Community Members Question Budget Process & Share Concerns at Public Meeting
Mayor says next step is a staff report to Council "in a couple of weeks."
Six residents took the podium in Council Chambers to voice concerns during the City of Owen Sound’s 2024 Public Budget Meeting. Council received 44 pages of public input before the meeting, as well, which you can access here.
What follows is a transcript of their comments and any responses received.
(Note: Transcripts are just one of the ways the Province of Ontario recommends businesses and institutions make information accessible to people with disabilities, as per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). The City of Owen Sound does not provide meeting video transcripts, so I’ve done my best. Please see the meeting video to verify any passage of text.)
Pat Kelly, Owen Sound
“So I have a question about a decision that was taken unanimously by the Council in December 2021 for an economic development plan, as an offset to property taxes. Do we have an update on the impact of that plan, or could we have one?”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Looking to staff.”
Tim Simmonds, City Manager: “Through the Mayor, we can provide an update at the next budget meeting on that.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “We don't have the answer today. It will be answered at the next budget meeting. If anyone else wishes to speak, now's the time, or we will close the Open Meeting and move on.”
Joachim Ostertag, Owen Sound
“I'm representing the Climate Action Team. So last year, we developed a Climate Action Plan for Owen Sound, which also focuses on developing a climate lens for all operations and services. I'm just wondering… I have not seen any of that reflected in the budget. I know it's difficult to do, but I'm just kind of want to put a note on that one, that this is important.
Also that climate action is generally not reflected in the budget in terms of expenses. And, we still have not heard about getting a Climate Coordinator in any form, which would be costly to some extent. On the other hand, it also saves costs because there are lots of applications to funding from FCM and so on, that might actually save costs and interest.
I heard several times that winter maintenance or winter operations, what it's called, is a very high cost. And I'm just hoping and suggesting that there will be more research on that one. Just from my personal experience, I can see that the lots of inefficiencies in how salting and sanding is done in Owen Sound. I don't have to elaborate on this right now; just a comment. Thank you.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Miss Allen.”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “I can answer a portion of the question and we did anticipate it, so our Manager of Corporate Services to prepare something that I could address it. That being said, it may not answer your entire question as it relates to climate change, especially around the funded position.
However, the City approved a Climate Action Strategy and Climate Mitigation Plan in 2023. These documents were created internally through a staff team and were supported by the Climate Action Team Owen Sound, also known as CATOS.
And through various public engagement, the strategy will be maintained through an internal steering committee and supported by CATOS where possible that will assign and work through the adopted action items requiring action by multiple city departments and the staff within them.
The Manager of Corporate Services will continue to participate on the Grey County Climate Change Community of Practice, alongside staff from other Grey County municipalities. Staff reports now include a section within them that connects the content of the report to the Climate Mitigation Plan, if applicable.
Some 2024 projects and initiatives that are funded include building condition assessments; city facility upgrade retrofits including new mechanical equipment at the McQuaid Tannery, Bayshore Community Centre, and Animal Shelter; developing a fleet management strategy; development of source-separated organics program for mid-2025 implementation; the continuation of inventory of the urban tree canopy as well as the continuation to promote community gardens as well as corporate-wide encouraging staff to carpool using active transportation and telework and alignment with remote work policy, encourage the use of video conferencing for meetings to reduce staff travel, and implementing annual public reporting on energy use and emissions including the update of the city's Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Good, thank you. So is there any other member of public that wishes to speak? Now’s the time.”
Doug Stewart, Owen Sound
“I've sat here, and I've listened, and I appreciate all the information that you've given us. And it's probably all very true. I guess my bottom line is, we're still increasing or talking to increase taxes by over 3% this year.
Now I don't know how that's leveling out. We've, up until 2022. we had were $51 million over inflation 21.5% – 21.5 to over inflation $8.6 million, sorry.
So I don't know how we're leveling things out. I think we have to look at if we have to cut services. Maybe that's what we have to do, but nothing was ever said why we have two managers of human resources, we have 151 employees and two managers of human resources.
Nowhere in any business do I ever see two human resources with that fewer employees. Now, maybe the corporation is different. I'm not familiar with that but I know if somebody was running their own business and had two human resources managers, paying 106,000 each, it would be something that I'd want to look at.
Now, there was said that the $50,000 was taken out of this year's budget and the following what that was correct. If that's the case, then how is the Tom Thompson going to operate if they have no money? They don't charge to get in. Where's this money going to come from to pay for all the expenses of the curator and her five employees?
I just think we need to stop spending. It's going up by 2024. We could have budgeted expenses of 62 million. Maybe that's not correct. I don't know. That's what it seems like. That's the way it seems to be going.
