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Mild public reaction to draft 8.9% tax hike for Grey Highlands

Former deputy mayor encourages more sustainable path, another residents asks for more cuts to lower proposed tax increase
Grey Highlands town hall
The Grey Highlands municipal office.

Public reaction to the draft 2024 budget for the Municipality of Grey Highlands has been relatively mild.

On Feb. 27, Grey Highlands council held a public budget forum to gather input and comments on the draft budget from members of the community. The current draft budget includes a local tax increase of 8.85 per cent.

The two-hour public forum did not generate a significant number of comments from members of the public. The hybrid meeting was an opportunity for local citizens to provide feedback on the draft budget both in person and virtually.

Mixed opinions on the direction of the municipality were expressed during the meeting. Duncan resident Richard Frisby said the proposed increase was too high, while former deputy mayor Aakash Desai said the increase doesn’t go far enough.

Frisby, who spoke multiple times during the meeting, pointed to lower increases in Collingwood, The Blue Mountains, Meaford and Grey County and questioned why Grey Highlands is higher.

“I hate to say this: we’re last,” said Frisby. “Everybody else has got their budgets down. There’s no reason you can’t.”

Desai, however, said the proposed budget does not do enough to get the municipality on a more sustainable path.

“We’re making it harder for future budgets and future councils,” said Desai, adding that cuts made to bring the budget down are not going to help in the future. “It seems like we keep pushing this down the road and that’s unsustainable. I still don’t think it’s going up high enough.”

Stephen Griggs encouraged council to develop a long-term plan to deal with upcoming capital bridge spending needs, which were outlined in a recent report to council. Griggs also asked council about what decisions had been made during the budget deliberations to lower the tax increase.

“It would be helpful for taxpayers to get a sense for the choices made,” he said.

Coun. Tom Allwood, the municipality’s finance chair, explained that council started with a draft tax increase of 14 per cent. He said that number did not include a list of additional items that could have been added to the budget that totalled another 14 per cent.

“We started out, if we had of said yes to everything, with a levy increase that could have been 28 per cent before growth,” said Allwood. “There have been a lot of decisions made.”

Joyce Hall noted that a new staff position for a grant writer had not been approved in the budget. She urged council to consider creative ways to add a grant writer to the staff team.

“The grant writer is a money maker if it’s allocated properly,” she said.

Peggy Hutchison asked if industrial uses on local farms in Grey Highlands (known as: on farm diversified uses) were being taxed at a higher level to bring in more revenue. She said the growth of farm-based industry has led to more trucks on local roads.

“They should be. They generate traffic we never used to have,” she said.

Mayor Paul McQueen said the industrial uses on local farms are taxed differently, but he noted that the values being used to calculate property taxation are now several years out of date. The COVID pandemic caused a delay in re-assessments.

“They are assessed at a different value. Everything is based on 2016 (assessments),” said McQueen.

The meeting did not generate a lot of comments from the public and with about a half hour remaining in the two-hour session questions and comments from the audience and those viewing online dried up. This led to members of council offering their general thoughts on the proposed budget.

McQueen acknowledged that 2024 is a tough budget year, but said there are many great things happening in Grey Highlands.

“In a positive sense, we have a new school, we have a new hospital. We have a lot of things that have changed in Grey Highlands that have brought growth,” said McQueen. “This year growth was two per cent. I remember a lot of years it was half of a per cent.”

Allwood thanked those who participated for their interest in the budget process.

“It’s important we engage the public in these important municipal decisions,” he said.

With the public meeting now complete, the draft 2024 budget will come to a special council meeting for further discussion before being finalized. The date for the special meeting has not been selected.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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