Matt Austin thinks a 14 per cent tax increase for Wellesley Township residents is too high. In that, he’s not alone.
He recently started paying more attention to local politics when he learned regional council members voted to give themselves benefits for life, though the new council later revoked that decision.
“So learning about that, in the Region of Waterloo, that council, how they were voting for themselves for benefits with outgoing members of that council, to me that seemed absolutely absurd, and was in complete conflict with the concept of good governance.”
“I don’t understand how we can get to that point where this is seen as acceptable by politicians,” he said. “So, it was very weird that this kind of behavior is taking place, and then that it was taking place inside of our own community. So that really brought my attention to the community politics taking place in Wellesley Township.”
When he learned township council voted to increase taxes by a total of about 14 per cent when combined with the already approved temporary increase to pay for the recreation centre debenture and staffing, that, to him, was a problem.
“Then this culminated in the 14 per cent tax [increase], which then really caught my attention. At that point, [I realized] I need to stop looking elsewhere. I need to focus here at home because there’s problems here and things in Wellesley Township that are deserving of my full attention.”
He says he saw other people upset about the tax increase posting online, but they didn’t know what to do. Austin started a Facebook group called ‘St. Clements Organized.’
“I thought, well, the best thing you can do is simply to organize and to actually start putting everyone together in one place who wants to be active in the community, who wants to have a say, who believes in good governance and who believes in having an effective, responsible and transparent government. So the least I could do was create a group for the concerned citizens of Wellesley to come together for a place to discuss, to talk about government, to talk about council.”
Last week, on the day of the township council meeting, Austin made an informal event to invite people to gather where Wellesley council would be meeting. He called it a “no expectation, hasty protest.” He says about a dozen people showed up.
“People dropped what they were doing. People had their kids go with their mother-in-law and they showed up. It was impressive, those people who did show up on such incredibly short notice.”
He says the group has plans for a letter-writing campaign, possibly a petition, and informal meetings.
Kelly Rakowski is another member of the ‘St. Clements Organized’ Facebook group. She is a new grandmother who lives in Wellesley village.
When she saw that the township was raising taxes by 14 per cent, she could not believe what she was reading: “I was dumbfounded. I was pretty angry. And, I just, I was shocked.”
She’s upset because the new recreation centre was never put to a township-wide vote, and residents were not directly informed beforehand their taxes could be increased by more than seven per cent to cover the cost of the project.
“I just feel that from the beginning, council had no idea what the debt and the operating costs for the facility were going to be, but yet they went ahead anyway. This is not being financially prudent. I realize they consulted various community groups, but a project of this financial magnitude should have had a township-wide vote.”
“The other part that is very upsetting, is that our property taxes are based off of the 2016 Municipal Property Assessment Corporation assessment. So when our properties are reassessed at current value, then you add 14 per cent for the township, 8.6 per cent for the region and then the educational portion, it’s going to be incomprehensible. At a time when families are struggling with increases in utilities, food inflation and stale wages, the recreation centre could be the end of Wellesley. Not every family is going to be able to cope. Seniors are not going to be able to cope and those just making ends meet, they’re not going to be able to cope. And this $27 million, that’s the quote, that’s not the final bill.”
She’s upset because the property assessments are not close to actual property values.
“When you read that [it’s] based on the $389,000 assessment, ‘it’s only going to be this (much).’ Who in Wellesley has property in the village that is worth $389,000? Our neighbours, they bought for $1.3 million,” she said. “My husband and I, we are paying $547 a month in taxes. And if you add… onto that, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to stay living where we are.”
Austin says his idea for the St. Clements Organized Facebook group is to gather people who care about these issues together and to try to make sure similar decisions about large infrastructure projects are made differently in future.
“How do we make sure that something like this doesn’t happen without the community fully having buy-in into something like this? How do we prevent three to five people from deciding such an incredibly large infrastructure project during such economic times in the future? So how do we prevent this from happening again?” he said.
The township staff issued a notice last week explaining the tax increase. It mentioned that budget discussions were held at public meetings over two days, which no residents attended or made written submissions to.
“ After lengthy discussion and constructive debate, council determined cutting services was not desired. The final 2023 budget was ultimately passed at the January 10, 2023 regular meeting of council after a public presentation,” said the notice.
“No members of the public attended any of the meetings to provide input nor provided any written submissions.”
“The 2023 budget was passed with an inflationary increase of 4.43 per cent plus a 0.75 per cent greening levy and a one per cent infrastructure levy. The total 2023 increase is in addition to previously approved expenditures. As a result, the total 2023 increase on the township portion of an actual tax bill is approximately 13.89 per cent.”
The previous approved expenditures are a one-time increase to cover the debenture of the new rec. centre and staffing for it.
Austin says the St. Clements Organized Facebook group is open to all Wellesley Township residents.
“If you’re concerned about this, you can take action. If you’re willing, just come on in. Let the council know that we’re observant, we’re here, we understand.”
Township staff did not reply to The Observer about the issue by press time.