Public concerns over council’s budget decisions continue to grow, as witnessed by the crowd of more than 150 people who last week attended a town hall event.
Organized by the Wellesley Township Concerned Citizens group, the meeting March 16 drew people from all over the township to the St. Clements Community Centre.
The meeting was held to give people a forum to ask questions they have about the 2023 Wellesley Township budget and other topics. While council members were invited, all opted to pass on attending.
The group had gathered questions ahead of time. Volunteer John Rose led the meeting. Rose went through the questions and gave the answers the group had been able to find. There were questions they did not have answers to. Still, concerns lingered over a 14 per cent tax hike, more than half of which is related to a new recreation facility.
Rose acknowledged the budget is closed and the recreation centre project is solidified. “I think what we’re trying to say is we don’t want these things, without our engagement, to happen again. I’m so impressed by all of you showing up, and hopefully you’ll tell your neighbours and the next time we do this, that we’ll have twice as many people here.”
After Rose finished with the pre-submitted questions, he opened the floor for other questions and comments. People put up their hands, waited for Rose to call on them, and then said what they needed to say. The event started at 7p.m. and finished by about 8:30 p.m.
Amanda Udell of Wellesley village was one of those who attended. She and her husband are raising their two children, ages four and one. “So these decisions, especially for our demographic, cumulatively will start to add up over time and potentially make Wellesley an unaffordable place to live, and drive a decision point for us as to whether we would like to keep our family in Wellesley and can afford to do so,” she said.
Udell praised the town hall format.
“I think it was wonderful. I felt, literally, the only thing missing was some council presence to see and hear firsthand how passionate people are about making this a great place to live and being able to stick around and afford it.”
Udell says she supports the recreation centre, since her family will benefit from it, but she is worried about potential financial mismanagement of it.
“We can make sure that we are making the right decision so that we can have nice things that drive attractiveness to the community, but they aren’t making it so expensive that nobody wants to live here,” she said.
Darleen Bechthold and Jody Draves, both of St. Clements, also took part.
Bechthold said she attended the meeting, “because I would like council to be more aware that we are watching them and we are not happy with what they’re doing.”
Draves agreed, and said another reason she attended was to hear what other people’s concerns were and to learn about other things she needs to be aware of.
“Everybody was calm. No hotheads, no yelling and screaming,” she said, noting “more gets accomplished that way.”
“It’s time, too, we all become more involved with what’s going on,” said Bechthold, who spoke about the difficulty people in younger generations are having buying a home in the area and being able to afford the mortgage and taxes on it.
Maynard Dietrich, also of St. Clements, said he attended “to find out what we can do to get our taxes down.
“There’s so much information coming out now that we didn’t even know about, so I just want to find out what’s going on.”
Nate and Beth Lealess of Wellesley village said they attended the meeting because “we have serious concerns about our township’s spending. The recent 13.9 percent tax increase has set a dangerous precedent for future double-digit tax increases. The way the public was informed about the tax increase was misleading. Based on township releases, we were expecting a 6.2 per cent tax increase.”
As far back as 2019, they emailed the mayor and council about their concerns the township couldn’t afford a new recreation facility. Now they are primarily concerned with the increased administration budget outstripping the population growth, the unknowns around how much the operating costs for the recreation centre will be, and the impact of the large tax increase on seniors.
Udell says she is personally driven to get more families and people in her demographic engaged in the public process. She noted attending meetings early in the evening around dinner time is difficult for families to manage.
“So it’s a sacrifice, right? You have one parent doing dinner and bedtime, so that one can show up and educate themselves and show concern for the community. You don’t have to change council meeting times for us, but the seven o’clock hour was way easier for us to manage, yet nobody from council was there to hear us,” said Udell.
“We love our block and our neighbours and our little community, and we would be sad to have to leave. Right now, we’re talking about maybe going down to one car. Not necessarily because of the tax increase, but I feel like these are everyone’s dinner table conversations,” she said. “And when people are having that kind of a meaningful, material conversation and then turn around and find out our taxes are going up that much. It’s like you’re trying your best and then you get slapped with something like that, and you’re back to square one almost,” she said.
“We’ll make-do, but I know that there are others out there who will struggle a lot more than we will, so it’s important for other voices to be heard.”
Rose shared some of the possible next steps the group is considering, but primarily encouraged residents to stay involved in their local politics.
“We’ve got to keep on them. We’ve got to keep on the agendas, we have to watch every issue, we have to show up in droves at council meetings, we have to send our councillors emails and letters. And we have to talk to them when we see them walking their dog,” he said.
“And in fact, the gentleman here was saying earlier about ‘What do we do? This is crazy, the debts are getting out of control,’ and all the rest of it. Well the first thing you do is you show up to these things. The second thing is you show up on election day. And the third thing is you educate yourself before you show up on election day, and you don’t buy charisma over substance.”