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TBM candidates discuss budget and finances

Budget and finances on the minds of candidates for The Blue Mountains council.
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CollingwoodToday asked the candidates running for council in Grey Highlands four questions about the issues facing the community.

The following responses were submitted by the candidates. The answers have not been checked for accuracy; they represent the candidates’ platforms and opinions.

Please visit CollingwoodToday’s municipal election web page for more coverage of the local municipal elections.

Responses are presented in alphabetical order beginning with candidates for mayor.

Q: Just recently, town staff forecasted a possible deficit in the tax budget for 2022 and they suggested a 10 per cent local tax increase may be required in the 2023 budget. There is no doubt, municipalities across Ontario are facing financial challenges with inflation, the end of the pandemic and supply chain issues. What will your priorities be for town finances over the next four years? 

Candidate for mayor: Joe Halos

Finance is always a top priority for me as everything depends on sound financial management. In my opinion, we are in for some very challenging times and need to be cautious and frugal. Federal government monetary policy has flooded the country with cash, vastly increasing asset values (real estate), and materials (construction), and creating an unsure landscape. I have always been frugal with fiscal (tax) monies and will continue to be so. Municipalities must balance their current year operating budget and I plan to do this every year without using reserves to fund potential deficits. We are fortunate that we have reserves. We need to continue funding our asset reserves for future infrastructure works, and possibly increase.

Council needs to do personal research and reduce staff input. This will greatly increase efficiency and reduce costs. I will look to save money, rather than spend. I will look at reducing committees. The committee of council is the decision-making body, and while discussion and involvement are beneficial on other committee levels, staff time and expense is an issue, as is a continuity of volunteers. The internet allows for input. I have learned that you will save a lot of money, time, and angst if you stay out of court, hearings, investigations etc. Don’t pick fights, and stay out of the ones you can’t win.

Candidate for mayor: Elizabeth Marshall

Quite obviously, the number of times we have gone to the Land Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) should be an indication that things are not functioning properly in our municipal corporation. The new council will have to look into why this has been happening when it would seem the person/entity appealing has been within the law. It would also seem if it is not the LPAT that is the problem, deductive reasoning would place the issue with the municipality. This needs to be fixed as it is extremely costly to the taxpayers of this community.  According to the forecast document from the town, in one year, “legal expenses will end the year well over budget; this is due to several Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) hearings. Of the $324,000 spent to date 60 per cent of that is for the OLT hearings...” We will need to look to efficiencies and may have to bring in a third-party auditor, perhaps even the auditor general, to go over our finances to determine exactly where we stand.  As we also have a number of capital/infrastructure projects which are a “must” to get started, we may also need to look to the federal and provincial governments for funding as well as long-term debentures (21, 25 and perhaps 30 years). That said, we need to ensure our reserves are built back up as well as our development fund.

Candidate for mayor: Andrea Matrosovs

This council has successfully lowered proposed tax increases in every budget from 2019 to 2022. Each year we extensively examined the draft budget openly through several dedicated council meetings to leave no stone unturned. Yes, we as every other municipality are experiencing a strain in supply chain increased costs, inflation and rising insurance costs. Working with staff from every department, the next council needs to continue the precedent set in the last four budgets of finding ways to increase revenue while scrutinizing costs. We need to continue progress made on promptly capturing assessment. In the last three years we captured $581 million of assessment leading to $1.6 million in tax savings to existing taxpayers. We need to continue to address inflow and infiltration issues in our wastewater collection system, which is resulting in fiscal inefficiency. We have introduced excellent asset management practices in this term of council. The next step is to adopt the same practices for our natural assets to reduce unnecessary infrastructure costs, such as building stormwater management systems to replace natural infrastructure already in place such as trees and wetlands. We need to balance our sociocultural and environmental sustainability with economic sustainability. The best plans to deliver services to our residents or enhance our natural environment won’t work without a smart fiscal plan behind them. A sustainable community is like a three-legged stool: without a strong economic leg, the stool falls down.

Candidate for mayor: Tony Poole

Town finances will be important to address as we navigate escalating inflationary costs, infrastructure, capital investments and growth. We need to maintain sound financial discipline and prioritize staffing and projects accordingly. This includes identifying efficiencies that may be available. Our attention will need to be on maintaining expenses in line with actual growth of revenue streams. We need to work with government agencies to tap grants that address infrastructure issues that are regional in nature such as SWIFT (Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology for internet). This includes financial resources in internet and water management issues.

Candidate for council: Gail Ardiel

I have to get reacquainted with the finances as I don’t know where this council has spent the money. I personally do not believe that we need six storeys. I see, expected revenues from parking fees were over budgeted by nearly $400,000. Other increased expenses and less revenue for future capital requirements are a concern. Less time going to Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) Less spending on properties and more money into the services the communities need.

Candidate for council: Paula Hope

To be clear, the 10 per cent increase, discussed in September 2022, was within the context of a budget period that will not be completed until March 2023. Another consideration is that the above-mentioned increase was only on the town’s budget, which represents 40 per cent of the total tax amount. The other 60 per cent of the revenue is dedicated to the coffers of the county and the school board. It is also important to remember that it is a long time until March 2023. Last year, during budget time, the town was looking at a 23 per cent increase over last fiscal year. The town was able to review its priorities, set new targets, and budget figures, and produced a much-diminished 2 per cent increase as a final tally.

As for my priorities for the town finances over the next four years, they are, as follows,

1) Safeguarding the town’s plan for its ongoing infrastructure investments.

2) Seeking alternate and innovative funding sources.

3) Ensuring that town staff are well-supported with appropriate compensation in order that the town maintains and enhances town staff quality and its ability to respond effectively to the needs of residents.

4) Overseeing the successful completion of the Gateway attainable housing project, with “heads in bed” within the next two years while also securing the successful launch of the Campus of Care project by 2026, with full public consultation.

5) Allocating funding and resources to attainable housing solutions such as accessory suites and other projects that generate more immediate results.

6) Supporting the implementation of all plans developed in the last term including the Transportation, Sustainability, Economic Development, Communications plans and any that I may have missed.

7) Preparing the way for the building of the TOBM recreation centre.

8) Enhancing our public parks with more trees, landscaping, and public washrooms.

Candidate for council: Alex Maxwell

I commend staff for pointing this out, since municipal staff will be a principal resource used in the development of a new council's budget. I trust the new council will be providing staff with direction to develop a budget that concentrates on the delivery of core services and less on wants, given rising interest rates, inflation and supply chain issues that may be with us for a while. Any municipal council acting in good faith with its taxpayers should not even think about adding more increased financial burden to the people they represent. At the same time, I would like to see a municipal budget maintain some flexibility, in case there is an opportunity to stimulate the local economy or react to unexpected circumstances.

Candidate for council: June Porter

The indication of a possible deficit is a wake-up call for the town staff and the soon-to-be-elected council to have a deeper look at the budget line-by-line. Having a strong operational background, I am extremely comfortable with a financial spreadsheet and have had, in the past, responsibility for budgets larger than the town’s current one. I also know there are always savings, and that they are found within the details. The tax rate the town sets will be increasingly extremely important as it influences the resident's tax bill, which after 2023 will be impacted by an inevitable increase in MPAC assessments. Priorities will include, ensuring projects are funded economically and appropriately at the front end, to ensure staff and council time is not wasted in costly rework involved in addressing overruns. Rework is expensive and only serves to create unnecessary expenses. Monitoring the use of legal and consultant fees in terms of value for money. Legal costs escalate quickly relative to anticipated added value.

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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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