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3. Given that Owen Sound is known for high property taxes, how important is it to hold the line? Can we address social and health issues and other pressing problems despite the fiscal challenges?

 

MAYOR

 

Ray Botten
I certainly do believe we can address and curtail the upscale in our social and health related issues. I do believe our local council needs to invest in our people. Addressing these needs will cost our budget to increase but not in the short term. We as a city need to use our property taxes as an investment directly into these social/health related concerns. I as Mayor will introduce a 25% shortfall on the 30 million dollars that we take in from property taxes. This large project will (in part) be used to tackle our homeless issue and support our only Emergency shelter for men & woman. Further: We will lower our tax burden in our first year in order to stimulate our economy. I will have a more detailed answer when sharing publicly in order for everyone to understand the spirit and knowledge of this investment.

 

Ian Boddy
Many people are more concerned about losing services than reducing municipal taxes. People are concerned that their taxes will not cover the costs of infrastructure in the future. At the same time, we need to be competitive with other municipalities in the services we provide combined with comparative tax rates.

Over the past four years, we have added a portion of tax increases directly to capital to manage the infrastructure deficit we were left with, and to build reserves for the future. That needs to continue.

Police and fire services combined account for approximately 46% of our annual operating budget. We have dealt with an OPP costing and we are dealing with fire arbitration issues to try to manage those costs. We completed an extensive service review of the remaining city operations and found efficiencies over $800,000 annually. We were able to pass more moderate tax increases compared to similar communities with the goal to move down relative to others.

Our best strategy is to continue to carefully manage our costs and to grow the tax base to bring relief.

 

DEPUTY MAYOR

 

Paul Patille
This issue is extremely important and that we must hold the line. Period.
As this is a major detractor for those individuals that may consider "Owen Sound as a place to live."
For social and health issues that are placed on this City, we must consider alternatives to generate
new funds to provide for our citizens.
We need to address the tax burden! This burden must be shared equally or partly shifted towards
the commercial and industrial sector. The status-quo cannot continue.

 

Brian O'Leary
In 2018, the city budget was $28,995,000.00. This was a 2.39% increase from 2017. When combined with the County and School Board, it was a 1.7% increase. Given that there are several items in the budget where council has limited control, such as arbitrated wage settlements, hydro, gas, etc, this was a responsible budget. By setting a positive climate for development, we have lowered Owen Sound taxes compared to previous years. We are committed to police and fire reviews, and we succeeded in finding in excess of $800,000.00 in savings during our city Services Review. Our city is fortunate to be a part of Grey County, who are the leader in delivering social services. If elected to serve on County council, I will look forward to learning more on how we can continue to save by sharing costs and addressing social and health issues.

 

COUNCILLORS

 

Gail McCartney
Can we address social and health issues and other pressing problems despite the fiscal challenges?

As a Realtor, I see up close and personal the effect of high taxes. The City is struggling with the loss of so many industrial tax payers.

Much as there are no simple solutions to complicated problems, I think the easiest way to describe my position is that I am very pro-growth. lncreasing the tax base is the only realistic way to slow escalating tax rates without severely cutting back services.

 

Travis Dodd
I think it is important to keep tax increases at a reasonable rate. The costs for services continue to rise annually and to "hold the line" would mean that current services or capital projects could be downgraded. We have an annual infrastructure deficit that increases every year and I believe there needs to be a focus on helping bringing this deficit down in order to improve our roadways and other infrastructure needs in a more timely fashion. We also need to continue working towards increasing our assessment growth by developing infill lots to help with the cost of rising expenses. In regards to addressing health and social issues, I would continue to support service clubs, groups and organizations who keep residents healthy and active. I believe the more we can do to promote healthy lifestyles within our community, the more it will ultimately help with health related issues.

 

Brock Hamley

When it comes to taxes, everyone I've spoken with at the doors has told me the same thing: the taxes in Owen Sound are too high. Many tell me if it gets worse, they'll be putting their homes up for sale. It's a vicious circle. Taxes are high because of the small tax base. But, we can't grow the tax base if our taxes aren't competitive. Someone needs to have the courage and fight to lower taxes. I want to be that person.

 

Steven Hencze
Very hard to hold the line with rising costs of everything .. social and health issues are a concern everywhere .. more of the provincial government has to step up to the plate and fun us more money to other more to the people in bad situations

 

Richard Thomas
Holding the line is exceptionally difficult in view of the fact that costs continue to rise. To hold the line means to sacrifice service levels, something a recent Nanos poll indicated the majority of Ontarians were unwilling to do. Increasing our assessment through new construction will help to reduce the tax burden by making more tax dollars available. Social services are a County responsibility, and most health care (with the exception of capital needs) is a provincial responsibility.

