Editorial: Inflation is not the whole picture

The budget process for many municipalities across the province has seen a wide spectrum of increases, most of which are blamed on inflation and supply chain issues. While those excuses have some validity, they are not the full picture. In many budgets, it was not just an unwillingness to make tough choices and find savings that has prompted high tax increases: there was a willingness by staff and elected officials to take more than what is needed.

In SDG Counties, there was an opportunity to lower its planned 4.36 per cent tax increase for residents, but council failed to seize it. During its January 15 meeting, SDG council approved a bridge project tender that was $800,000 lower than what was budgeted. Those “savings” will now go into other roads projects that were not in the 2024 budget. While it is understandable that SDG’s transportation department wants to get more work completed sooner, council had an opportunity to provide taxpayers some relief.

SDG Counties’ budget was passed in principle, meaning it is not set in stone. The budget and taxation bylaws have not yet been approved; tax bills have not yet been sent out to residents. There was, and still is, time to adjust the budget and eliminate the extra $800,000 tax increase, which would take almost 1.5 per cent off the planned tax rate, bringing it in line with current inflation rates. While Canada’s inflation rate has dropped from record highs last year, it remains between 3.1 and 3.4 per cent. SDG council chose to ignore those residents who will struggle this year with paying their property taxes, all with the goal of having “the best county roads in Ontario.” What good is it to have the best roads, if residents cannot afford to drive on them.

On a smaller scale, but no less important, South Dundas made similar errors in its budget process. During its budget deliberations last week, council opted to roll approximately $13,000 of unspent grants and donations from 2023 into this year’s budget. This was not to offset a tax increase, but to give away even more tax money. While support to area organizations and events like Canada Day, Harvest Fest and Apple Fest are important, partially funding an employed position at a community organization for $15,000 is an inappropriate use of these funds. As is providing funds to any event that charges admission. Council does get credit for spending on repairing a vehicle rather than replacing that vehicle. However, other more expensive capital purchases like a backhoe and a plow truck merited little discussion during deliberations. Could or should those have been deferred for a year – we will never know.

If the inflation rate is used as an excuse for raising taxes, it stands to reason that elected officials and staff should make every effort to keep their spending within that same inflation rate. To stop at less shows the disconnect between unelected staff, municipal leaders and the people who voted those leaders into office.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news in your community by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.

Subscribe to Email Alerts

Enter your email address to subscribe to Email Alerts and receive notifications of new posts by email whenever The Leader publishes new content on our website.