Letter to Midland Council Dec 4th

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To: Mayor and Members of Midland Town Council

We are writing to express our grave concern with the current state of Midland’s 2012 budget.

For your last two Budget Meetings you have had a closed, secret meeting before the public meeting even begins.  As a result of this secrecy and the general lack of public information Midland provides about budget proposals, even a reasonably informed member of the public cannot understand what is going on.  And frankly, many residents are becoming more convinced all the time whatever exactly is going on, it isn’t good.

Despite our urging a target of 0%, Council established a 2% maximum for any increase in 2012 operating spending over 2011.  To us that means confining spending increases to no more than 2% over actual 2011expenditures.  We do not know where you are in relation to that target and we are not certain you know either.  Accounting magic and lack of transparency seem to rule the day.

In our view Council has not yet come to grips with the main structural problem that makes Midland’s operating costs spiral upwards year after year.  That problem is staffing levels and all the related costs.  By the end of your Budget Meeting on December 1, staff additions that were removed on November 17 appeared to be back in the budget, paid for indirectly by transferring still more money from reserves – this time $52,000.  Reserves are your savings and you are depleting them because you are not yet controlling current spending.

In addition to raiding reserves, you also have $250,000 in savings this year as a result of tendering insurance.  With that gift you should be able to achieve the 0% target – but only if you begin to deal with your structural problem.

Over the last 2 years Midland continued to add new staff positions and added $1.7 million in new operating costs despite our extremely weak economy – in a word, this is unacceptable.  In our recent deputation to Council, we provided you with extensive research showing why Midland needs to control its spending.  The fragile economy, our lack of growth, low household incomes, high local tax rates and the tax burden on the poor are all reasons why you should not let yourselves become distracted from getting this right now.

You have recently approved a Management Study of Midland’s operations to be completed in 2012.  Nobody should try to use that as an excuse to avoid dealing with today’s budget and tax challenges.  Nobody needs a consultant to know Midland spends too much and Midland’s taxes are too high. To stop the bleeding, there should be an immediate freeze on all staff additions including contract positions and vacant positions should not be filled until the management study is complete.

There seems to be a great rush to put the 2012 budget to bed.  But what is the rush?  The interim tax bill that you will send out next spring is not even based on the 2012 budget.  You can approve a capital spending program now to take advantage of any tendering opportunities and continue to drill down into the operating budget to get improved results.  The economy continues to worsen since you established the 2% target and a mere $84,000 in revenue growth from new assessment in 2011 confirms things will not improve any time soon.

In closing, we urge all Councillors to strengthen your resolve to solve Midland’s spending and tax challenges.  Local taxes are extremely regressive and place a huge, unfair burden on the least wealthy members of our community.  None of us should rest until we can declare victory in getting local taxes under control thereby improving the quality of life for those who most need our support.

Roy Ellis on behalf of midlandcommunity.ca

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