Editorial – Budget time is a time for restraint

Disharmonious to the holiday season upon us, municipal governments across the region are beginning budget deliberations. If the draft budget released by SDG Counties this week is any indication, taxpayers are not going to like what they find in their stockings.

The starting point for SDG Counties’ budget is a proposed 5.49 per cent tax increase for property owners. That is without funding for $240,000 of donation requests. The size of counties government has grown with more hiring in the last year and more projects proposed. There are a number of necessary infrastructure projects. Over 50 per cent of the SDG budget is allocated to transportation (roads), but other files are weighing on the municipal bottom line. Land ambulance and subsidized housing costs – both of which partly address important issues to the region – add to this proposed increase. Inflationary increases, which significantly impacted municipal budgets in 2023, will overwhelm those budgets in 2024 if a modicum of restraint is not exercised.

There are many more hits to come. South Dundas’ municipal budget will be deliberated in early 2024. The 2023 budget set a target of a 5.5 per cent property tax increase, which council was “content” with. Many property owners were not content with this increase, and that was last year. The effects of much higher interest rates, an economic slowdown, and inflation still sitting at a rate double to that of the Bank of Canada’s target “two per cent” means many property owners do not want to see high tax increases under the Christmas Tree. Perhaps that is why South Dundas council is moving its planned December deliberations into the new year, so as not to sour ones egg nog during the joyous season.

While some of the municipalities that comprise SDG are experiencing phenomenal growth to their tax base (residential, commercial, industrial) – South Dundas is not on that list. A projected 0.2 per cent residential growth rate for the next 15 years and possibly 500 fewer jobs in the municipality in that same time mean that the residents and businesses here now must shoulder current and future costs. Right now, there is not enough growth to pay for unfettered budgetary growth. Just as there should be restraint shown at SDG Counties in their budget deliberations, South Dundas council and staff must show restraint to keep potential tax increases minimal.

What does restraint look like? Simply put – it means doing more with less. Reduce costs where they will have the least impact on the most number of residents. Repair, rather than replace, assets as needed to get by. Council and staff must prioritize the ‘need to haves’ rather than the ‘nice to haves’ to minimize the economic impact the municipal budget will have. Restraint does not mean having to say ‘no’ to everything. It means only saying ‘yes’ to the right things. Saying yes to restraint is the best gift for taxpayers this holiday season.

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