The propensity for Council to approve large budget increases is one of the reasons why we are one of the highest taxed communities in Ontario. We saw how Council allowed taxes to increase at twice the rate of inflation between 2011 and 2020. This occurred at a time when inflation was historically low (1-2%). Predictions are that will be in a period of high inflation, in the order of 7% to 8%, for the next several years. During this time Owen Sound Taxpayers cannot afford to elect a Council with a propensity to raise taxes well beyond the rate of inflation.
As well the current Council seems to be “disconnected” from the reality of what most people live with on a daily basis. We also saw the quick approval of a $30,000 study to justify spending $30 million on a new Art Gallery after increasing the Art Gallery’s budget by 77.3% - a service that is valued by less than 8% of the population. Council claims to be showing compassion by spending $6.5 million to keep Transit alive for another five years in spite of a rapidly declining ridership. That works out to be about $5,000 per rider. Yet, Council fails to show compassion for the homeless who are dying on Owen Sound streets from drugs poisoned with fentanyl. How many lives could this money save if it was directed toward addressing the homeless problem? In the process, it would make our downtown streets a much safer place where people wouldn’t be afraid to go on a Saturday afternoon.
These are all poor spending decisions that over the years have been slowly driving people away through high tax increases and as a result our population is shrinking. The population of wage earners filing income tax between 2017 and 2020 grew by 5.51% in Collingwood and shrank by 2.13% in Owen Sound. Council approved in the order of $6.5 million in budget increases over the past five years to deliver the same services to a shrinking population - all while Owen Sound wages were one of the lowest in the province. “Higher Taxes and Lower Wages” – what a combination!
To put it bluntly, we are the highest taxed community in Ontario because we elect councilors who compliment us at the door during election time with “slick talk” and hollow promises of how they’re going to work for us, the “real people” and how they won’t let themselves be swayed by wealthy, special interest groups. We don’t check their business acumen or their financial management credentials. Perhaps it’s time to ignore the flattery and “slick talk” at the door. We need to only elect councilors with some understanding financial management; and/or a strong desire to fix the chronic financial management problems of the past, and/or, people with the courage to say “NO” to staff when presented with an onslaught of budget-increase requests.
So when you go to the polls this fall in the municipal election, recognize that you are hiring a Board of Directors to oversee the financial health of a 55 million dollar corporation. Study their backgrounds and experiences closely and choose wisely – the health of our city is in your hands!