Wellesley councillors faced another protest at Tuesday night’s meeting, but held fast to plans for a 14 per cent increase in taxes.
Coun. Claude Hergott’s motion to re-open the 2023 budget with lower taxes in mind failed to win support.
Tuesday night’s committee of the whole meeting was the third time since the budget was passed last month that members of the Wellesley Township Concerned Citizens group gathered outside council chambers to express their opposition to the increases.
“We want council to understand that they need to relook at the budget. There are people in our community that are starting to lose their homes. We had one woman that reached out, her rent is going up $400. She’s being evicted because of the tax increase,” said the group’s Kelly Rakowski before the meeting got underway.
While the tax increases are based on the assessed value of a home, council needs to look past that idea, Rakowski said.
“We are very frustrated. Our group is almost 400 strong. And I receive messages and emails daily from residents who are struggling. I’m very frustrated. It’s not for the people that can afford the tax increase that I’m frustrated for. I’m frustrated for the seniors and the families that are just living paycheque to paycheque. Somebody has got to stand up and say enough is enough,” she said.
Much of the frustration comes that taxes are being increased 7.7 per cent alone to cover the debenture of the new recreation centre, something that resident Keith Hehn said is unnecessary.
“We can’t support it. There’s only 11,000 people in this township. We have a new rec. centre in Elmira, we have a new rec. centre in Wilmot. Why do we need one in Wellesley?” he asked.
Two residents addressed council during the meeting, including John Rose, who said the taxes were another added expenses given that inflation has increased 10.1 per cent since January 2021.
“Homes throughout Wellesley and the province and [Canada] are having kitchen table discussions, many of which I’m sure you have had on what can be done to reduce the living expenses. Wage rates are not increasing at the same rate as housing, food heating and fuel costs. And families are quickly determining what they must do with that,” Rose said.
“These are real people. Belts are being tightened as a lot of constituents are struggling with unprecedented housing debt and higher interest rates,” he added.
Rose also took issue with township expenditures.
“It seems pretty myopic to ask the residents to continue to discuss how they can make do with less in their lives while the township appears to struggle continuing to find ways to reduce or if necessary, defer expenditures to minimize the impact on the ratepayer.”
Rose called on council to take several steps, including better communication of council rationale, hosting a town hall meeting on this year’s budget as well as future draft budgets, and seeking a third-party audit of the budget.
Another resident, Joyce Barker, said she has “never seen such an absolutely alarming increase of our taxes.”
Barker also took issue with the recreation centre, noting that all residents are paying for it even if they choose not to use the facility.
“Everybody’s going to pay but not everybody is going to use it. Not everybody’s going to join or enjoy the benefits of it. I myself go to Wilmot,” she said.
“We do not have a choice – that is just not reasonable. It is unfair. The majority of the taxpayers… feel this is being shoved down our throats,” she added.
In response Hergott made a motion to revisit the budget including the debenture on the recreation centre. That was seconded by Coun. Shelley Wagner, however in a recorded vote she was opposed to the motion, as was mayor Joe Nowak, and Coun. Derrick Brick. Coun. Lori Sebben was not at the meeting.
Barker said she was “disgusted and let down,” following the meeting.
Rakowski’s final thoughts were of “sheer frustration and deep sadness.”
“What I, and others witnessed tonight was complete apathy. Every living body, except for one lone soul, sitting at the council’s table has shown their true colours,” she said.
“Those colours are a rainbow of disregard for others, uncaring and a lack of any shred of empathy. They continue to demonstrate that the Township of Wellesley is top heavy and greed is completely rampant.”
Rakowski thanked Hergott for trying to get the budget reopened.
“I do thank Coun. Hergott for showing a sense of compassion. It is just utterly disgusting that this trait is not shared by any other elected official.”