As far as comparing to other municipalities… I don't live there. I've lived here all my life. I'm retired, and no pension. And it's getting very, very difficult. So somewhere somebody has to stop spending and I think this is a good place to start. Thank you.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Kate, anything to add?”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “A lot of those subjective comments certainly, take into note. I will note one factual piece. Our total expenses currently budgeted in 2024 are $46.7 million, not $62 million.
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Okay, anyone else wish to speak?”
Lloyd Elliott, Owen Sound
“My wife told me I shouldn't get up and embarrass myself but I'm going to. So anyways, I find the information very, very interesting. and first of all, I'd like to thank Mayor and all the members of council, for the job that you're doing. It's very easy to sit back and criticize everything that you do. You do overall a good job.
I do think there is a flaw in our process when it comes to budgeting. And a few of the comments I take exception with. I've read a lot in the media that individuals have stated, come up with all kinds of graphs and such. Someof it I agree with, some of it I don't agree with. Some of the things I've heard here tonight I disagree with, and I do agree with.
One of the comments that were made tonight where we can't look at the rate of increase of offering municipality based on the rate of inflation. Well, I'm sorry, but that's how me as a taxpayer have to pay my taxes is by the rate of inflation. That's what my income is geared to.
So I think we need to go back and look at what it is that we can actually control. If we can't control the cost of snow removal, which in the last two years has gone up substantially.
I'm on the board of directors for a condominium corporation. I can tell you, salt costs have gone up 82% in the last two years, and labor has gone up 28% in the last two years for snow removal. So yes, that's really very hard to control. But 64% is what we were told comes out of wages. And I guess we maybe need to look at leveraging some of their wages to bring in the budget, more in line with what the inflation rate is.
If the county is putting through 6.4% or six-point-whatever-it-was percent increase, then I think this council should be pushing back to the county to help manage what the expenses are for the City of Owen Sound, because that's who you represent.
So I think I think the other part that I heard tonight, which I agree with and I think it's long overdue, is having more community engagement at the beginning of the budgeting process to hear what the public actually has to say, instead of waiting until just before it comes to the bylaw being presented. That doesn't give a lot of time to get any actual engagement.
I see it's on the agenda tonight to ask for a town hall meeting style in October. But maybe that needs to start at the beginning of the budgeting process, and find out what the citizens actually think first before you lay the framework to prepare the budget for the year.
It really, it comes down to this council to make the final decision on what the budget is going to be. But it starts with the management team that operates City Hall. From there it goes down to the grassroots.
And as a citizen, I do see a lot of waste, and I've heard here tonight. There is a lot of idleness that I see walking in the neighborhood. I live up by Greenwood Cemetery and when we can clear the driveway through Greenwood Cemetery before we clean the streets, I'm not really sure that we've got the focus right.
So those are just some food for thought. I know it's not an easy job, nobody wants to pay any more, anything in taxes, or nobody wants to pay more, but the reality is, that's the nature of the beast. You pay it now or you're going to pay it down the road. And I think Miss Allen's comment if we don't pay the least rate of inflation is going to catch up in two or three years time.
I've seen that in personal business and I've seen it in in the position I'm in now where we ended up having to pay the piper because we didn't leverage the the rates as we as the rate of inflation hit. We tried to save money, but in the long run, it finally caught up.
So there's no easy solution. But I commend all of you for your dedication to try to work the process I just asked that you really take a good hard look at it before you just rubber stamp it.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Thank you for your comments. I see Councillor Dodd has his hand up on screen.”
Travis Dodd, Councilor: Everybody just… Yeah, can you hear me? Perfect, thank you everybody there was a… thank you, Lloyd, for your question. I appreciate that you did ask a question regarding inflation, and what it has been. Kate, would you be able to just provide in the last three years for example, how have our budgets been in comparison to the rates of inflation?
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “Over the past three years, plus 2024 inclusive our budget increases have been less than inflation.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Just so you can hear, Travis, Mr. Elliott has asked Kate what last year's increase was.”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “I don't have the exact number I believe it was just under 2%.”
Lloyd Elliott: “How can you tell me it was less than inflation if you can’t tell me what it was last year?”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “Sorry, I don't have the exact number. It was just under 2% while inflation from for last year was 3.9.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Thank you thank you for your comments. Mr. Elliott, is there anyone else that wishes to speak? And if not, then we'll wrap up the public meeting.”
Doug Stewart: “I just looked at my numbers in from 2011 to 2022 while inflation went up 21.5%, where our expenses are 21.5% above inflation. I can't tell you what inflation was but our expenses in for the city have gone up 25.5% above inflation to $59,753,592. Inflation would have been $50,128,617.”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “I don't have that. I don't have that exact calculation. however, our total expenses were not over 55 million. Our total expenses in the current year levy are slightly higher than last year and we're sitting at 46 million. I’m not sure how that calculation was done.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Okay, anyone else?”
“I'm Ken Jones, I live in Owen Sound, just got a couple of very quick comments.
