Comment by Bill Jackson - The Regional
March 11, 2009
Haldimand Council's decision to reduce the impact of the 2009 budget increase should be thought of as a reprieve for taxpayers, not necessarily a windfall.
Following the announcement by U.S. Steel last week, the Haldimand community - a population of only 45,000 - learned that it stands to possible lose more than 780 jobs. While the layoffs will hopefully be a temporary measure to consolidate production as the company has stated, Haldimand staff and council had people and families in mind when they scaled back the average residential tax increase to 2%.
For most people, $20 to $30 in savings won't amount to much over the long-term, but it helps during tough economic times. Some people more than others.
Yet what's being saved by taxpayers isn't being accomplished in terms of new initiatives and upgrades that are in some cases needed just to maintain status quo.
To find savings, Haldimand essentially delved into the rainy day jar, not to buy itself something nice, but to offset policing and social assistance. One-time funding for conservation authorities will come out of the annual Haldimand County Hydro dividend instead of the full dividend being put in the capital replacement reserve.
Meanwhile, some of Haldimand's roads are crumbling.
Haldimand is appealing to the federal government for infrastructure funding to help pay for its gravel roads conversion program.
Haldimand's CAO pointed out that a previous commitment to convert all gravel roads by 2014 is probably not achievable now seeing that only 25% of it has been completed to this point. However, Coun. Lorne Boyko wondered why Haldimand wasn't applying for funding to help pay for the urban overlay program instead. Some roads in Dunnville aren't identified in the capital budget until 2016-17 and will revert to gravel roads on their own way before then, he argues
As job cuts continue and economists are predicting tough economic times into the foreseeable future, Haldimand will likely be in the same spot next year, staring down the barrel at millions of dollars in infrastructure projects.
Boyko is right, the conditions of some roads in Dunnville is quite poor. Deplorable, actually. But unfortunately it's a reality people might have to get used to.
Like most other jurisdictions across the continent and the world, Haldimand is not recession proof. Many people are of the opinion, however, that Haldimand has been dealing with a recession since 2006.
According to the county's budget document, the estimated annual impact of the Douglas Creek Estates issue is $355,000. to offset that an additional 0.8% levy increase is required. Who knows exactly what Haldimand has lost when you factor in the loss of commercial developments in Dunnville, such as a Walmart, and other residential developments that have been stopped in Hagersville, or never came forward to begin with due to illegal land occupations.
You can thank those for many items that weren't considered in this year's budget.
It's fair to say that Haldimand has lost millions of dollars in annual taxes, not to mention the jobs and stimulus that development would have brought with it.
That money could be used to fund healthcare centres, start a more significant arena fund, or even help flood victims. It could pay for additional civilian police officers or a corporate communications manager - items that were cut, but are arguably needed.
Council now plans to establish new talks with Six Nations to look at ways to move development forward. We won't hold our breath.
It's a broken record, but Haldimand is still deserving of special treatment by upper levels of government, despite the fact that everyone is feeling the pinch these days. In Haldimand, it's a recession to the second power and the municipality is handcuffed when it comes to mitigating the impact and moving forward.