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Back to the drawing board for mayors

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					                      Back to the drawing board for mayors

          hamplain Township councillors are asking local mayors to go back to the drawing board after learning that


C         they, as our Prescott-Russell counties’ councillors, approved a 23 per cent increase for the counties’ 2006
          requisition, compared to 2005. The requisition is what the counties’ administration was asking to have
approved by the eight mayors who sit on county council.


Although the hike was at first rejected by four mayors, it was voted on again and approved after a break in the
meeting. This time, only Clarence-Rockland Mayor Richard Lalonde and Hawkesbury Mayor Jacques Hétu voted
against the big increase so the budget was approved.


County councillors have been reviewing 2006 budget figures since January of this year and claimed only minutes
before the first vote that rejected the budget, that they thought the 4.9 per cent tax rate figure being cited by the
counties chief administrator referred to the overall tax increase.


We are expected to believe that most of our community leaders didn’t notice that the counties’ total requisition for
2006 was set at $27.4 million, a $5 million increase from $22.3 million in 2005. We are expected to think they didn’t
notice the hike even though they sent the department heads of the counties back three times to reduce the original
amount.


We are expected to believe that our mayors were unaware of the impact that an overall 16 per cent increase in
property assessments would have when set against a 23 per cent increase in the counties’ share of the tax bill,
which doesn’t take even into account any increases at the municipal level.


Clarence-Rockland Mayor Richard Lalonde told fellow mayors that in his municipality, property assessments had
increased, on average, by 19.7 per cent. Lalonde said that for his ratepayers, an additional 4.9 per cent tax rate
hike on top of increased assessments, would mean a 25 per cent tax increase for homeowners. Recall that a 25
per cent increase would be in effect only if Clarence-Rockland could hold the line at zero per cent for its 2006
budget.
As Champlain Township councillors reviewed their proposed 2006 budget last week, they were told by their clerk-
treasurer that the education portion of property owners’ tax bills will stay the same as even the province has
recognized that property assessments have increased; the province has reduced the education tax rate to 28 per
cent – an 11 per cent reduction from 2005, yet this reduced tax rate will collect the same amount of taxes in 2006
as in 2005.


That concept, whereby decision-makers take into consideration the total property assessments and adjust the tax
rate to ensure that there are no increases strictly due to increased assessments, is called “revenue neutral.” That’s
where fair tax decisions should begin.


Considering that property assessments have increased across the province, it would have made sense for our
experienced counties’ administrators to apply the increased assessment values to the existing tax rate to see
exactly how much additional revenue would be generated if there were no increases to the 2006 counties’
requisiton.


We instead reported to you that counties’ administrators began this year’s budget process by bringing a total
requisition of $29.9 million, or a 34 per cent increase over 2005 figures, to the table, after being directed by
counties’ council in January to limit a tax rate increase to three per cent.


We must also accept that administrators and our elected officials completely misunderstood each other during the
past few months of budget talks. After being sent back to make cuts a few times, counties’ administrators edged the
tax rate increase down to 4.9 per cent, knowing that property owners in many cases would face property tax
increases of more than 20 per cent because of higher property assessments. Our experienced mayors missed that
fact somehow, until the eleventh hour, yet approved the budget anyway after rejecting it in a first vote.


Maybe our mayors were up against it in terms of time. Maybe they failed to understand the difference between tax
rate and overall tax increase. Maybe they are not entirely clear as to the impact of increased property assessments
when used to calculate property taxes. We are also left wondering about the time spent by so many experienced
employees recalculating figures. We wonder about the time spent by our mayors, along with counties’ department
heads, re-examining adjusted figures several times.


We know for sure that something went wrong during this year’s budget deliberations. But it is time to move past the
excuses.


What remains to be seen is how quickly our community leaders can own up to bad judgement and set things right.


We agree with Champlain Township councillors. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.


                                                                                                                L.S.

				
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