Last week my happy internet wanderings took me to the Kingston Whig Standard, another fine old paper taken over by Sun Media. Laid out just like our own Northumberland Today, it's fascinating to compare the two. My attention was grabbed last week by an article titled City OKs 3.5% Tax Hike. What was going on in Kingston that municipal taxpayers would allow such a thing, I wondered. No way that could happen here.
Reading on, the November 23rd story contained more incredible details that made this Cobourger shake her head, including that the city had set aside five nights to debate the budget, but wrapped it up in only two. If there had been public input it was not mentioned here. The 3.5% rise in property tax is a repeat of last year, and will mean an increase of $98 for a home assessed at $2,800. Water rates will rise by about $60. The total operating budget approved for 2012 is set at 301 million, for capital at 47 million. The Utility Division budget rises by a healthy 4.9% to bring its budget up to 28.6 million.
In a most trusting way, the City approved just budget estimates for public agencies like their health unit and Frontenac County, which manages their land ambulances and home for the aged. Imagine, a budget increase granted with no concrete, detailed final numbers to justify it provided first. They were warned that if they wanted more later, they would have to ask for it. Guess that is Kingston style tough talk. Stan Frost would never stand for that kind of sloppiness here. It appeared that every department, from Police to Economic Development and the Library, got the increases all requested.
Since the article appeared I have monitored their Letters to the Editor section, and there is not a word, not a single peep, from any outraged citizen demanding the heads of the Councillors responsible. The Comment section following the article though was a different story, with fifteen posts all condemning Council for their spendthrift ways. Hardly a groundswell of opposition though, with some complaining that new garbage rules would only allow them one free bag a week. One group sure to be pleased is city administrators for whom this early Christmas present has to be a dream come true. No doubt much champagne was consumed in celebration of their success in managing their bosses so well, and their top dog congratulated Council for their achievement at the close of the meeting.
Cobourg Council and staff can only imagine how sweet life would be if residents here were that accommodating about tax increases. If they could count on our acquiescence for their monument building proclivities maybe then we would see more public consultation, although in that kind of environment it might only be to decide whether to get green benches or brown in the Park. Sometimes it seems like some Cobourgers only care about stuff like that anyway, it is well and good that most of us focus on the big picture instead.