 

Bill Twaddle
I have consistently supported the initiatives that make this a community of choice for all, from protecting our drinking water to improving our sewage treatment system;

From building the regional recreation centre to ensuring sustainable transit;

From implementing planning programs to support growth and development to policies that protect and enhance the downtown core.

Owen Sound faces many significant challenges during the next term of council. The renovation to city hall will be a significant burden on taxes for several years and the 10th St. bridge reconstruction will significantly impact the ability to proceed with other infrastructure rehabilitation.

The danger is that the so-called "nice-to-have" amenities that are so important to the health and character of the community could fall by the wayside.

Responsibility for social services falls primarily on the county and the province. The city has an important role to play in encouraging both to maintain and to enhance those services, and by developments and and policies that support low or no-cost family activities and recreational services. (ie: extended hiking and biking trails, park facilities and a generally healthier environment.)

The most responsible way to control taxes without hurting programs and services is by encouraging new development. Real assessment growth in 2018, much of it propelled by decisions put in place six to 10 years ago, helped reduce tax increases in 2018.

The new council will have to re-engage in this forward-thinking approach to create a climate to protect existing business, especially in the downtown, and to encourage new growth.

 

Riel Warrilow
I believe that there are a lot of things the city can do to support social and health issues that aren't limited to spending money. Fostering partnerships with other agencies that support our vulnerable folks is how we will get the best results for our dollars spent. We have a voice to amplify their efforts, and that isn't insignificant.

 

Jacquie Furtner
Unfortunately, we have a small amount of people supporting a huge amount of services. The best way forward it to grow our tax base. Attracting new businesses and residents as well as supporting those who are already here can help alleviate some of the fiscal challenges. Working on community development creates strong, healthy partnerships and collaborations. If we work together, we pool our resources. These being: finances, time, ideas, assets and hard work, among others.

 

Denae Moores
We absolutely must hold the line on property taxes. That may challenge us on other fiscal pressures, but property taxes can't be the default. Honestly, I'm uncertain how much can be saved to offset revenue from not raising property taxes. But I want to be a part of a City Council that focuses on seemingly simple things like the sequencing of projects and their anticipated completion. To not see our downtown in a constant state of repair or disruption. To be a part of an accountable council that answers to the community.

But we also need to be progressive on how we plan for future growth. We need to be realistic about what industries we can attract to our community to help address employment issues.

 

 John Tamming
As long as Georgian Bluffs offers more attractive tax rates, we do not have much of an option. City taxes must continue to be kept at or below COLA. This will be a difficult circle to square: One recent analysis revealed past growth in our assessment base of just over one percent and increasing annual costs hovering around four percent. These numbers cannot be sustained. To borrow from our premier's recent campaign, I may be convinced otherwise, but I find it hard to believe that there are not savings to be had from the operating budget of 3% to 4%. It is short sighted and counter-productive to assume such savings from capital budget items; we cannot skimp on infrastructure improvements and maintenance.

I find it frankly bizarre that none of your questions touch emergency services, which come in at around 55% of our annual operating budget. I don't know if union sympathies on your end cause that elephant in the room to go unremarked but you cannot seriously talk about taxes in this town without finding, say, a million in police and without, finding similar amounts (through a composite force) in fire. Savings of a million or two could be applied directly to improvements in the core.

I do not understand the second question. You would have to expand upon your question and refer specifically to social and health issues which fall under the purview of city governance. I am not aware of any city powers or mandate to address same.

 

Marion Koepke
Higher property taxes in Owen Sound are certainly an issue. However, if taxes are to be reduced, residents need to realize that some essential services need to be eliminated. The budget is substantially dedicated to emergency services and the current Council is working hard at reducing that portion of the budget. We are fortunate in Owen Sound that social and health issues are assisted by Grey County and a portion of the Owen Sound property taxes goes to Grey County to cover these issues.

 

Carol Merton
Four weeks into the election campaign with over 2,000 doors knocked on, over 200 online survey responses and many telephone and street conversations, I know that taxes are a big concern to voters. There is a lack of appetite from most of the people I have talked to for a tax hike. A key issue is whether taxpayers believe they are receiving an effective return on their tax investment that will support the city now and into the future. Council must watch the receipts and expenditures of the city carefully, ensuring value and quality of life. I support a wider tax base that includes all tax paying sectors working together to build a strong, healthy community.

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