Council Disappoints Public At Budget Meeting


I left the Council budget meeting Wednesday night completely disappointed and disillusioned by our elected politicians and the budget process that occurred here in Puslinch. With very few exceptions I felt that as a whole council completely ignored the will of the people and marched forward with a pre-planned agenda. To be fair, a few items were brought up for discussion that could have saved some money, but they were not adopted by council as a whole.

Over the years we are constantly being told by politicians that the public needs to be better informed and more involved in local politics. Only in this way, we are told, can we ensure that politicians will hear our voices and act on our behalf. If we are engaged in the process, we are told, politicians will listen to us more than just once every four years at the ballot box. It would seem that what we are told is apparently nothing more than a good sound bite politicians use when trying to get elected.

Over the past couple of months I have been extremely proud of both our councillors and the public. Everyone has been extremely interested and engaged in the budget process and all seemed to be working well together. We were so engaged, in fact, that public meetings had to be moved to bigger venues and citizens have taken the time to write their councillors and share their opinions. Puslinch has never seen this type of input at budget meetings, as council acknowledged at the meeting Wednesday night.

The overwhelming call to council was to find ways to lower spending in the Township. There was an oft-repeated mantra of ‘spend on what we NEED, not on what would be nice to have‘. The public wanted to see spending reduced, in actual dollars, from the proposed increase this year. Unfortunately for all of us, council simply did not respond to our wishes.

At the meeting Wednesday night council only made two changes to the budget:

  1. Council voted unanimously to defer $33,000 of tax increase for planned spending on the Morriston streetscaping project.

    • The credit for this lies with Bill Knetsch of Morriston and I believe council took the easy way out. Mr. Knetsch has been a tireless campaigner and community leader for both road safety and the highway 6 bypass in Morriston for years. During this budget process he wrote a very thoughtful, realistic letter to all members of council (click here to read Mr. Knetsch’s letter). In his letter, Mr. Knetsch argues that due to current economic circumstances, council should be reviewing ALL projects in the 2016 budget including the streetscaping plan he fought so hard for.

      In the end, council voted to defer the streetscaping money from the budget, actually citing the letter from Mr. Knetsch as apparent justification for its removal. It was the ONLY money removed from the budget Wednesday night. If I were Mr. Knetsch I would be absolutely LIVID at this apparent disrespect. As a community, whether we agree with the Morriston streetscaping project or not, we should all be embarrassed by this outcome and be proud of Mr. Knetsch for his thoughtful input.
  2. Council voted unanimously to use money from our surplus/reserve accounts to bring the tax rate increase to under 3%.

    • More than once council were asked by the public to NOT simply use reserve funds to reduce the tax increase this year. The public wanted an ACTUAL reduction in spending. Instead, council went ahead with a move that will make it look like spending is under control – it simply isn’t and the next few years will bear this out. Spending is still going up by around 5% this year at the Township and we can expect much higher increases in the years to come.

I started out this budget cycle so optimistic that our councillors were listening to us. I have been defending the councillors, citing how much work they put into the budget and was confident that we could bend their ears and come out happy. I thought, apparently naively, that if the public spoke and got involved they would actually act on our input. I really thought that after the large showing at the public meeting we would finally have an open, productive dialog with our municipal leaders.

I was wrong.

Despite this outcome, I have to say I am thrilled that we as a community came together so well and sent a loud, clear message to council. We need to continue to work together to keep the pressure on until we are heard. If council doesn’t listen to us by 2018, we need to make them hear us by marking our ballots. It may be the only way to send a message that will actually be heard.

About author

Kevin Johnson

Kevin is a local business owner who is committed to making Puslinch the best community to live and work in. View more about the founders of PuslinchToday.ca here.

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