It is budget season for governments of all levels and while we have seen closed-door consultations at the upper levels of government, municipal councils have been debating local budgets publicly. During the recent SDG Counties budget deliberation, councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) used a phrase that should resonate throughout all budget discussions this year – compassionate budgeting.
Armstrong explained at the February 17th meeting that given the financial struggles many people are facing, keeping any tax reduction possible in the budget should be a priority. SDG staff proposed a 0.85 per cent tax rate reduction and council settled on a 0.74 per cent rate after discussion. Council is commended for not taking the standard two per cent increase cop-out that many other municipal councils continue to use. That said, there are still concerns with how tax money will be spent by the county.
Capital roads spending will continue as proposed, equipment replacement will continue as proposed, and staff hiring will continue as proposed. The tax rate decrease factors in the increase in property tax assessment values meaning the county will still get more money from taxpayers. So they carried on same as it ever was for spending. SDG has plentiful reserves built up, which is a clear indication that property owners have paid more tax than needed in past years. The fact that most of the five-year $6.5 million funding for the two long-term care home projects council committed to a year ago has now been collected shows that the county has plenty of our money in the bank.
Frivolous spending is a concern. Like the proposed “Date the County” marketing initiative. That plan, if it moves forward from the economic development department, would see the county pay some of the costs of a person or family moving to SDG to live, work, and play here. There would be a subsidy for certain expenses for the year, and in exchange the county gets a good case study for marketing. The problem with “thinking outside of the box” solutions is they have to be beneficial to those footing the bill.
Citizens of SDG already subsidize people to communicate about how great this county is to live, work and play in – the communications department. The county can get good press (media or online) by doing good things. Subsidizing someone to move to SDG to be a case-study to create news is redundant. It’s great for the person/family who is selected, they win the lottery. But it’s our lottery, funded by us.
Belt tightening, not spending, along with holding the line on tax increases is actual compassionate budgeting. SDG got it partly right. We hope that other municipalities learn from this and continue to do better this budget season.