North Bay City council received its first official presentation of the year from a newly formed group of city tax payers.
The presentation from the organization focused on the high costs of taxes and services in the municipality and the frustrations this causes the average income earners in the city.
The North Bay Tax Payer's Association made a positive and well thought out simple presentation to council that got to the core of their concerns, being high taxes in the city.
Their presentation was highlighted with the gift of a red purse, signifying the indebted public purse entrusted to council in their chamber.
The rate payers association, feeling council has not done enough to rein in the ever expanding costs and increases, asked that council put pressure on city managers to reduce their budgets.
“We don’t believe that (the city’s) productivity factor is all that great and that is where the focus is, that’s where the dollars are obviously going out and we, as taxpayers, just can’t keep going on with increases on an annual basis ” says Miles Peters, Vice President of the North Bay Tax Payer’s Association.
Tanya Vrebosch was one of the councillors that was for tax increases on the premise that if things aren't maintained, the cost of upkeep rises as it gets put onto the following year's budgets and the city needs to maintain its current levels of infrastructure and development.
“You’ll never see me vote for a zero or a negative (increase) because, if anything, it’s going to cause a burden or hardship on the taxpayers,” says Vrebosch.
“You’re taking three steps back because what you’re doing is you’re either deferring things, whether it’s infrastructure replacement, it’s going to cost you later on,” she says.
Deputy Mayor Sean Lawlor, who suggested during the deliberations that council remove at least a hundred thousand dollars from overtime budgets, welcomed the concern from citizens during the meeting.
“I think it’s very positive to see the involvement of the local community, to see the interest in the budgeting process, it provides a good discussion and debate and I’m hopeful that they’re involvement will continue,” says Lawlor.
Overtime for Sewer and Water, being one of the issues of contention, was questioned as to why it was even budgeted for, especially at such high rates in a time of financial downturns and difficult employment opportunities in the municipality.
“I think there are strategies that could be put into place that could reduce that budget but if we don’t put the directive to it, unfortunately, we’re likely to end up with the same results,” says Lawlor.
Regardless of which side of the tax and budget fence you fall on, it's clear a single set of mathematical rules has to be established to justify tax levels on citizens in the city.
Clearly the city has easily maintained a five percent or more increases over the past decade adding up to a cumulative revenue growth on property taxes of more than fifty percent, probably not at the same level most have seen their personal incomes increase with this rate.
Compounding the issue is the continued splitting up of water and sewer, debt retirement and property taxes to confuse accurate measurements that frustrate the majority of people into compliance with a system and rate they can't understand or communicate about confidently.
With positivity growing on both sides and an economy that has been sliding for a number of years, time will tell if the city will continue to be able to draw increasing funds from its citizens as they age, seeing declining incomes and lower employment, perhaps being the new normal for some time to come.