After much thought, I have decided to break my blog post about yesterday’s council/budget meeting into two parts.
I am starting with the budget portion mainly because I left council chambers at 11pm absolutely FURIOUS! In fact, I was more outraged leaving this particular session of council than I have ever been…and my emotions tend to run high at these meetings as is, so that says a lot.
The Budget Conversations Let me give you the breakdown – (please keep in mind that I am using rounded up figures, not exact dollar amounts to the penny)
At the last budget meeting on February 2nd, Mayor Williams moved to send the budget back to staff to “find” another 3.3% in savings (roughly $900,000).
***Note – In that original budget, Mr Parrott had not included the “returned roll assessment” of $749,000 (This is the gain the Town of Orangeville has due to growth assessment – both in the forms of new development growth as well as growth from increased value assessments). Mr Parrot speaks to why it was not included by saying “The reason I initially left it out was due to the volatility of the assessment at risk. However, at this point in the budget cycle, we are fairly certain of what those numbers are. It was a very conservative move, but upon reflection I think it serves us well to bring it back into the budget.” ***
So, by bringing it back into the budget, that left us at a 0.7% increase (which is roughly a $17.66 increase for an assessment of $314,000).
Council then (after much circular discussion) decided on a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for the non-unionized Town Staff of 1.75% from January 1st. (instead of the initial 2% that was budgeted) Put that into the tax calculator and that then gets the budget down to 0.61% increase (which is roughly $15.50 for an assessment of $314,000).
Now, after all is said and done here, another $178,000 needs to come out of the budget to land at the magic number of 0%.
Ok, now let me get to why I left so furious. I was so furious because I left the budget portion of this meeting feeling like I, as a taxpayer, am being treated like a fool. Like we as taxpayers aren’t “smart enough” to understand the game that is being played. Moving numbers around from line to line to line to make it “appear” as though a zero % tax increase is happening is nothing other than political pandering in my humble opinion.
Mayor Williams put forward a motion to add a line item of 0.61% which would be a negative number called ‘in year savings’. Mayor Williams said “It’s a way that staff don’t have to find it this week or next month. It’s over the course of a year. It gives them the flexibility to find those additional savings. That would bring us to a zero % tax increase.”
So, this ‘in year savings’ line would be backed from the reserves…moving numbers from line to line to line – that is just an illusion of zero. Mayor Williams motion fails.
Now I need to rewind for a second…I’m going to rewind to last year when Councillor Garisto (before being elected) sat in the gallery of council demanding that $500,000 in Hydro Dividends be returned to Hydro customers. That money was put into reserves to, from what I gather, be eventually returned to customers. *Back to present time* At this point in the already frustrating meeting, Councillor Garisto (the chair/ringmaster of this particular circus) brings up his bright idea to take $178,000 OUT OF the Hydro dividends reserve, add it to the budget to make it be zero, then distribute the remaining money back to residents.
HOLD ON A MINUTE HERE…..So, let me get this straight. You want to take “our money” (as in Orangeville residents money), to put into the Town of Orangeville’s budget so that you can “save us” from a tax increase?!?!? What the hell kind of twisted logic is this???? Use “OUR” money to reduce “OUR” taxes?!?!?
Let’s play a math game….(**disclaimer – using simple round numbers, not actual facts)
So let’s take $500,000 and divide it by 10,000 households… = $50/ household; Now we will take 0.61% tax increase = $16/household. Let’s minus $180,000 from it to put into the Town Budget leaving us $320,000 in dividends. Now let’s take that $320,000 and divide IT by 10,000 households…=$32/household.
So, this would now give me a $32 “refund” from Hydro and a $16 “savings” on my taxes?!?!?! You want to take MY money to save me money?!?!? WOW…how gracious of you!!!!
Thank goodness this motion failed as well….and this is the guy we have heading up our Finance Committee???
In My Humble Opinion
I’m going to relate this spending to my professional life for a minute. Balancing budgets and profit & loss statements is a huge part of what I do in a day as a retail manager. So, if my boss came to me and said “Lisa, you have WAY overspent in supplies this year…” If I responded with, “Well, I saved money in overtime, so add my overspending to that line of the P & L to balance it to zero”……My boss would laugh at me…and laugh and laugh and laugh…and would probably then deem that I am in no way worthy of holding a management position that requires me to control P & L statements. This method of logic in no way addresses the fact that I need to control my spending in supplies. This mirrors the current logic that certain members of council seem to have right now.
I hope that every single member of council is reading this. By playing political games, you are NOT in any way addressing any of the actual spending issues that exist in this town. You have done a disservice to every resident of this town by allowing your political agendas to dictate how you are managing OUR money. Zero % tax increase is an excellent campaign slogan…however, if you aren’t actually SAVING any money, it is just lip service. We need our Elected Officials to be fiscally responsible, not just to save face. If you are actually serious about affecting the cost of living in this town, do what you are being paid to do. Manage the budget responsibly. Every move you make is not going to always be a popular one, but at the end of 4 years, if you are able to say you actually made a difference to the Town, then you will have done something right. Moving numbers from line to line to line to make it look pretty, is not the right thing to do. Without actually saying the words, you are implying that the residents of this town are too stupid to notice that THE SPENDING HAS NOT BEEN ADDRESSED!!!! (Sorry for the shouty capitals) In my humble opinion, this is a political scheme designed so that you can say “Well, I got to zero %” without having to make any tough decisions.
I am not the only one who feels this way. In fact, kudos to Councillor Campbell for stating “If we are looking for more money to be reduced from the budget, I think its our responsibility to do it. And if it means council is going to have to reduce programs, we need to have the courage to do it. And we need to do what needs to be done if we are going to take out that amount of money. Not the staff.”
Councillor Bradley had the treasurer pull up the slide below (pardon the photo quality) to illustrate that every year council tries to find the savings, but that in the last 5 years only in 2013 were they successful. “The only way to bring down the cost is to reduce services.” says Bradley and she as well believes that it is council’s responsibility to find those reductions…not staff.
What is the definition of insanity?? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Council, I beg you, look at the budget differently. Don’t treat the people of Orangeville like idiots. Don’t shuffle money from line to line in order to fulfill your own political agendas. Do what our tax dollars pay you to do and ensure that the Town of Orangeville actually becomes more fiscally responsible….not just to have the appearance of it on paper.
As always, I welcome your comments and your humble opinions.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the February 23rd meeting…coming soon!