If people go online, there have been 23 letters sent in by taxpayers to give their comments about the proposed budget. I trust that the Mayor and council have all read them and probably detected that there are some common threads.
One is that most people do not want this budget approved.
As number two… another thread is Council and the Mayor have not been very receptive to any input from taxpayers. And most notably, we've heard the name mentioned, Mr. Hutton. I've never met him. But he has put many things on online with very, very in depth analysis. and his opinions and short on stats and graphs are very impressive. I trusted they're all correct.
The presentation tonight was excellent. I couldn't follow it all, I'll admit. But it was very, very impressive and I appreciate that.
I am asking will you allow anybody watching on TV tonight to submit letters again, regarding what's being presented here tonight? Allow comments… I know you'd allow them. My question is not if you allow them, but if you're going to consider them?
And I think that's a big difference. Comments is one thing. Are you going to seriously consider them? Not everybody's convinced that has happened. So anyway, so my comment is will you consider the comments by taxpayers? Go ahead.”
Carol Merton, Councilor: “Through the chair, good evening. I would like to respond to that because you raise a very, very important point. So with the chair’s forbearance, I would like just a few minutes to respond.
First of all, I wish to thank not only Mr. Hutton for his report, but also every other resident who has emailed Mayor and council with questions of their own, suggestions, and requests regarding the draft budget. I wish to thank all of you in chambers today, as well as those watching on or through online or through Roger's – and also, there are numerous comments available actually attached to this presentation.
We all have the same goal and that is to ensure that Owen Sound is a sustainable community for the generations that will come after us. I wish to add additional information to ensure that as we go forward, you have a more fulsome picture.
Mr. Hutton is correct. We, as council, did not discuss his report in an open council meeting. But I must state clearly this does not mean that we discarded or disregarded his analysis and his suggestions for action. Just as we did not disregard any other comments or questions that we received in regard to Mr Hinton's ongoing work.
I have been in correspondence with him since he began his analysis with the most recent email January 24, 2024.
I can only speak for myself. Other councilors may wish to also speak for themselves. About the action steps I personally have taken, I have read Mr Hutton's report several times. I have responded to those people who have emailed me and identified to them what my action steps are. My responsibility as a representative of the residents of the city is to listen to pay attention and to reflect.
I have also spoken with the city manager and I met with Kate Allen, who presented this evening, to go over Mr Hutton's report as well as the comments I'd received and to ask to help me understand the comparators and where we are as a Council and the decisions we have to make.
I have reviewed the staffing allocation of the city departments which identify managers to be able to understand the difference in the reports. I have responded to The (Owen Sound) Current – Miranda Miller's – request for comments and welcome anyone to look at my responses.
I have also read Mr. Hutton's recent report in Rebound Owen Sound’s Community Action Group.
I've emailed Aiden Ware to ask for more information around the questions regarding the art gallery. And the response was sent back to Mayor, Council, and senior leadership team in response to questions.
Our community is definitely facing challenging financial times and we are all concerned. And I hear the questions and comments about inflation and the concerns that people have.
We need to continue to critically analyze how we can be sustainable and we need to engage and listen to the people who are forwarding their responses to us. We do pay attention. We do read them, and some may get responses, some may not. But you are heard.
I want to thank very much the chair for the opportunity to respond. And I want to thank you, Mr. Jones, for bringing this forward. Because it is critical as we represent you that we listen.
Ken Jones: “If I might respond… I wanted to send you our kudos, to you, for your comments, for responding to taxpayers. I have conversed with you in writing, and you've responded to every single email, and other people have voiced the same opinion. So your response there was extremely professional. Extremely from the heart, and I want to say from my perspective as a taxpayer, and I think I speak for many, we appreciate your response. Thank you very much for your time.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “Thank you Is there anyone else that wishes to speak before we move on with the meeting?”
Joel, Owen Sound
“I'm just wondering if there what avenues there are for our community's most vulnerable to get involved in this process, if there are others, outside of coming to this meeting?”
Kate Allen, Director of Corporate Services: “Looking forward, so as we wrap up our 2024 budget, we are looking more comprehensively at how we're going to move forward with 2025. So right off the bat we have planned to bring detailed budgets through committees to provide more detailed review and allow opportunity for those committees intimate with the services offered within them to provide counsel with their own comments and direction. So certainly being on a city committee as a great way to be involved.
We will also be using the our city page for the 2025 budget to allow feedback with residents to participate through that page and some of the commenting and interaction ability that we have.”
Ian Boddy, Mayor: “If there is anyone else, this is the time, and otherwise, we'll declare the meeting public meeting closed and move on with the rest of our meeting. As Kate indicated, we will get a report back from staff on budget in a couple of weeks and then move forward from there.”
We’ve done our best to ensure this transcription is accurate but make no guarantees. Please see the City of Owen Sound meeting video to verify the accuracy of this transcription.
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