A city councillor was asking questions Monday night after learning one large city taxpayer won an appeal of their assessment.
Coun. Andre Rivette wants the city to go public with the identity of the landowner as a way to illustrate to taxpayers just why their taxes are going up.
In an interview Rivette said the mystery land owner's successful appeal will translate into $720,000 in lost municipal revenue.
“We lost mega dollars,” said Rivette, but he stopped short of identifying just who the property owner is. There was a suggestion by finance manager Maureen Adams that more information on that issue will become public during budget deliberations.
City council appeared resigned to a tax increase during a meeting Monday night at city hall where they adopted a motion that directs bean counters to come up with a draft 2013 budget with up to a three per cent tax hike.
While Mayor Bob Kilger and others around the council table went to great lengths to say that a three per cent tax hike is not a forgone conclusion, it is clear that council is laying the ground work for some kind of increase.
The move is sure to anger those in the business community who continue to lobby for a tax freeze next year.
But most city councillors were having none of that and suggested the 2013 budget discussion is going to be one of the most difficult on record.
“We’re going to get pressure from the outside,” said Coun. Denis Carr. “We have to be able to withstand that pressure from those outside groups.”
A combination of lost assessment and decreases in senior government funding means a significant tightening of the municipal belt appears likely.
Carr went as far as to suggest outside groups that come to the city looking for annual budgetary contributions had better prepare themselves for a lot of negative feedback.
“They should not expect any increases,” he said, adding in the past outside agencies would often receive budget increases while city departments had to curtail spending. “I think we have to stop that.”
Business groups are already lining up against any talk of raising taxes.
Rick Shaver, president of the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview council should aim for a tax freeze in 2013.
“The chamber would always like the city to come in at zero,” he said. “This year they tried to fine tune their budget.
“But we think they can go deeper.”
Taxpayers in Cornwall had to swallow a 1.5 per cent tax hike in 2012, following a one per cent increase the year before that.
"This is only a starting point in our budget process," said Kilger. "As in past years, council and administration will work together in the coming months to arrive at a 2013 budget that is affordable for our residents while also recognizing the need to maintain our services and infrastructure."
It won’t be easy for council to produce a tax freeze in 2013. There’s already a litany of budgetary pressures that the city must grapple with next year, and we haven’t even hit Thanksgiving yet.
The list of concerns heading into next year’s budget discussions includes:
- The ongoing commitments relating to collective agreements for various bargaining units, like fire and police.
- An increase of approximately one per cent in the employer costs for OMERS contributions.
- The limited tax based funding for capital projects.
- Inflationary costs for contracted services, as well as the purchase of goods and materials.
- Reduced tipping fee revenue of approximately $500,000.
- Reduced funding from the province relating to social programs.
- The uncertainty of provincial equalization payments (the equalization grant has been reduced by $537,500 over the past two years).
Shaver understands council’s dilemma, but added targeting a tax freeze now sets the appropriate tone.
“Council will have a challenge to meet (a tax freeze),” he said. “But if they don’t go for zero from the start, it’s too easy to add (expenditures.”