A Breslau resident’s call for restraint and proper use of taxpayers’ money fell on largely disinterested ears at a Woolwich budget meeting last week.
Noting that runaway spending on salaries in the public sector has become unsustainable, Peter Durksen suggested the township reel-in staffing costs, concentrating instead on infrastructure needs while keeping tax increases to no more than inflation.
While councillors had already set a goal of a 1.5 per cent tax hike (plus an extra 0.5 per cent levy for infrastructure projects), there was no talk of controlling ever-increasing staff costs, the single-largest item in the budget, accounting for half of all spending.
Durksen suggested five key points to start correcting an unsustainable system that doesn’t serve the best interests of the public:
– Hold the property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation;
– Inform staff that cost overruns are unacceptable;
– Petition the province to set limits to arbitrated settlements of no more than inflation;
– For 2014 and beyond, reduce the percentage of the township budget spent on salaries;
– Institute a long-term infrastructure fund.
“The time has come for you and other municipal politicians to invite the taxpayers and municipal employees into an open and ongoing dialogue about what is the right direction for our local economy and our way of life, to develop, as it were, a social contract, which would get us off the treadmill of higher spending and higher taxes in the face of a very competitive global market,” he said.
Only Coun. Mark Bauman acknowledged the realities outlined in the presentation, saying Durksen’s five points were “not unrealistic.”
Bauman added he, too, wants to see a reduction in the salary portion of the operating budget next year, as well as more money for infrastructure.
“Your comments are heard and very much appreciated,” he told Durksen.
Still, a reduction in surplus staff numbers wasn’t broached as councillors accepted staff’s recommendations about where to find additional money for legal fees in the engineering and planning budget. Council had deferred voting on that part of the budget after asking staff to double the $110,000 in the first draft. Rather than cuts, staff recommended using an anticipated $51,000 in extra recreation revenues and drawing $59,000 from reserve funds to cover the budget item.
Overall, councillors approved a budget for 2013 including $13 million in operating expenditures and another $6.6 million in capital expenses.
The budget must still undergo formal ratification, expected this month.