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Financial status at odds with municipal needs

When it comes to providing for the kids โ€” facilities and learning opportunities โ€” the caste system appears to be alive and well.

As is the case with most municipalities, Woolwich finds itself in need of millions of new dollars to pay for roads, bridges and pipes in the ground.
A report discussed this week at council says the township has to come up with $54 million over the next decade, suggesting a 4.33 per cent tax increase annually for 15 years.
Officials were quick to point out such a tax increase is unthinkable. Well, theyโ€™re thinking about it, but do realize itโ€™s neither palatable nor possible. Instead, the township has to finagle some combination of tax increases and grants from senior levels of government equivalent to such a hike.
Woolwich is already in that mode, having introduced a special infrastructure levy in 2012. Itโ€™s a prudent move, though, like most municipalities, setting aside money for such purposes should have begun in earnest years ago. Still, the township finds itself somewhat ahead of the curve, a situation that ironically sees it penalized in seeking out funding from the federal and provincial governments, which tend to favour the most financially strapped municipalities. Coupled with a growing tax base, Woolwich appears to be punished for its successes.
The township does have control over its own reserve funds, however. A special levy makes sense under the circumstances: we have to start saving now to pay for some very expensive projects in the future. And with federal and provincial assistance less likely due to deficits and other spending priorities. The province continues to run massive deficits, while maintaining the fairytale of a balanced budget by 2017-18 even as revenues fall and expenses increase. In Ottawa, the government is moving to a surplus position, but has committed most of the gains to its re-election campaign, promising goodies to a few and some crumbs to a broader base in a move that is as blatant as its advertising โ€“ an indefensible use of tax dollars that the opposition charges has run to $600 million during Harperโ€™s tenure.
With that in mind, beyond the special levy, municipal governments will have to cut back on the operating side โ€“ programs and soft services โ€“ in order to offset the sting of infrastructure renewal.
Thereโ€™s no room for delay when it comes to failing bridges and watermains. If residents are not going to face even more exorbitant tax increases than have been the norm recently, then the dollars will have to be reallocated rather than simply going to the well for more, the usual fallback plan for all governments.
In Woolwich, there are expenditures โ€“ some of them substantial โ€“ that provide few if any direct benefits to the public, but for the most part cuts would mean some service reductions to some residents. Leaders determined to set priorities would need to balance expectations with reasonable levels of taxation, essentially selling the merits of more prudent spending. Thatโ€™s more work, however, than taking the easy road: spending more, and taxing everyone as a matter of course.
As this weekโ€™s discussion of the waste transfer station in Elmira illustrates, governments (the region, in this case) are more likely to cut front line services of actual use rather than internalize the hit to their own bloated bureaucracies. Making sense does not come into play.
While overplayed, the need for infrastructure spending is indeed real. With another budget period on the horizon โ€“ and given past disappointments โ€“ now would be a good time to search for actual savings. Woolwichโ€™s new council, to be sworn-in December 9, will have its hands full right from the get-go.

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