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Taking a hard look

Elmira Independent Editorial

Right now, Woolwich councillors are getting a welcome break from their duties, with the Christmas holidays.

When January starts, however, they are going to be working very hard.

That’s because budget sessions are set to begin on Jan. 10.

Councillors are going to have their hands full juggling competing priorities. On the one hand, there are the residents who do not want to see any tax increases — or, at least, any tax increases above the cost of living.

On the other is the township’s looming infrastructure deficit — approximately $63 million of roads and bridges that are in need of repair, along with other township-owned buildings and parks.

That’s a great deal of money to come up with, and right now, it’s not clear that this council has the will to do what is necessary to make it happen.

Earlier this year, councillors had originally directed staff to set aside 2.5 per cent levy, strictly for infrastructure. Since then, councillors reversed their decision, opting for only a 0.5 per cent levy.

They also directed staff to come back with a 1.5 per cent increase for this year’s budget — an increase that would fall below the predicted consumer price index for 2013. In reality, the increase would be less than the rate of inflation, which means the township would be falling behind.

That direction, however, has yet to come with concrete suggestions on how to reduce township services. In most conversations that have so far taken place in council chambers, it seems that the majority of councillors are depending on township staff to provide that direction.

That, quite frankly, isn’t good enough.

It is time for council to lead, and to provide direction that will sustain this municipality over the long term — not simply please residents in the short term.

A look at the past ten years of tax increases shows a similar pattern — a few years where councillors adopt increases less than the rate of inflation, and then bounce back a few years later, with increases that hover around four per cent, with a special levy added on top, for infrastructure or recreation spending (a levy helped cover the township’s spending on the Woolwich Memorial Centre, for instance).

That’s no way to run a municipality — and does nothing to even begin to address the township’s infrastructure problem, which will only get worse, if it is put off for the future.

Councillors are going to have to look beyond the next few years — and beyond the next — when they give their final stamp of approval to this year’s budget.

Let’s hope that these thoughts are first and foremost in their minds, come January.

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