Candidates need a budget plan and stick to it

The legacy of provincial and federal downloading of costs on to local municipalities was brought back into the spotlight recently as Port Hope council debated acquisition of its harbour.

Resident/developer John Floyd and Deputy Mayor Jeff Lees complained about the long-term costs of taking over the town’s harbour, saying there are cost of repair and upgrading, leaving taxpayers on the hook for many years to come.

Meanwhile, the federal government has been waiting for more than a decade for the town to take over full responsibility after it decided this was no longer the federal government’s job. A deal was reached in 2008 where the town paid out $300,000 and made a commitment to dredge.

But with plans going forward for the East Marina project with 250 slips as part of the Waterfront Master Plan, the town is committed to spending about half-a-million dollars from its reserves to get underway.

Notably, local blogger Ben Burd, in his BurdReport, slams the financial mess created by the current council. He rightfully points out the town is on the hook for considerable sums, including $6 million in capital costs for the police service upgrades, an $8 million overdraft from last year’s budget, the purchase of a 19-acre lot for a proposed business park, which is in the capital budget for 2010, but no dollars are attached.

Meanwhile, no one on council or any potential candidates for the upcoming municipal election is raising the issue in public.

A couple of things are disturbing beyond the financials.

First, Municipal CAO Eugene Todd told council he could not make any information about the harbour costs or revenues public until after the divestiture took place. This kind of fiscal voodoo is unacceptable. And, it is not the first time full disclosure hasn’t taken place in an appropriate time frame. The $8 million overdraft was only made public in June, six months after the books were closed on Dec. 31. Taxpayers cannot hold anyone accountable when these types of shenanigans are going on and council needs to be far more public with its finances overall.

Second, property taxpayers are seeing the pain downloading creates as the harbour is only one aspect. At some point, Port Hope council will need to get its fiscal house in order. With all the capital expenditures on the books, it continues to press ahead with projects like the East Marina. It is like a person who has spent his or her credit cards to the maximum and goes out to sign up for yet another credit card, thinking it is a solution.

But, the more worrisome trend for taxpayers is the way all three levels of government are playing with generating revenues as they run up historic deficits. Port Hope is merely a microcosm of a larger problem.

Residents across Northumberland County face similar issues. Cobourg has its Taj Mahal, the Community Centre. Then, there is Campbellford’s second bridge and the Imagine Campaign’s $500,000 faux pas in Brighton. Let’s not forget the potential 17 per cent increase in taxes Cramahe Township faced before the final axe fell on its budget, putting numerous projects off yet another year without any long-term plan for catching up.

Taxpayer are already complaining about hidden eco taxes and the HST courtesy of Premier Dalton McGuinty. And, nobody knows what kind of budget carnage Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will rain down on Canadians. But, the least Northumberland residence should expect is a thorough fiscal plan from every municipal candidate with specific numbers and details projections that demonstrate a clear fiscally responsible approach with a commitment to follow through with action once elected. The usual mumbo jumbo we normally get during an election will not do. We need far more than a debate. We need action and follow through. It is the least we deserve.

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