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Making council work for those who really matter

Woolwich council took a step in the right direction Tuesday night, opting to reduce to zero per cent a planned tax hike for 2015, down from two per cent.

This council, featuring the three newcomers, seem much more inclined to advocate on the public’s behalf. This week, staff’s consternation with that reality was very much apparent. It seems they, like township residents, aren’t familiar with the inklings of good governance.

The previous council made a cursory attempt at reform early in its term, but was rebuffed by staff and quickly changed gears (insert Kool-Aid reference here). They, too, were very much aware of the dangers of rapidly increasing taxes, far outstripping inflation and the little, if any, growth in people’s incomes. This council appears ready to do something about an affliction in many municipalities that, unchecked, would see property taxes double and double again in the time many homeowners paid down their mortgages. Residents would be paying much more and receiving no more for their money.

Directing staff to cut two per cent from the budget rather than simply going back to the tax well sets a good precedence, forcing them to look at needless spending. Likewise, Woolwich needs to reel in its increasing expenditures – up 6.3 per cent on the operating side in the original budget – which have continued to climb as staff helped themselves to the assessment growth and other financial windfalls, taking and not giving anything back to the residents who suffer from the many negatives of growth.

Woolwich councillors, in suggesting a hiring freeze and review of staffing levels, touched on a key component to bringing expenses and taxes under control: stop doling out increases in wages and salaries, all the while adding new staff. Woolwich has certainly been suffering from bureaucratic bloat, particularly in the last five years, with most of the new positions adding no value to the residents of the township.

It’s telling that in discussing the ramifications of a lowered tax hike, there was talk of service cuts, not reductions in staff numbers at the management level, where several positions could easily be eliminated to save $300,000 to $400,000 a year, far in excess of the extra revenues that would be raised by the proposed tax hikes.

Not surprisingly, this year’s budget recommends the hiring of more staff.

In budget talks last month, there were hints staff will be looking to increase those numbers next year.

There were some long faces on the staff side of the council chambers as councillors discussed wage and hiring freezes as a way to taming expenditures en route to lowering tax increases.

As noted, however, easy cuts with no impact on residents will provide plenty of extra revenue that can be applied to the township’s infrastructure deficit. Reduced spending on the operating side will allow the municipality to focus on the priorities, hard services essential to the community, while stripping away the bureaucratic bloat and runaway salaries that steal away money from the productive part of the local economy.

Councillors have struck the right tone. Now, they need to continue down that path, meeting the pushback that will come from staff with their own resolve, perhaps cutting deeper until resistance fades away and managers come to the realization – better late than never – that they work for the public, not the other way around.

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