our governments.

Cecilia Thorpe, Milton

Milton Town Budget Barely Passes

From Christina Commisso, Milton Canadian Champion

Town budget barely passes

Council divided in approving Milton budget that will see municipal taxes rise by 4.58%

The 11 members of council spent little time discussing the increase during Monday’s marathon meeting, which saw only six of 11 councillors vote in favour of the controversial budget. Much of the divide and discussion came down to a 1 per cent tax levy that will establish a hospital expansion reserve fund.

Though Milton continues to enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the GTA, the 4.58 per cent increase was still too much for some councillors, including Milton’s mayor, to swallow.

“You’re always going to get differences, but a council split down the middle doesn’t send a very good message to the community and it doesn’t show a lot of confidence,” said Mayor Gord Krantz. “It sends a message that a lot of people are not comfortable with what’s going on. I hope it’s not a prelude of things to come.”

Voting against the budget were Krantz and councillors Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson, Rick Malboeuf and Mike Cluett. Voting for the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.

The increase isn’t nearly as steep as staff previously predicted was necessary, when an initial budget report suggested a levy of close to 7 per cent was needed. The report presented to the budget committee last week showed a 5.72 per cent levy, with options to bring that amount down to 2.08 per cent.

While a lot of Town Hall’s priorities were set during the previous council term, newly elected and returning councillors did make some slight changes to bring the increase closer to the rate of inflation. A $100,000 bike lane implementation program was reduced to $50,000 to be spread out over four years. The opening of the Milton Centre for the Arts and the new main library was delayed from April to June and a snowplow advertising campaign was eliminated from the budget.

The changes saved about $143,000.

The Town’s $164.2 million budget includes 80 infrastructure projects that total $85.6 million. The capital budget was largely influenced by eight multi-year projects pre-approved in 2010, which include the Main Street grade separation and several new facilities that should be operational by the year’s end.

On a $350,000 home, the 4.58 per cent increase translates to a $40.70 increase in the urban area and $34.05 for rural homes.

Combined with the regional, local and educational components of residential taxes, which account for 44 per cent, 29 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, Miltonians are looking at an overall tax increase of 2.2 per cent in the urban area ($19.41/$100,000 of assessed value) and 2.09 per cent in the rural area ($17.48/$100,000 of assessed value).