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Braggadocio is a No-Go
Our Regional Regime claims that it is the negativity and public complaints in ‘Letters to the editor’ that is holding back our community from ‘achieving great things’. Our Niagara Regime makes the extraordinary claim that it is by speaking with one united voice and in ‘recognition for strong, steady leadership’ as the reason that the Provincial and Federal governments are pumping $Millions into Niagara. Perhaps a more correct observation is that both upper levels of government are pumping in $100’s of Millions, as a bailout, because they recognize an embarrassing situation of weak, mediocre leadership emanating from a preposterous army of politicians, redundant bureaucrats, overlapping departments, tax-burning agencies, over-taxation, incoherent taxation, and a serious lack of oversight! Our Regional Regime’s strong, steady leadership is mired in cost! No matter how much senior governments upload our social services or how many $Dollars they send, our Regional Regime still hikes taxes, fees and debt! Our Niagara Regime correctly points to ‘a lot of good news’ coming to Niagara. Sadly this ‘a lot of good news’ comes from everywhere but Niagara Region’s leadership! They mention our roadways, which correctly but negatively indicate the value and character regarding the quality, or lack thereof, of our current Niagara leadership. They point to sewage and water, while our ‘Niagara leadership’ have and are dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into our Great Lakes Waterways! It’s not the lack of money, nor the cries of citizens in ‘Letters to the Editor’ that is holding us back from ‘achieving great things’. As always, it is a matter of an ineffectual management that squanders our resources. Instead of ‘strong, steady leadership’ these disgusting ‘guardians of the status quo’ feed us with the same deceptive political claptrap that we have had to endure for decades!
Region hiding spending hikes: mayor
Posted By MATTHEW VAN DONGEN , STANDARD STAFF
September 14, 2009
Bill Hodgson calls it Niagara's "hidden tax" -- a yearly jump in spending by regional government that residents never see in the budget. The mayor of Lincoln figures the hidden increase in the 2010 regional budget could be close to 10 per cent -- as opposed to the official target of three per cent, or less, recently approved by council. How does it happen? In a nutshell, Hodgson believes the Region is using provincial uploading to hide annual increases in spending. For example, the province took back $6 million worth of social services this year that the Region no longer has to provide. Niagara still collected those dollars from property taxpayers, however, and included the money in its base budget for the year. That allowed Niagara to trumpet a "near-zero" tax levy increase for 2009. "That's just not true," argued Hodgson, who is pushing for the Region to change how it accounts for provincial uploading dollars. "It's a matter of transparency.... They're using (that $6 million) for new spending, or different spending, but it's not reported as an increase. It's not that that $6 million was bad spending. But, quite frankly, the public deserves to know." For the coming year, the province is uploading more social services, worth about $14.3 million. Hodgson believes that amount should immediately be subtracted from the base regional operating budget, with all additional spending reported as an increase. Hodgson recently convinced councillors at a recent budget review meeting to approve a motion calling for more clarity around uploading dollars in the budget.
But not everyone agrees with Hodgson's interpretation, including the regional staff tasked with putting together the net levy budget of around $165 million.
Finance commissioner John Bergsma said Hodgson's motion is well-meaning, but adds "an acute lack of clarity to the budgeting process." Bergsma noted the process of provincial uploading isn't as simple as stuffing money in regional coffers. For example, while the province is uploading $14.3 million in services, it is simultaneously cutting more than $8 million in annual grants to the Region. "The province is telling us, we're giving you X-millions of dollars here, but we're taking Xmillions away from you over here. How do you count that?" he said. Regional Chairman Peter Partington said he supports Hodgson's commitment to transparency, but isn't sure about his proposed solution. "To just take the gross amount (of uploaded dollars) off the base budget, I'm not sure that's a true reflection of our financial situation, either," he said. "There is a give-and-take of dollars between the two levels of government that needs to be reflected. "I think as long as taxpayers are clear on where the money goes and why, you have that necessary transparency." Partington agreed uploading dollars helped the Region "bring in a very good budget" in 2009. "But so did staff who have been very responsible on controlling spending," he said, adding staff this year have been directed to keep departmental increases to 1.7 per cent or less. Niagara isn't the only municipality to include uploading savings in the base budget. Bergsma said most municipalities do -- and the province appears satisfied with the arrangement, based on a letter sent to Hodgson by Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson. Watson wrote in a July 30 letter that the ministry would "leave decisions related to the use of distribution of benefits to ... municipalities. "I respect the autonomy of the regional government and support the will of council in explaining the benefits to local residents," he wrote.
Hodgson acknowledged he's fighting an uphill battle against a common budgeting practice.
"It's not a Niagara problem, it's an all-over problem," he said. But it's not just a number-juggling issue, he added. Hodgson said hiding spending increases means hiding the difficulties faced by lower-tier municipalities like Lincoln, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, that will come out net losers in 2010 after the impact of uploading and grant cuts is calculated. "Two-thousand-and-10 is just going to be a tough year. We don't have to try and hide that from taxpayers, they'll understand," he said. "Is a tax increase necessary? Probably ... but we owe it to the public to give them that clarity."
City spending and taxes not 'moderate'
With approval of the City of St. Catharines 2009 capital budget, there is no end in sight to increased taxes. Unfortunately, 2008 financial performance results are still not published and we are almost through 2009 so we must rely on 2007 data that are available from the BMA survey of 87 regions/cities representing 85 per cent of this province's population. In St. Catharines, the tax levy per $100,000 assessment is $1,615, which is 26 per cent higher than the survey average of $1,282. The tax on an average bungalow in St. Catharines is $3,257, 16 per cent higher than the survey average of $2,819. An average "executive" residence in St. Catharines pays $5,410 in taxes, compared to the survey average of $5,184 -- we are four per cent higher.
We must look at our spending per capita.
We pay $145 for fire services, compared to $113 average.
Cost of roads is $8,784 compared to $2,161.
Transit costs are $110; the average is $57.
Cultural enterprises cost $17, $6 more than the average.
Regional police costs $255 compared to $202.
Region roads: $1,407 to the average of $1,127.
Debt charges as a % of total expenditures is 6.5 per cent; the survey average is 4.1 per cent.
The average debt per capita is $608, ours average is $691 or 14 percent higher.
The Regime may claim that ‘our debt’ is moderate, but city spending is not and neither are our taxes.
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