Council candidates, CAG talk dollars and sense

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By Adam Brazeau

CORNWALL, Ontario - The municipal election isn't until October 27, but city council hopefuls, and local advocates for lower property taxes, gathered at Chartwell McConnell Retirement Residence to lay the foundation for a zero per cent increase in the next budget.

The Community Action Group (CAG), made up of local community leaders and business stakeholders, presented statistics on April 5 showing that Cornwall has the lowest average household income out of 84 communities, at $53,068, according to a Statistics Canada 2011 national household survey.

Nearly two dozen retirement home residents, four council candidates: Mark MacDonald (event organizer), Geoff Stephenson, Brock Frost, and Roland Besner, as well as mayoral candidate Jamie Gilcig were in attendance.

The aspiring municipal politicians agreed that if elected, the next Cornwall city council budget would boast a zero per cent tax freeze.

CAG members Roy Perkins and David Enns were miffed that South Stormont and South Glengarry residents pay close to $1,000 less in property taxes annually than Cornwallites. The average household income for both townships ranges from $80,000 - $82,000. South Stormont also announced a zero per cent increase in this year’s budget.

“We wanted to convey the idea that it’s possible for a zero per cent increase in terms of the budget for the city with the incoming council,” said Enns. “We think that some of the areas in services being provided to the community could be reduced.”

CAG highlighted several sections from a 2011 BMA Management Consulting Group study.

Marked in red, were policing costs (sorted by net costs per $100,000 assessment). The study claims Cornwall ranks highest in the 20,000 to 49,999 group. The Seaway City also ranked second overall for the cost of its fire department and transit system.

“By looking at the budget, I can understand the red line because protective services represent roughly 30 per cent of our taxes,” said Bensner.

He questioned the need for a swat team in a city the size of Cornwall.

“Maybe we need to get a costing from the Ontario Provincial Police and have the OPP run the police service,” added Enns.

MacDonald noted that regardless of CAG's lobbying efforts and attempt to supply council with sound data, their requests for property tax freezes have been ignored for years. Cornwall has not participated in the BMA studies since 2011.

Perkins says one major issue facing taxpayers and city council is emergency services and the cost of delivering them.

Enns recognized that achieving a tax freeze is not an easy feat for any council, but still felt it was achievable, and would like to see it happen for four consecutive years.

“I think if South Stormont can have a zero per cent increase, we can do it,” he said.

A man in the audience claimed that Cornwall’s high income earners are living and spending in the townships to reap the benefits of lower taxes and access most of the same services.

Frost, a local real estate agent and investor, said that many of his clients buy and build in South Stormont and South Glengarry because of lower taxes.

“We’re essentially telling people to go outside of our borders,” said Frost. “We’re not welcoming them in, we’re pushing them out.”

Stephenson described the CAG presentation, candidate speeches, and crowd comments as a lot of food for thought.

“One of the reasons we’re all starting early is that we believe there’s a lot of work to do,” he said.

Besner attended the forum to be informed on the community’s opinions and find out what the city needs from its council.

MacDonald, a former city councillor, warned his fellow candidates about the dangers of a council without a game plan.

“The reason I’m here is that the council needs a focused agenda prior to being formed, because once you get on council it’s total chaos as far as being overwhelmed with information,” he said.

Jake Lamoureux was disappointed that many of his fellow residents and others vying for city council were not in attendance. Aside from the candidates at the event, the list includes Todd Bennett, Davey Bedard, Syd Gardiner, Carilyne Hébert, David Murphy, Gary W. Samler, Gerald E. Samson, and Guy St-Jean.

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  • Geoff Stephenson
    April 07, 2014 - 15:24

    The object of this gathering, was to listen. Listen to what others had to say about the state of affairs in our city. CAG did a very informative presentation & the residents in attendance had a lot of good questions. We plan to do more get togethers like this in the future. A big thanks to all who attended & participated.