Consider This
Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Budget shell game hurting crucial services

First published: June 21, 2000

Northumberland County politicians have been less than honest with taxpayers. The 6.2 per cent increase approved by county council is a disgrace. The tax hikes local councils are dumping on residents compound this across the system.

The county will spend $46.5 million on roads, tourism, waste management, the Golden Plough Lodge and social services. That’s a huge sum. Besides this increase in overall taxes, the county will also levy a flat charge of $30 to each household for garbage collection, an increase of $5 over last year. Residents will continue to pay $1.50 per bag for wet waste put out at the curb. That means the average family will pay around $108 per year for wet waste pick up.

What is even more ludicrous is the level of service for waste management is going down. The Bewedly transfer station is closing on Sundays, reducing it to one day in winter months. The Cramahe transfer station is closing. It will cost $2 more for hazardous waste. It will cost more for dry wall, leaves and yard waste.

Politicians defend this by saying we should feel lucky. The true charge is around $56 per household for the flat levy.

While the Golden Plough Lodge is not being hit as hard as first reported, it has watched as the county has slowly dropped its contribution. Less than a decade ago, the county contributed $1 million; way down from the amount it will receive this year. And the county has hired a consultant to find ways to reduce it to zero.

To listen to local politicians, there was a time when it was a point of personal pride to support the Plough. Northumberland looked after its own, some said. The people living in the Golden Plough had contributed to our community and it was only proper for the rest of us to give them something back, others said

With the current homecare system available to residents of Northumberland, many can stay in their homes or apartments for much longer. When the time comes for families to move loved ones into some kind of home for the aged, the medical condition of the person is far more advanced. This means the Plough must provide more intensive services, not less. We should be giving more to support our seniors.

And these are only a few of the changes. And it gets worse.

Only now it become clear politicians have used reserve account to shore up a faulty financial plan. Waste management was getting money from the road budget to help reduce tax increases. This in the face of $43 million worth of needed road and bridge repair.

This shell game has been going on for years. County politicians have pointed the finger at Queen’s Park for downloading services. They bellowed about the unfair burden. It was true and they were right to fight hard not to allow these costs to be paid at the municipal level. The Tories have enjoyed a balanced budget, but on the backs of property taxpayers like us. It is money coming from our right pocket instead of our left.

But the county has not been straight. In dealing with downloading, budget planners did not reflect the real costs to local taxpayers. Instead, services were reduced or eliminated without measuring the full impact on the community. Decisions have been stalled, such as the ambulance services, so the full impact of downloading is still not been felt. This means we can expect more tax increase like this year or greater reduction in services. What would be worse is to start paying user fees for everything.

What makes this even more painful is the tax hikes from local councils. Not everyone is facing a huge increase from the towns and townships, but residents are being asked to pay more. It’s a double whammy.

The entire budget plan is suspect. If taxpayers knew the real fiscal picture, the entire lot of them would be tarred and feathered, then thrown out of office. The reason for the financial slight of hand is obvious. Rural politicians didn’t want to move to a single tier of government. If residents knew  they would face a crush of tax hikes from both the county and from local municipal councils, then their plans to keep a two-tier system of government would have been quashed.

The only way we are going to afford all the downloading and the real costs of running our services is to have one, single county government. That way the tax burden would have been equalized across all municipalities and any revenues from development or new industry could have been shared. Efficiency and cost-savings could have been found at the administration level and not in services for the community. Instead, we’re given a diet of mushy numbers and now we are going to have to swallow tax hikes and lose funding essential public services, like the Golden Plough.

We have paid an incredible price for rural powerbrokers to play their games. It is time for them to pay the price, not us. Everyone should remember this budget come election time in November.

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