As they say... if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When Mayor Watson presented the 2018 draft budget it was difficult to understand how we’d be able to increase spending on everything, plus cope with inflation, all for the low price of the promised 2% tax increase. Something just didn’t add up...
Actually, a lot of things didn’t add up.
The advocates of the draft budget boasted about the increase in spending when it came to our roads - who could argue with that? Our crumbling streets and poor snow removal are some of the biggest frustrations I hear from our community. However, the increase earmarked for 2018 is an increase based on what previous budgets planned to spend, not what was actually spent...so you see the problem here. The budgeted $116.9 million for 2018 falls about $9 million short of what the City actually spent last year.
The entire 2018 Budget grossly underestimates the cost of delivering many of its programs and services. The idea that it’s only costing the taxpayer an increase of 2% is false, it’s costing you much, much more.
Thanks to a proposal introduced days before Canada Day two years ago, a proposal which I fought, our core services, like snow clearing, deteriorated significantly last year. Ploughing service was reduced as compared to our former practice. That means they waited until a lot more snow had fallen before dispatching the first ploughs to residential streets - and even longer before they got to most people’s streets. It meant snowbanks were not removed causing safety concerns, unacceptable narrowing of residential streets and significant spring time road flooding. The 2018 Draft Budget talked of improving snow service but then actually planned to spend millions of dollars less than we spent last year on snow.
Flip forward to Transit - I’m not sure if there is something I’m missing, but by all accounts, the number of people using public transit has been on the decline, yet the 2018 Budget is forecasting $11.2 million more revenue than is expected by OC Transpo for 2017. How will the city make up that money?
How about the city’s four long-term care homes? We will be required to spend to improve things in this area. This past summer, we were holding town hall meetings for families to voice their concerns over how poorly the homes were run and the City was handed dozens of costly improvement orders from the provincial government to address many shortcomings and the mistreatment of residents. And yet, the 2018 budget has the City spending over $1-Million less than last year.
Page after page, there are numbers that don’t make sense. It’s fake budgeting! In dealing with the opioid crisis, we are spending big money to encourage people to seek addiction treatment but then we fund virtually no treatment (we have only 26 treatment beds). When it comes to the city’s recreation services, in 2017, we collected $46.6-million. That’s $4.7-Million of incoming cash less than what we had budgeted for. Yet, in the 2018 budget, the City, again, has decided that we can expect $51.35-million in fees. Arena fees are on the rise again...let’s hope there are a lot more skates under the tree this year!
All of this brings us to the Christmas Miracle. The morning of the budget, the Mayor surprised many of us by announcing that a $10-million dollar windfall of cash had suddenly been discovered and he put forth a motion that would see the new-found money put toward fixing our underfunded roads. And while that’s better than nothing and ensures things will not get even worse next year, it’s not the answer to all our problems. In fact it’s just a drop in the bucket, compared to the city’s overall infrastructure deficit. The city is spending $70-Million less per year than it should just to maintain our roads, facilities and parks.
In the early part of my political career, I served on Nepean Council. It was from Mayor Ben Franklin that I learned that the only way to control taxes is by maintaining the city’s roads and public assets. When these things are neglected, we end up having to reconstruct many of those assets at a price tag that is 10 to 100 times the cost of maintenance.
The city of Nepean was able to keep taxes below inflation for 17 consecutive years, simply by maintaining their assets! It’s not magic, but it is the only way to give residents top value for their tax dollars.
So, there is no way I could possibly support the 2018 budget - the budget does not recognize what things are really going to cost and it doesn’t make clear choices or cost savings to enable us to meet those costs. It does not place a high enough priority on maintaining our roads and assets, or on protecting quality core services. When that happens, it means YOU will have to pay.