Taxes, Of Course: My Third Priority for the Next Term of Council

My Pledge: I will continue to support a budget increase around the rate of inflation (less if possible), while keeping an eye on the type of cuts proposed. I will continue to encourage engagement by the public in the Region strategic plan.

 

You can’t be a councillor without addressing the issue of taxes. Each year the Regional budget is a huge issue that defines the whole of the organization.

When I was a public school board trustee, we actually reduced taxes one year. Not a decrease of the increase, an actual decrease. The next year Mike Harris took away all the trustees power due to problems in one other board in the GTA and we could never do it again.

It is very simple to say, “Let’s not raise taxes. Zero percent!” Heck, I said it myself at the beginning of the past term when I thought we could do it.  Reducing the budget post. It went over like a lead balloon for a number of reasons. In the end, the increase was respectably close to inflation.

Over the last four years, even with the addition of funding for the LRT/ION, the tax increase has decreased each year and hovers around inflation. This is the CPI not the usually higher Municipal Price Index. The cuts to get to this point were minor. Although the Province cut the discretionary budget for welfare, council put in several million dollars to keep it going.

One of the concerns I have about the budget process and the platforms of some other candidates is the emphasis on the percentage increase each year for the budget. We are not ancient England where the tax money went to the King’s soldiers, palaces and paintings. We are a democracy and all our tax money goes to programs and infrastructure to make our civilization work.

It is important that at the beginning of each term we go through a strategic planning process to decide what our the priorities for this term of council. I am outlining some of mine. Last term and certainly this term, the Region asked councillors, staff and the public what their priorities were for the Region. As taken from the Strategic Plan document, this is how the Region consulted with the public:

Community meetings.
Statistically reliable telephone survey with 1,160 community residents.
 Online and paper survey.
 Involvement of advisory committees of Council.
 More than 25 focus groups with diverse participants.

I know we will be doing this and more during the next term’s process.

Council has also, along with continuing internal program audits, started a service review with an outside consultant with the results available for the next council. The number of Regional departments has been reduced.

I should also add a note about deficits and debt. By Provincial law, the Region cannot run a deficit.

said Mr. Micawber, “you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.” Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850.

It would be wonderful if the Provincial and Federal governments would also not run deficits.

The Regional debt does not increase through operating deficits, it increases through capital expenditure debt, much like when you buy a car or a house. Over the last few years, as well as the LRT, the Region has also debentured for water treatment and waste treatment plants, the new Fairway bridge and roads. Capital expenditures are funded from a combination of reserves, debentures and development charges . The Region has a substantial amount of reserves (savings), the spending isn’t all debentures and development charges.

The Region manages our finances so well that Moody’s rating service has given the Region a triple A rating for the last 14 years, the amount of time I have been on council.

Moody’s Investors Service has rated the Region of Waterloo with the highest credit rating possible for the 14th year in a row. The Region’s Aaa rating reflects sound and stable financial management, a low debt burden and consistency in achieving positive operating outcomes.

The Region of Waterloo’s debt burden is low when compared to its Canadian peers. These low debt and debt servicing ratios illustrate the Region’s successful fiscal track record and high degree of flexibility – two key characteristics supporting the Aaa rating.

Moody’s places the Region of Waterloo amongst other highly rated municipalities in Ontario. “The Regional Municipality of Waterloo’s position reflects positive operating results, a strong fiscal track record and a currently lower-than-average debt burden when compared to other national peers.” They categorized the Region’s outlook as “stable.”

“In addition to recognizing our sound financial management, this rating means the Region can borrow money for capital projects for itself and the Area Municipalities at a better rate and pay less interest,” said Craig Dyer, Chief Financial Officer for the Region.

Moody’s Investors Service has been providing Canada’s investors and issuers with credit ratings since 1901. Today, Moody’s rates more than 300 Canadian corporate, structured and public finance issuers.

from Region of Waterloo Website

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