Editorial: The fortitude to do more with less

Municipalities in Eastern Ontario have a financial problem – living within their means. This has been reported on by The Leader and many other news outlets. Record high tax increases to residents, high spending, all while municipal council after municipal council lack the intestinal fortitude needed to make tough choices.

As reported by The Leader, South Dundas has increased residential tax rates by a combined 11 per cent in the past two years. SDG Counties leaders characterized themselves as being “comfortable” with a 4.36 per cent tax increase this year. And this week, we report on North Dundas Township’s second draft of its budget, with a proposed 9.5 per cent tax increase! This level of increased taxation is not sustainable.

South Dundas has over 20 parks and 16 public-use municipal buildings. This does not include the two village plazas, water/wastewater facilities and public works infrastructure. While South Dundas has only one arena, and a splash pad, North Dundas has two arenas, two outdoor pools, and a similar number of parks and public buildings. Both Dundases are within 500 people of each other in population. This is an incredible amount of municipal infrastructure to support, and it is apparent that financially we do not have the current tax base to do so affordably.

In this economic climate, we have all had to make tough choices – except for politicians and government staff. Those who lead governments or operate in administration are comfortable with the status quo – which works well only when times are good. When people and businesses are struggling – as they are currently – this clearly does not work.

Councils have wrapped economic common sense in opting to repair a truck instead of replacing a truck. This may save some money, but that is a simple decision to make. Making choices as to which buildings to close, mothball, or defer maintenance to is much tougher. Councils saying yes to everything, means they say no to affordability.

How can this be fixed and get municipalities to the point where funding services is affordable for residents? This happens by making tough choices. Does a local municipality have to be the end-all and be-all of government-backed recreation programs? Should a community of 12,000 residents operate two arenas when other municipalities of similar size manage with one? Do we need more than 20 parks, or to use wind turbine money to bring back into use a building that less than 10 years ago was to be torn down? Lots of questions, and answers boil down to this – when people lack the financial resources to make ends-meet, they pare back to the basics.

This has been written about before, but the solution to problems like this is simple – do more with less. Growing government and growing tax bills, have no place when those who pay the bills cannot do so.

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