Its a message we hear from many Milton residents throughout the year and especially around election time. The next municipal election is to be held on October 27, 2014 in case you are wondering.
In a recent letter to the editor, one of my council colleagues brought up some concerns about spending at the local level of government. You can find his letter here.
In a recent edition of the Milton Canadian Champion another resident expressed their views in agreement with council working towards keeping taxes as low as possible. Milton does have the lowest tax rate in the GTA but over the last many years, the current and previous councils has been unable to keep the rate of increase in spending at or below the rate of inflation.
I’ve long been a supporter of the concept in keeping any increases at that level. Long before I became a town councillor, I have talked about responsible tax increases if needed and made it part of my election campaign to vote against any increases in spending over the rate of inflation. Sadly, I have not been able to support any budget since being elected. It will continue to be my focus in the coming years & elections to keep the increases manageable. To me its about affordability of living in Milton. We continue to grow our residential tax base but still seem to dip into the pockets of taxpayers each year.
I don’t want to re-hash the budget debate of 2013, which saw our council approve an increase of 3.04% and as some saw on my Twitter feed, I posted my tax bill that has increased close to $100 for 2013. Yes, property values did increase through MPAC assessments and those increases will be phased in over a few years, but to me $100 is a big hit to the household budget.
There are perceptions that Milton is a “rich” town. While the average household income of Milton families does increase, so do their expenses and the cost of living. Gas prices, water rates, and the cost of food hit us all.
But getting back to this past budget, we had an opportunity to have our increase roughly around 2.0-2.25% but there were 3 additions to the budget that pushed it to the 3.0% level. The first one was to introduce Saturday transit service. While many of my regular readers know I do support having a transit system in town as we continue to grow in population and with the hopeful addition of a Laurier University campus at the Milton Education Village, the need for transit will grow.
I outlined in a previous post that the numbers do not support the addition of Saturday service…yet. We will be receiving the 2013 Milton Transit Master Plan later this month at a council meeting that will provide details and projected growth in our transit system for the next 5 years. However, at the time we were discussing the budget, we didn’t have this information. Despite objections of a few council members including Councillor Malboeuf and myself, council approved the Saturday service (cost of approximately $80,000 for September to December 2013) which means roughly $240,000 per year starting in 2014. This didn’t need to be approved as of yet and could have saved Milton taxpayers money.
Another item that was included in the budget was a change in parking bylaw times from 3 hours to 5 hours. Every poll that was completed online and speaking with residents themselves during this discussion, I found that it was almost a 50/50 split on whether we stick with 3 hr limits or go to 5hr. Of those that approved of the change to 5 hr’s many of you said it yes as long as it didn’t increase costs. Well it did increase costs to roughly $65,000 per year for these changes. Scheduling had to be changed to incorporate the shifts of the workers and extra signage as well. Another cost that didn’t have to be implemented in 2013 or even ever. Staff reports clearly said this would cost money and didn’t keep with the rest of the GTA municipalities that currently have 3 hr parking limits and are making it work.
Finally as Clr Malbouef outlined in the letter there was the $100,000 infrastructure renewal fund that was approved on the day of the budget meeting. Combining these three initiatives pushed the increase to 3.04% and to a point where I couldn’t support the budget. I did find it interesting however, that Clr Lambert, who voted in favour of two of the three ventures during budget discussions and when it came time to approve the the full budget, voted against it saying the rate of increase was too high. If he didn’t support those two items, the rate of increase would have been lower and possibly more acceptable to taxpayers. To me, it is a bit hypocritical to say one thing and do another to appease taxpayers come election time.
I’ve already stated my intentions to seek the position of regional councillor for wards 1, 6, 7 & 8 in the next election. I find that there is a lack of leadership at both the local level and at the Region of Halton in these wards and with the many changes Milton will be facing in the coming years, we need to ensure there is a strong, effective voice at both the Town of Milton and the Region of Halton to fill this void. Milton only has 3 voices around the Region table and as we continue to grow in size we need to maximize the quality of those voices when it comes to the needs of Milton taxpayers.
That being said I would encourage the taxpayers of Milton to contact the members of council who supported the increase in taxes over the last 2 budgets and hopefully as we move closer to election time in 2014 the message will be loud and clear….keep taxes low.