A group of Wellesley residents looking for the township to reduce a planned 14 per cent tax hike brought the argument home to councillors meeting Tuesday night.
More than 50 people of all ages shuffled uncomfortably in their bulky winter coats as they waited to listen to the delegation from Kelly Rakowski representing citizens’ concerns over the increase that will add some $179 to the township portion of property tax bills, based on an average assessment of $389,000.
The tax increase comes from a combination of a previously approved 7.7 per cent increase to cover the debenture of the new recreation centre, and this year’s tax increases to cover inflation, a greening levy and a new one per cent infrastructure levy.
“We are holding the protest for three reasons,” said Kelly Rakowsi, a resident of Wellesley village and a volunteer with Concerned Citizens of Wellesley Township (formerly St. Clements Organized). “One is to show our frustration at the tax increase. Number two is to show our frustration at the lack of transparency and three, because we want better governance.”
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Rakowski says the group’s members would like to see the council revisit the budget motion they passed, and to see a total tax increase of about half the approved rate.
“Whether that means that the facility takes much, much longer to pay off in debt, something has to give, because we have people that are talking about needing to move and you have seniors on fixed incomes and you have families that are working two jobs and just making ends meet.”
“We are hoping to achieve a reversal of the tax amount. We are wanting to go from the 14 per cent down to between six and eight per cent. So tonight, if they can at least say that they are going to look at that, that would be good.”
Charlene White from St. Clements attended the protest outside the chambers before the meeting. “It’s too much of a tax hike,” she said. “Money’s tight now with increases on everything else like food and gas, and now add this. There’s a lot of senior residents in town on fixed incomes.”
Jim Voteary from Wellesley also attended. “The big thing is to voice your opinion. Apathy breeds this kind of behaviour. When it goes unchecked, they do whatever they want,” he said. “Outrageous tax hikes like this is just laziness on council’s part. It seems to be what they always do. They never look for efficiency or savings, just squeeze more out of the taxpayers.”
Rakowski voiced those concerns as a delegate, drawing applause partway through her address, which in turn prompted Mayor Joe Nowak to ask for quiet. “We want to have a respectful discussion, but we will not allow outbursts,” he said.
Rakowski expressedher disappointment on behalf of many citizens at the tax hike and what they perceive as a lack of transparency about how much the new recreation centre would cost individual taxpayers.
Coun. Derek Brick asked CAO Rik Louwagie to explain how the 14 per cent increase is applied to residents’ taxes.
Louwagie noted the increase applies only to the township portion of municipal taxes, which makes up 31 per cent of the total, with more than half going to the Region of Waterloo and the rest to the school board.
Brick also asked Louwagie to explain how the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s assessment of property values impacts households, prompted by Rakowski expressing alarm about the 14 per cent tax increase, and what that will mean when property values are reassessed in future.
Louwagie said that when property values are reassessed, the tax rate is reduced so that the township cannot collect more money than what was budgeted for.
According to the MPAC website, when properties are reassessed, the impact to a household’s property taxes is determined by how their property’s value changed relative to the average change in property value for that property class in the municipality.
“If your assessed value percentage increase is higher than the average for your property class, your taxes will likely increase,” said the site. And if the assessed value percentage increase is lower, then taxes will likely decrease.
Council allowed minimal input from the group, seeming to upset those in attendance. Nowak suggested the group connect with him to arrange another meeting for questions and answers about the increase.
Township staff said many people are not understanding the tax increase correctly.
“Much of the information being shared on social media is inaccurate and misleading, suggesting a much higher impact to taxpayers than the true impact,” said deputy clerk Amy Harron. “It is important to recognize that this increase is only applicable to the township portion of an individual’s tax bill, not the regional or school board levies.
“Residents are encouraged to contact staff for accurate information regarding the tax increase. If additional information or explanation becomes necessary or available it will be posted to our website and social media platforms,” she said.
“The current budget as approved maintains the levels of service existing in 2022. Any reductions would ultimately result in a service level reduction.”
The township staff issued a notice last month explaining the tax increase.
“The 2023 budget was passed with an inflationary increase of 4.43 per cent plus a 0.75 per cent greening levy and a one per cent infrastructure levy. The total 2023 increase is in addition to previously approved expenditures. As a result, the total 2023 increase on the township portion of an actual tax bill is approximately 13.89 per cent,” stated the release.
The previous approved expenditures are a one-time increase to cover the debenture of the new rec. centre and staffing for it.
Rakowski says the next tasks of the Wellesley Township Concerned Citizens group include a letter-writing campaign to township council and Waterloo Region, creating flyers to send to every household in the township, and doing door-to-door knocking to talk to residents about the impact of the tax increase.
“We are showing that residents are no longer going to just allow council to do as they wish, and that this tax increase was the beginning. We’re now going to be pushing back on the lack of transparency and we’re going to be holding council to the task of being responsible with our money.”