MUSKOKA - Sparks flew at district council on Monday night as the concept of a zero per cent tax increase was debated.
In the end a slim majority voted to start the budget process at zero and go from there.
Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith said the concept of a zero per cent tax increase is revolutionary, saying it is like sailing off beyond the horizon line in the time when people thought the world was flat. The widely held belief was that you would sail off the edge of the world.
Smith thinks the district should take that leap.
“It won’t be easy, but it can be done,” he said.
Staff had recommended a 2.8 per cent goal for tax increases in 2013. Steven Cairns, commissioner of finance and corporate services, cautioned that trying to go lower, particularly in terms of the rate-supported budget, could result in services dipping below legislated levels.
He said trying to maintain a zero increase for water and sewer services would mean paying for it in later years. He also advised against “playing with finances in terms of reserves.”
Coun. Scott Young argued against the concept.
“I suggest we nip this in the bud right here,” he said, calling it unsustainable and a plan for future increases. He predicted that tax rates would swing wildly, with spikes and valleys that would be unpredictable for the taxpayer.
But Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy, who chaired the committee that proposed the concept, took umbrage to his comments, saying they were “wildly inappropriate” and suggesting that he was not well informed on the subject because he wasn’t at committee meetings.
“You can pat me on the head but I won’t go away,” he countered, saying that council members did not need to attend every committee meeting to be informed.
Huntsville Mayor Claude Doughty said he would be interested to see what a zero per cent increase looks like, adding that he could not tell if it would be sustainable until he actually sees it.
Coun. Scott Aitchison agreed, saying he thought taxpayers would also be curious about what a zero per cent increase looks like.
“Let’s see if we can’t save taxpayers a little money,” he said.
As next year’s budget process begins, the finance committee plans to use zero as a starting number. But even Murphy admitted that taxpayers can expect an increase of some kind in the next year.