A familiar story about Milton Taxes

Who says going on vacation reduces stress?  My family just came back from a wonderful trip to Newfoundland.  The weather was amazing with the sun shining down on us more often than the clouds with a cool breeze coming in off the Atlantic Ocean.  It was Anthony’s fourth trip out to the island and Miranda’s first.  Like a trooper, she handled the flight to and from perfectly and both Pat and I were amazed.  The vacation was well overdue and included an encounter with a Minke whale…up close while fishing.  It’s something that Anthony and I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

I’ve posted a few pictures of our trip on Facebook so click on, and request an add if you’re not already a friend.

While on vacation, I did take some time to go online to the Milton Canadian Champion and read up what was going on in our beloved town.  Unfortunately some stories didn’t surprise me.  And it has to do with taxes.

As I’ve discussed many times on this blog, council had decided to go the route of spending and taxing like no other municipality in the last few years.  Sure we are under the pressures of growth and we need funds to pay for things like infrastructure to keep us moving.  Ever since this new council has been elected, we as taxpayers have been subjected to year after year of tax increases.

2010 and 2011 are looking to be the same.

In this article published in the Champion July 31st, they discuss the proposed tax increase for Milton taxpayers in the range of 7.5% to 9.5%.  This means another increase of roughly $40 per household over $300,000.  It’s the same old story played out again and again and again with the same result.  Silence.

The argument you end up getting from council is that “its only $30 or $40”   My response is that if it’s only $30 or $40, then work at finding the savings somewhere.

The last council was elected in 2006 and from that point on taxes have gone up at an alarming rate.  2007 budget increased by 3.0%…2008 budget increase was 2.5%…2009 budget increase was 4.5%.  And now the town staff is recommending a 7.5% increase?

Many of you know that council has received 3 pay increases since taking office in 2007.  Salary for the local council position was approximately $21.000 in 2006 and they are now $28,000.  Benefits have increased and the costs of paying our local officials have increased as well.

As outlined in the article, the main reason for the increase is…salaries and benefits.

“Part of the forecasted increase for the next two years is due to the estimated $1.5 million in extra salary and benefits for existing employees, along with an estimated half million dollars for new employees, according to the 2009 budget documents.

The Town recently bargained three three-year agreements with unionized staff. The 29 unionized staff of the Town’s fire department will receive annual 3 per cent pay hikes this year and the next two years.”

The main reason for the increase is salaries and benefits.  There’s another city out there that is having severe financial issues due to problems with salaries and benefits…the City of Toronto.

I’m not sounding the alarm bells yet with Milton, don’t get me wrong.  We are not at that stage yet…far from it.  But if we don’t get a handle on the town purse soon, there will be issues.

Town Council has spent a lot of money in the last few years which includes a wasted investment of over $3 million dollars in Milton Transit.  Just imagine if they had been smarter and not spent that money.  If $ 1.5 million in increased salaries and benefits represents a majority of this tax increase, what could have $3 million dollars done?  We wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Council’s priorities are off.  They are not looking at the future impact of their decisions and if this lack of focus continues, we are going to be having more conversations like this in the future. 

Tax increases can be justified and most people grin and bear it.  Most people don’t have a problem with it if that increase makes sense.  The last 4 years of increases can’t be justified.  They simply haven’t been smart with their spending and don’t show any signs of improvement.

It’s just another $30 or $40.  Justify it then.

Milton Budget 2009

The Town of Milton has now posted links to the 2009 proposed budget as it promised last week.  Here is the link to the details.  I know it sounds “so interesting” (insert sarcasm here) but do take a few moments to at least skim over the details. 

Ill be providing some analysis soon as well and my thoughts of the spending priorities and if we can pressure the Town Council to pull back on their proposed 5.6 per cent tax increase.

http://milton.ca/townhall/townpublications/budgets.htm

The budget goes up for discussion at Town Hall on December 8th and 9th.  If anyone is looking at making a presentation to council they can contact the clerks office up until the day of the meeting at 10am.  If you want your voice and opinion heard, take some time and register to speak.  Council meetings are for everyone so head on down to town hall and speak out.

Talk about future tax increases

A number of friends have sent me an email to let me know a letter to the Milton Canadian Champion editorial department was printed in this Friday’s paper. Thanks to everyone who noticed.

The letter is pretty much word for word what my last posting talked about and I’ve received a number of emails from people all over the town supporting my thoughts. What seems to get me the most is that there doesnt seem to be a sense of urgency on council to say “hey…this is wrong. We need to fix this now!”

There hasn’t been many voices on council talking about this. After this story was printed I had expected to read a few responses from councillors around the table with their views on the potential increase. Nothing.

Another week passes…still nothing. Why is the question? Why wouldn’t these individuals, trusted by the votes of Milton residents for a four year period NOT want to say something? Why isn’t there any outrage or a showing of concern at the impact this potential (and some would say inevitable) tax increase on people in Milton.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that things aren’t going swimmingly for our economy, and those of our neighbours to the south the United States. Gas is at all time highs and bouncing up and down on a weekly basis, putting incredible pressure on our budgets. The cost of food is increasing for many items in the store which lead to a further tightening of the belts. It just seems no one cares. Its all going to work itself out and the council will accept whatever town staff dishes out.

Some councillors in the past like Paul Schere and Colin Best (among some others) have been very vocal about what council is doing with the budgets, spending and other programs. Where are the voices now?

Is this catastrophic? Will this lead us down into the depths of dispair? Not likely. From an email I received last week, I was told I was being a bit too melodramatic with the potential impact of high municipal tax increases. Not so, because the Town is just one portion of the tax bill.

Town Council seems to forget there are 2 other levels of municipal government that have been sharpening their pencils to take more money out of the ONE taxpayer. The Region of Halton is also projecting a tax INCREASE and school boards (both public and separate) are getting ready to do the same.

We are only one taxpayer. There are numerous levels of government lining up to take what they feel they need to do the business of the “people”. Governments at all levels tax, tax and tax, but they fail to remember its just one taxpayer.

As the cost of everything continues to go up, and confidence in the economy for the short and long term begin to wane…tax increases are going to be a further kick in the shins to people in Halton, Milton and across Canada.

It seems to be an exercise in futility but everyone needs to do what they can to let Milton Town Council know that more needs to be done. Tax increases are inevitable and I have never said there shouldnt be an increase. Common sense would say that government should live within its means as every other household has to. If a family cant afford something, it has to wait. Simple as that. Priorities have to be made and maintained. That simply isnt being done here.

There are a number of areas in the last few budgets that could have been put off until later so they can re-build reserves higher and save for the future. Milton needs more fire fighters. Thats a fact not in dispute. But the Town has to look at their priorities and see if it fits. If not, we wait. Hard pills to swallow but a fact is a fact. You cant do everything right away. It simply wont work.

Did we need almost $3 million dollars spent on brand new buses when the other ones were doing just fine? Again, Im not against a public transit system. Many of the readers of my blog know that as this town grows we NEED a reliable transit system for the future that needs to be properly maintained and kept an eye on. Once its in place, its a slippery slope to more money out the window. The last couple of budgets have proven that with the expenditures on these buses. Could they have waited? Perhaps. Maybe not. Perception of this is that Council merely rubber stamped it so they could expediate the 2 day budget process in December.

There needs to be more leadership on council. Some voices to say, this isnt right and we need to look at things more closely. If it means extending the budget approval process an extra day or go into the long hours of the evening debating line by line…then so be it. Thats what people elect their representatives to do, no matter what level of government.