A proposed 14.8 per cent increase to the tax levy and debate over the proper process for budget deliberation created friction between Grey Highlands councillors earlier this week.
“I don't want to go to the public with a 14.8 per cent increase. I want this to be whittled down before we actually present it to the public,” said Councillor Paul Allen.
On Wednesday evening, Grey Highlands council had its first look at the 2021 draft budget, which proposed a 14.8 per cent increase to the tax levy.
Prior to the presentation from the finance department, Allen presented a motion for the draft to be returned to staff stating that, “this high of an increase is unacceptable during these financially tight times.”
In the presented motion, Allen asked that council direct staff to make changes to the draft budget to bring the increase in the levy to a “fiscally responsible number,” and that public meetings and budget deliberations should be scheduled after council has been given an “acceptable starting number.”
Allen did not provide further insight as to what such a number might be.
Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai called the motion “irresponsible” and said that returning the draft budget to staff would be dodging the council's responsibility of moving through the due diligence of creating a budget.
“I think this is an irresponsible motion from Councillor Allen. We should receive this, take it to the committee of the whole and that's where we debate these things. That's where we bring [the levy increase] down to a level that we feel is acceptable,” Desai said. “I think it's quite unfortunate that we refuse to do our job here.”
In a recorded vote, requested by Allen, council members were split four-to-three in favour of sending the draft budget back to staff.
“I hear councillor Allen's concerns here. There seems to be a tsunami of increases coming toward our ratepayers with wastewater rates and a draft budget that's proposing this increase,” said Councillor Tom Allwood, who voted in favour of the motion, along with councillor Dane Nielsen and Grey Highlands Mayor, Paul McQueen.
Councillors Cathy Little and Danielle Valiquette joined Desai in opposition of the motion.
“I do not support this resolution at all,” said Valiquette. “And, I have a strong preference to allow staff to speak, to receive this budget, go to a committee of the whole and have a fulsome discussion regarding the budget that is transparent with our community.”
Grey Highlands CAO, Karen Govan commended the efforts of staff for “pulling together a very difficult budget during difficult times”.
“There are lots of different scenarios that we can visit and look at,” Govan said. “Staff have prepared a responsible budget based on council policy. We look forward to the debate and assisting the council in any way we can in order to impact the taxpayer in the least amount possible.”
Grey Highlands staff will now go back to the drawing board to look at ways to reduce impacts on the proposed levy increase.
The revised draft budget is expected to be presented to council at the committee of the whole deliberations scheduled for Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 7.
Grey Highlands council is expected to approve the 2021 budget on Dec. 16. For more information, visit greyhiglands.ca/budget.
Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca