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Council would do well to give budget serious scrutiny

A proposal to hire a consultant for a review of township services goes to the heart of a number of problems, and not one confined to Woolwich.
In this case, a debate on the issue at last week’s budget meeting, raised some of the very real concerns. First off, there’s the cost: a projected $60,000 for yet another consultant’s study. In general terms, the public would be asked what they want in the way of services. Theoretically, that could lead to less, more or the status quo. Realistically, consultants typically lead things in the direction favoured by those who hire them. Given this is a staff-driven initiative, bloat is likely to win the day.
Moreover, as past “consultations” with the public have shown, the only people likely to get involved are those looking for a specific addition. That will skew the equation, with bureaucrats often eager to take a handful of advocates and overwhelming indifference as support … as long as it agrees with their existing position. See the transit process – LRT in the region, bus in Woolwich – as a very costly example of that phenomenon.
As well, going to the public on such matters raises the expectation action will follow. If, surprise, surprise, the data are massaged to say “more,” just how does that get paid for? Higher taxes?
In that vein, Woolwich needs to look at its spending priorities before embarking on such an exercise. As there’s been a large increase in staffing costs, some of it of little value to the public, even as the township cites its infrastructure deficit, it’s clear that cuts, not increases, are needed. If there is to be a study, it should focus on where the cuts should come.
Of course, there’s no need to spend money on that: the new crop of councillors has already recognized there is some bloat in management. No need to cut frontline services – the punitive action of officials forced to make cuts – when there’s plenty to trim that would go unnoticed by the public, aka those paying the bills.
Though new to the scene, some of those same councillors have quickly realized that increased spending and larger budgets follow larger revenue streams, augmented by tax increases. The benefits of assessment growth and other new revenues are absorbed into the bureaucracy rather than offsetting tax rates or going to priority projects, though some of it is funnelled that way.
Breslau resident Peter Durksen has made a study of Woolwich’s budget situation and its tax hikes in recent years. He was out at council again this week pointing out some obvious concerns, namely the tendency to increase taxes well above inflation year after year. Equally obvious is the fact such increases outstrip income gains. In that, Woolwich is not alone, as every level of government is guilty of profligacy and disregard for the public and its welfare. We’re making less money before we pay our taxes. Afterwards, we’re even more behind. Despite paying more taxes, we’re getting less in return – for tax-weary residents, that’s the real kicker. Simply put, we’re not seeing the benefits of having more money lifted from our wallets.
At the same time as property taxes go up, fees for services such as water and sewage have climbed steadily, part of fee-for-use rationale. In that light, ratepayers are getting less even as they pay more in general taxes.
We long decried the absence of real debate in Woolwich’s budget process. Councillors would do well to remember who they work for – hint, not those employed by the township – while setting the 2015 budget.

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