Sunday, February 23, 2014

Final Comments 2014 Springwater Township Budget - by Bill French

My last post outlined in detail some of the concerns I have with the 2014 Budget that was tabled for approval February 25th .

The following are the final comments I submitted to the Council and Administration before this upcoming Tuesday Feb 25th Meeting. It appears in italics.

"I have reviewed the proposed 2014 Operating and Capital Budgets for Springwater.

I agree with the continued focus on replacing and maintaining our neglected infrastructure. I do not believe that the approach has been specific or as detailed as possible to make the best of the borrowed or use of reserve funds. There have been unnecessary "nice to have" instead of "must have" expenditures in the last couple of years.
I fear by the township's willingness to borrow freely, which seems to be supported by some constituents, that we are falling into the same predicament as other higher levels of government because of low rates.
I do not believe any of the last three years of budgeting has really provided any of the efficiencies that are widely talked about but do not show up as operating reductions. The operating budget continues to rise which signifies no serious attempts at cost cutting have occurred.
I believe our debt servicing costs should be no more than 15% of tax revenues rather than total revenues which helps control debt and allows 10% more of the tax dollars to be spent on actual services rather than being wasted on unnecessary debt or use of reserves.
As an example $10,000,000 borrowed over 20 years at 5% costs about $16,000,000. In other words $6,000,000 is wasted and the opportunity costs are significant.
I would ask that the approval be delayed until everyone has a real chance to review all the costs and possible suggest savings of $1,000,000 in operating which would reduce the debt and use of reserves and deliver the same service levels if properly managed.
Since there is no time limit for the approval of the budget, why rush it? If there are some items that require approval, approve them individually.
Too much focus has been put into creating a favourable election year budget with a low tax rate rather than a fiscally responsible long term plan for the Township of Springwater."

As taxpayers it is our responsibility to pressure our elected officials to think long term when creating debt loads that could have a negative impact on us as taxpayers long after this council is gone and forgotten. 

The one benefit we have in Springwater is that our average property assessment is about 40% higher than Barrie which keeps our tax rate in the mid-range of area tax rates. Because of this higher than average property assessment, I believe we should have one of the lowest tax rates in the area. If it was not for our higher than average property assessment and a lot less services than urban centres, our taxes would in fact be much higher than our neighbors. To keep things in check we must tighten our belts in spending along with careful debt loading and use of reserves.

I do not believe enough effort was done to cut spending either in the operation or capital spending sides of the budget and the council was led by the temptation of low interest rates which also seems to be the theme of those constituents who wrote and support the budget.

If the budget passes without any significant changes you as a taxpayer will have a low increases in your tax bill this year, which is welcomed, but as the expression goes at some time “we must pay the piper”.

You have a couple of days to contact the Mayor, Deputy Mayor or your councillor. I suggest you read the budget material on the township website and ask questions.