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welcome

I am writing to congratulate all of you on your recent election success and for your willingness to step into the arena of public service to our city.

Being a municipal councillor is tough. You will work through lengthy council meetings and committee meetings and be expected to respond quickly to constituents and attend hearings and media events – all for a very modest paycheck. I appreciate your courage and your investment, and I believe most voters are grateful that you bring your gifts and talents to the council.

I am writing today as a constituent and as a member of several local organizations seeking to advance public participation in civic issues, including land use planning, attainable housing, mental and addictions, recruitment of doctors and nurses for our local healthcare workforce, development of a youth wellness hub and climate action. All of these issues matter to the social, economic and environmental development of our city. A thriving and sustainable city is our common goal.

As your new term begins, you will be looking ahead to a challenging budget season. The lingering effects of a pandemic that has touched all facets of our lives for more than two years will continue to be a major budgeting factor in 2023. The supply issues and overall increases that we all face when buying goods and services will affect the City’s ability to provide services and manage capital projects.

Every year, the council calls a public meeting early in the year to get input and review drafts of revenue and spending.

Consulting and engaging residents – a commitment voters heard mentioned time and again by every member of the council during the recent campaign – is essential to the budget-setting process because a municipal budget is a policy and planning document that outlines the city’s priorities and is always a balancing act between cost saving, and delivering important services.

To that end, I am writing to urge this council to implement – in addition to the traditional regular council session that includes a public meeting on the budget – a robust public engagement process on the 2023 budget, and all future budgets.

The municipal level of government delivers some of our most significant public services. It is vital that we all understand the process for setting municipal budgets, and how we can get involved to help shape the future of our communities.

The current public engagement efforts are not sufficient. 

When the Owen Sound City council began the deliberation of its 2022 operating budget, it was presented with some sobering numbers.

The Director of Corporate Services gave a summary "[These] tables are telling us that the Owen Sound taxpayer has a lower income and pays more in relative property taxes than not only other municipalities in Grey and Bruce counties but also than the Province as a whole.

"Over the past 10 years, the Municipal levy has increased by 50%, from $21,659,300 to $31,659,458 in 2021.

With low growth rates, low household incomes and higher than average relative taxes, the population of Owen Sound does not have the financial capacity to absorb property tax increases consistent with what we have experienced over the past 10 years."

This data was gleaned from the BMA report. The BMA Management Consulting does a regular study of 110 Ontario municipalities representing more than 85% of the population of the province.

Of note, despite these sobering numbers, during the 2022 council budget meeting that sought public comments, no comments were received.

Owen Sound has the same public consultation tools used by municipal governments across this region – and indeed across Canada as well as internationally – to engage citizens in setting budget priorities.   

Take a look at how the City of Delta BC is using – Let’s Talk Delta - the same public engagement platform that Owen Sound launched earlier this year – Our City Owen Sound – to consult its citizens about budget priorities.  To add to the good fortune of our new council, the Canadian manager for Granicus – the Bang the Table engagement platform – lives (and plays hockey) right here in Owen Sound.

Every time our street is plowed, our garbage or recyclables get picked up, or we visit the park, catch a bus, or borrow a book from the library, we are witnessing our tax dollars at work. Municipal budget decisions set the funding for the programs and services we depend on to maintain our quality of life.

All of you as candidates committed to greater public engagement and those of us who voted for you want to see you succeed. Utilizing the public engagement tools already in place in Owen Sound to ensure greater participation in prioritizing budget decisions, will be a major step forward in your new leadership challenge and community involvement.

We’re in this together.

I wish you well.

Pat Kelly


 

 

 

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