RELATED: Town hikes tax rate
Town council split 4-3 on the budget vote in favour of a significant tax increase.
Deputy Mayor Jean Brittain, councilors Danny Harvieux and Peter Turnbull all voted for the increase while councillors Brian Manzer, Mike Bartlett and Bob Handspiker voted against it—the votes were the same at the final budget committee meeting on Monday, July 29 and at town council on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
At the council meeting, Bartlett tried to introduce some ideas for possible cuts also supported by Manzer and Handspiker.
Mayor Ben Cleveland told the trio that private meetings of council were improper and that in future all councillors should be invited.
“There. You’ve been slapped,” he said.
Following the mayor’s remarks deputy mayor Jean Brittain went ahead with her motion to approve the budget as recommended by committee.
“None of us want to pass a budget that hurts people,” said Brittain. “We went over every line (at committee). When you have seven plus the CAO, all sitting round the table and talking, you’re going to get all manner of interpretation and insights.”
Given how tight the budget was, Brittain says she’s sure the trio were bringing back ideas they’d already talked about at committee.
“I have no reason to doubt they wanted to insist on concerns they’d already objected to at committee.”
She says they debated the budget line by line and everyone had a chance to ask questions and offer their viewpoint at committee.
“Like it or not, majority wins and the majority of council voted for the budget,” she said. “We put a lot of work into it and I’m confident we did everything we could to hold costs to a minimum.”
Brittain says it would have been impossible for the councilors to digest and understand any new proposals the trio were suggesting at that meeting.
“They can’t expect to throw a piece of paper on the table like the 13, 14-budget and expect the rest of us to make sense of it at that meeting,” said Brittain.
Turnbull too said if they had received the information from the trio before the council meeting, they could have considered it but not when it comes to council without any warning.
“I wish they had sent their ideas to council and let us have a look at them,” he said.
Turnbull says approving the tax increase was a tough decision.
“It wasn’t done lightly,” he said. “Everything in that budget we looked at and we tried to cut where we could.”
Harvieux also didn’t see where any more cuts would be possible.
“The only places you could possibly cut would be the fire department, the recreation department or the works department and I’m not ready to do that,” he said.
Bartlett says he was just hoping they would look at the trio’s ideas long enough to call another budget committee meeting.
“I know it is no different than any other topic we deal with,” he said. “You can’t expect a decision that night. But their reaction kind of shocked us. We thought we were doing a good thing and giving it a second look.”
Handspiker says their ideas could have totalled up to $60,000 in savings – enough, he says, to keep the tax rate increases to one cent for residential and five for commercial.
“I’m afraid we are going to tax people right out of town,” says Handspiker. “If something is voted on 50/50, then you know something is wrong somewhere and maybe someone should look at it again. That’s all we wanted to do.”
Manzer says because some of their suggestions were actually just questions for town CAO Tom Ossinger, he doesn’t know for sure if all of their ideas would translate into actual savings.
“I just would have liked them to table their motion to approve the budget and have another look,” he said. “Now the tax rate is set and we have to live with that. I don’t know if we can count on getting all the assessment they predict in the budget.”
Mayor Cleveland says whatever ideas the trio or any councillors have can be brought forward at anytime and if they save money, that’s savings that will help the town next year.
He sees the 4-3 vote as a sign council is working well.
“I love the debate, we’re getting lots of perspectives and ideas and that’s how it is supposed to work,” he said. “Everyone had their say and everyone voted the way they wanted.”