A tough call

Mapleton council found itself having the type of discussion seldom heard during budget deliberations for any level of government in recent years.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, council briefly discussed the idea of freezing, or even reducing, the total tax burden in 2018.

In the end, council passed a 2018 budget with a 3.2 per cent increase in the local tax rate. When blended with county and education taxes, the increase totals 1.27%.

However, during deliberations on the budget resolution, councillor Michael Martin pointed out that since council had reduced the scope of a road project from $650,000 to $200,000, the township could have used the funds to reduce the projected 2018 levy by an amount finance director Karmen Krueger said would actually result in a reduction of about 1% in the blended tax rate.

There’s no doubt ratepayers would have appreciated the relief after enduring levy increases of 17.29% and 11.4% respectively in the two previous annual budgets.

 While it’s certainly an appropriate discussion to have, as staff members correctly pointed out, the township’s move in recent years to longer-term capital programs means the break would simply have meant a deferral of taxes to a future year. Taxes that would have to be levied by a future council since 2018, as Martin pointed out, is an election year.

Council should be commended for sticking to its guns and keeping the funds in the budget and in reserve for future capital projects. This group has already made the hard choice of raising taxes in recent years to make up for decades of underfunding of infrastructure in response to pressure to keep taxes low. To back away this late in the current term could have been counterproductive and sent a message that is unsustainable in light of current fiscal realities.

As Mayor Neil Driscoll pointed out, “even with the small increases that we’ve had, that people view as very big, we’ve come nowhere near meeting what our asset management plan is telling us – the nine percent increases for the next four years.”

Councillor Dennis Craven also took a forward-thinking approach, stating, “I think as far as infrastructure is concerned we have to remain very ambitious about it … or we’re going to be in a spot in two or three years where we can’t handle it at all.”

A tough decision to be sure, but ultimately, the most responsible one council could make.