Here's What Community Members Sent Owen Sound Council About the 2024 Budget
City of Owen Sound Mayor and council members received 44 pages of budget feedback from community members ahead of their public meeting. Will they address the issues raised?
Here’s a ‘Sunday night special” ahead of the City of Owen Sound’s Public Budget Meeting tomorrow, on January 29. Grab your beverage of choice and dig in – there’s lots to consider.
This week’s council agenda contains a 44-page document of public feedback received from 23 individuals or couples who have various concerns about the proposed 2024 budget.
The deadline for submitting a question or comment to the City Clerk before the meeting has passed. However, Council will take public input from attendees during the ‘Comments from the Public’ portion of the budget meeting, which takes place inside the Owen Sound City Council regular meeting tomorrow evening.
There are several themes that appear again and again in public feedback submitted to council about this budget, as well as the broader issues of engagement and accountability. Here’s a look at what members of the public want their elected representatives to know heading into this budget meeting.
Many Question Residents’ Ability to Shoulder Another Tax Increase
We cannot afford another increase
“This budget needs to be gone over and bring in a more sensible budget… many on fixed income in the town simply can't afford another 3.9% increase.”
~ Ken Baker
The value we get for taxes is poor
“I’m already paying 8000,00 a year in property taxes, 1,200.00 in water and am retired. I have paid into Owen Sound tax coffers since the 1970s. Since then, taxes have risen constantly, services have declined.
We are on a lower tier for snow removal for example being on a sidestreet but on the highest tier for taxes. We are lucky to get snow removal 3 days after needing it.
That is just the tip of the problem. I see spending on so many unnecessary things in that building, you are inefficient with so many departments being non productive. The value we get is POOR.
~ Wayne Buehner
Very few are getting a 5% increase in wages
“Owen Sound and Grey County taxes are ridiculously high and annual increases need to be curtailed. Very few folks are realizing a 5% increase in their wages. I suspect many folks are struggling to put food on the table but these taxes are reflected in everyone’s rent and mortgage. How does a retiree afford this?”
~ Larry Brown
Our unfortunate distinction is low family income
“As a taxpayer, I want to voice my serious concerns regarding the draft budget. At this time there is virtually nothing to give taxpayers any reason to believe that serious efforts are being taken to rein in the high taxes placed on Owen Sounders. Our taxes are higher than other COMPARABLE municipalities while at the same time Owen Sound has the unfortunate distinction of having a low average family income.
~ Ken Jones
Several Call for Further Budget Review
The budget must be sent back
“At this time it is clear that the Budget must be sent back for review and reconsideration. While I can appreciate that developing a 0% increase may pose a significant challenge and may not be completely attainable, the use of Zerobased Budgeting is an option that you should consider.”
~ David McLeish
Send the budget back and hold staff accountable
“Please send the 2024 budget back to staff to reduce overall expenses and hold them accountable for doing so. We’ve seen this work in the business world when pressed with similar financial challenges but it only happens when leadership sets the tone. You are the elected leaders of the Corporation of the City of Owen Sound. As taxpayers, we view ourselves as shareholders and we urge you to take this step.”
~ Jack Goad and Laura Wood
It’s sad to see what downtown has become
“Please take a second look at the 2024 budget to determine where savings can be found. If Owen Sound continues on its current path, then it will become increasingly difficult to keep and attract residents and businesses to the city. On my daily walk, I have noticed that the number of shuttered retail and service oriented businesses on 2nd Avenue have increased. I have childhood memories of a thriving and busy downtown area. It is sad to see what it has become in recent years.”
~ Catharine Hutton
Send the budget back and reduce expenses
“Send the draft 2024 budget back for expense reductions sufficient to achieve a zero percent tax increase!”
~ Shelley Woyce
Council has a responsibility to take action
“The Municipal Act states that members of council have the responsibility to “Represent the public and consider the well-being and interests of the municipality”. It is the responsibility of each member of council to ensure that the city is being run as efficiently as possible. Right now, the facts show that Owen Sound can and should do better.
When presented with irrefutable evidence that there are serious disparities when compared to similar municipalities, each member of council has the responsibility to take effective action to eliminate those disparities in accordance with the Municipal Act.”
~ Jim Hutton
Hard decisions must be made
“If it (the City) was an industrial company it would be shuttered, or at least departments bleeding money would be closed and the equipment sold off. Why don’t we see that urgency in our local government. Surely the councillors who have or had their own businesses can see it! Hard decisions must be made.
~ Anne Stewart
City Hall spending must be curtailed
“I would like to propose that the only acceptable budget for the city in 2024 is a balanced one. Spending at City Hall must be curtailed. Having a 55% increase over the last 12 years is unacceptable considering the fact that the population has not grown in that time.”
~ Katherine Mann
Look at City staffing
“The budget needs reducing. Maybe start by looking at the staffing and maybe unnecessary overtime. Good idea not increasing the bag tags. That was a step in the right direction.”
