Mixed public reaction to proposed 2023 TBM budget

Residents and ratepayers in the Town of The Blue Mountains had a mixed reaction to the town’s proposed budget for 2023.

The Blue Mountains council held a public budget meeting to receive comments and questions about the 2023 proposed budget on March 7. The meeting heard written comments from ten local residents and seven ratepayers presented to council in person.

The proposed budget includes a 2.45 per cent local tax increase, which equates to a $53 annual increase to a home valued at the average assessment of $555,840. The budget also includes an increase of eight per cent to the consumption rates for water, a four per cent increase to the consumption rates for wastewater and 15.6 per cent increases to the fixed rates for both water and wastewater departments.

The strongest words about the proposed budget came from a former councillor, Rob Sampson, who said council had not provided the “direction or leadership” to staff to show restraint in the town’s spending.

“The Blue Mountains does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem,” said Sampson. “The draft budget is lacking in fiscal restraint.”

Sampson criticized a number of budget areas including: the use of reserves to lower rates, capital projects appearing to be over budget and council’s decision to look at the possibility of implementing a vacant homes tax and a municipal accommodation tax.

Jim Torrance of The Blue Mountains Ratepayers Association also made comments about the budget.

Torrance praised council for landing at 2.45 per cent for a local increase and planning a service delivery review.

“2.45 per cent suggests restraint, that’s what we’re looking for,” he said, adding that the association is “very encouraged” by the service delivery review.

However, Torrance also questioned the use of reserves to lower the tax impact in 2023.

“That is not the approach we’d like to see taken,” he said.

Torrance said the possibility of a municipal accommodation tax may be an opportunity for the town to generate additional revenue, but he questioned the reason for a vacant home tax.

“(The vacant home tax) doesn’t seem to have that same kind of logic,” he said.

Torrance also said the executive summary in the budget and the presentation of the capital projects could be improved.

“Residents need to be much better informed,” he said.

Stephen Granger and Blue Village Association President Andrew Siegwart each made presentations to council requesting that a working group or advisory committee be set up to examine options for much-needed infrastructure upgrades in the Craigleith area.

“There could be a lot of synergies through a working group collaboration for community improvements,” said Granger.

The Craigleith area, Granger said, is experiencing rapid growth and the population and traffic increases that come with that growth. He said the area needs to improve sidewalk infrastructure, pedestrian safety, parks and playground amenities and options for active transportation and traffic calming.

Siegwart commended town staff for their hard work on the budget and said residents in the Craigleith area are anxious to get involved in making the community a better place.

“We are a community of residential members who really want to get involved and bring solutions to the table,” said Siegwart.

Shelly Young of the Nippissing Ridge Tennis Club presented to council and requested that the minimum fee the club may be charged by the town be reduced from $1,500 to $1,000. As it stands, the club could pay the town anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 for use of the Nippissing Ridge tennis courts - the fee depends on memberships. Young said the club will have to increase its annual fee from $17 to $40.

“It’s a significant jump. We’re unsure of the uptake,” she said. “Our goal is to maintain our wonderful social club we have.”

Young said a minimum fee of $1,000 was within the club’s financial comfort zone.

Council did not make any decisions about the budget at the meeting. A staff report summarizing the public’s reaction to the draft budget will be coming forward to council on March 13. A bylaw to adopt the budget for 2023 is expected to be before council on March 27.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca