Our previous municipal council left its successors in a bit of a mess and as a result our new councillors are starting their term with a pretty hefty tax increase.
At just shy of five per cent, the increase is more than the past four years combined and, according to the current council, a direct result of spending not keeping pace with the breakneck growth experienced under the previous leadership.
More firefighters, more RCMP officers, additional town staff and a pay increase to councillors – a gift from their predecessors – added to the need to ensure sufficient funds are put toward maintaining existing infrastructure, and the costs piled up.
At first glance, the tax increase – amounting to about $6 a month for the average household – doesn’t seem that bad. However, keep in mind council is forecasting a three per cent increase every year for the next decade. After 10 years, those incremental increases are going to start to add up. The exact cost will of course depend on assessments – which will likely not decrease – and whether the town’s growth forecast is accurate. If the town grows slower than predicted, the tax increase might be higher. That doesn’t even take into account education tax levies that are out of the town’s control.
While council has asked administration to pare down the budget, the more frivolous items won’t make much of a dent in the increase. The bigger ticket items are needed considering how much the town has grown.
It’s difficult to argue against additional fire and police services, it’s also obvious that having funds available to maintain additional infrastructure is a must. Nice-to-haves or questionably needed items, such as live-streamed council meetings should be the first to hit the scrap pile.
Councillors could also rescind the wage increase it was left by its predecessors. While the cost of living increase of 2.5 per cent each year until 2020 doesn’t amount to much – about $9,000 a year by 2020 – such a motion would be a show of good faith by the new council.
Alberta’s economy continues to struggle since the oil prices crashed and many are still out of work. Combine that with the fact cost of living continues to rise and added provincial taxes and people are feeling the pinch.
While councillors refusing to take a wage increase might not lower taxes, it would at least show Cochranites and maybe other politicians in Alberta what true representation looks like.