~ Susan Murphy
Many Want a Response & Action re: Jim Hutton’s Service Review Report
Take the time to seriously consider recommendations for a 0% tax increase
“I have been following the reports published by Jim Hutton regarding the staff-recommended property tax increases for 2024, along with subsequent news articles posted on the 'Owen Sound Current'. I have also written to all council members regarding my concerns about the proposed increases, asking for their comments.
I received responses from four members, including the mayor. After considering all of the above, including the responses received from council, I am writing to ask that staff re-examine the proposed 2024 budget, taking the necessary time to seriously consider the recommendations offered by Mr. Hutton, with the goal to achieve a 0% tax increase for 2024.”
~ Elaine Pouget
A full review of municipal spending is needed
“I am very concerned at the escalating taxes being imposed on Owen Sound. Please consider very seriously the suggestions made by Jim Hutton to fully review spending for our municipal services using the Zero-Based Budgeting system.
This will free up money that could keep taxes low as well as fund much needed services for the homeless, those with mental health issues a fund many other areas that have suffered budget cuts and therefore service cuts in the city.”
~ Maggie Mann
Relentless tax increases an unnecessary burden
“I have just read Jim Hutton's letter in The (Owen Sound) Current, and I would encourage our Owen Sound council members to take serious note of his observations. Citizens of Owen Sound trust our elected council to make decisions that will benefit the city and its citizens, and the relentless tax increases seem an unnecessary burden on people with limited incomes. I urge you to act wisely, and to Send the draft 2024 budget back for expense reductions sufficient to achieve a zero percent tax increase.”
~ Louise Jarvis
Why won’t the City take the time to discuss Hutton’s report?
“With a 3.9% tax increase looming for 2024 and an average of 1.8% tax increase over the last four years, my question is this, why won't the city take the time to discuss Jim Huttons report as a possible way to reduce our tax increase to 0% for 2024?
Why does the city employ two Managers of Human Resources? What is the profit that the Thom Thompson Art Gallery generates for the city of Owen Sound?
With all the information that is available to city council and managers any increase in taxes for 2024 is not acceptable.” ~ Doug Stewart
Public Engagement and Representation an Ongoing Concern
Every citizen deserves to be heard
“Any citizen, even those not employed by the City, deserves to be heard. There is more to democracy than just showing up on voting day, although that is the least one can do. Please engage the people who elected you, not just your paid staff, in a conversation about making Owen Sound a place that people will ACTUALLY want to be! Answering the questions implicit in the information amassed by Mr Hutton would be a good place to start.”
~ Brian & Debby Minielly
One year in, election promises are not being upheld
“I was present at the Harmony Centre when each, and every single one of the elected councillors spoke about how humbled and honoured they were to be elected. One year in however, it seems as though each of you is quite comfortable dismissing the public to whom they serve.” ~ Micheline Mann
Council should uphold minimal standards of service
“I must also share my disappointment in the paucity of the City’s response to Mr. Hutton. As you know, he provided his report to you in the middle of November however; he has yet to receive a single response, other than those through social media.
Mr. Hutton, who has numerous relevant qualifications, has clearly spent a great deal of time preparing a detailed report and he has made numerous recommendations to council. For your information, the Province of Ontario has service standards for responding to correspondence (see below) that I recommend you emulate:
"we acknowledge emails and online messages within two business days and answer them within 15 business days"
"we answer faxes or mail within 15 business days"
"if we can’t answer your question right away, we will send you an estimated date of when we can answer it within 15 business days"
~ David McLeish
I recommend reading the Public Comments document in its entirety. While I’ve shared snippets above, the full 44 pages of thoughtful feedback, questions, and concerns deserve consideration.
David McLeish, in particular, wrote a lengthy letter to City Council that raises many important questions and logical suggestions. (His letter begins on page 23 of the Public Comments document.)
One of those is this: “In the City’s response please ensure that the City Manager and Director of Corporate Services explain how their perception of the status of the City’s finances differ from those in the audited Financial Statements.”
These disparities have become the elephant in the room, and saying, “We use different sources” doesn’t cut it.
A chorus of financially literate, intelligent, engaged citizens has raised valid concerns over a period of two months about a detailed, credible report that, despite being hand-delivered to the City Council, has never been discussed in an open council session.
The River District budget, which isn’t even supposed to be City money, passed recently after a farcical public budget meeting orchestrated by the City of Owen Sound.
Have they listened and learned – from that experience, or the groundswell of public feedback since before Christmas, or from any of the 44 pages of feedback above?
We shall see.
One thing is certain: there cannot be meaningful public consultation without addressing Hutton’s report and the valid questions it has raised.
Stonewalling Hutton hasn’t stopped his report from circulating. It hasn’t stopped concerned community members from reading his report, checking his sources, and voicing concerns of their own.
As many of those who submitted written comments for the public record noted, continuing to ignore valid budget concerns has become a broad dismissal not only of Jim Hutton but of all those who elected this council to serve.
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