First published: April 5, 1999
It was interesting to watch Cobourg council as it announced this year’s budget with its 2.5 per cent decrease in overall taxes.
Deputy Mayor Arnold McCurdy was quick to crow about the cut because most politicians view any type of budget increase as sacrilege. Fiscal responsibility is the buzzword of the 1990s and brought many people – good and bad – to power. Any other election promise can be broken, but never this one.
The tax decrease means the average taxpayer with a home assessed at $125,000 will pay $….. There is no question this is good news. At least on the surface it is good news. But it should be noted how the town got to this point.
The town was able to save $600,000 on its waste management bill. (In normal language waste management translates to garbage) But who really saved? Today we pay $1.50 per bag for our curbside pick up. We also don’t have a spring pick up and this means we have to take our brush and other waste down to the transfer station and pay a premium to get rid of it.
This system is known as user-pay. If you use a system or a service, then you pay. So if you want to play ice hockey or baseball, there is a fee. If you want to rent Victoria Hall for a reception, you pay a fee.
In some cases, this seems reasonable. Since some town services apply to a small group of users, then we all shouldn’t be burdened with paying for the cost.
That argument only goes so far. There comes a point when one starts to wonder why we pay taxes at all. For most of us, that moment arrives when basic services we all use are effected.
Let’s take snow ploughing. This winter some people who live on the back streets of Cobourg had to wait days for snow removal because the town has a priority system in place, which sees major transportation routes ploughed first and side streets done when staff is available.
And let’s take garbage pick up in the town’s parks. Just last week in James Cockburn Park, a can was over the brim with waste and a mess surrounded the can. There are times when the cans are overflowing before they get picked up because staff is limited and this job is not a priority.
We also have to go to the police station to report accidents because police officers will no longer come to the scene of a minor car crash or go out on a call to take a report for minor theft.
There are also examples of the grass in parks not getting cut on a regular basis. The list goes on. No doubt, we can all come up with examples in the reduction of service.
Nobody is about to argue that taxes should start going up. That is certainly absurd. But the zeal with which politicians download expenses and go to user-pay systems needs to be carefully considered. We’ve all heard the saying, “There is only one taxpayer.”
In fact, we start to penalize people. User-pay systems hit families hardest since they end up using a majority of services. Also those who live on a limited budget and the poor also get slammed in this pay-as-you-go world.
Then there are other factors like the hassle of getting garbage bag tags or having to reach into your pocket every time to you to use a public service. Pretty soon there will be a tollgates everywhere like Victoria Park or the harbor. Maybe we will see a tollbooths on Burnham or Division streets as you come off Highway 401.
Okay, so there were public meetings and consultation before the user-pay garbage system was brought in. In fact, most of the time politicians hold some sort of meeting prior to introducing these systems. But sometimes a public meeting is held only to alleviate a politician’s sense of guilt rather than do the right thing.
So the next time you are standing in a long line at the grocery store buying garbage bag tags or writing a cheque for a son or daughter to play sports, just thank your lucky stars. Cobourg’s politicians are working hard. For whom is the question.