Without a history of regular financial reports to Council from the municipal administration and departments, it is hard to say how taxes will go. The debt is currently about $4 million more than the $18 million that the ex-mayor claimed it would be at the end of 2018.
Council said that the reserves would be built up so much by 2018 that we could borrow from ourselves. The mayor wrote “…if Public Works needs $300,000 for a new piece of heavy equipment, the money comes from reserves.” However, at their last regular meeting, the 2014-2018 Council voted to borrow nearly another million dollars to buy a grader, a fire truck and other equipment. When asked by a councillor if reserves could fund it instead, the staff response was “no.” Reserves have dropped below what they were supposed to have been at this point.
Where did things go wrong? Well, mismanaged projects and programs headed and directed by council have cost far more than expected; in the worst case, the Pakenham library renovation project alone was approximately 100% over its budget (final figures have not been reported at this writing). On some projects, milestone and cost updates were so late that potential corrections could not help. A few projects came in so much under budget that the costing process seemed odd.
Most big-ticket projects were managed by small groups of councillors who made the spending decisions; the ill-fated library renovation and Gemmill Park projects are examples. Meanwhile, little investment of time in real public consultation was made in the Official Plan review and ill-fated park sales proposals. How much time and money were spent on ideas like paving the recreational trail for the imaginary hundreds who “commute” (when no funds were allocated – or likely – for upkeep)? Development charges earmarked for Almonte growth were spent elsewhere. The downtown infrastructure replacement project seemed to have been dropped except for end-phase benches. The result of the lack of public consultation and poor decision-making is that the Municipality has incurred far too much in legal costs. Is there a contingent liability fund to pay for these mistakes? Or did it cost us some basic services?
The Long Term Financial Plan apparently did not account for things like the ever-rising costs of energy, interest rates, salaries, benefits and shaky management. Residential property taxes and sky-high development charges can no longer remain the only sources of revenue.
I would like to see taxes as low as possible. With so little fiscal information in the face of some obvious misadventures, it will be a challenge. I think that a fiscally prudent back-to-basics approach will be required.