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December 1, 2016


November 30, 2016, between 5:30 -7 pm the Treasurer met with some 30 members of our community to discuss the proposed 2017 budget. In attendance were the CAO, Clerk, (Fire, Roads and Parks and Rec Heads) and I Councillor Scott Jibb. The CCHT, now approaching some 200 members strong, had some 25 folks in attendance to have their voices heard. Although not a lot of time to discuss such important matters in our community, the CCHT felt that it was more timely and proactive than last year, offering some sense of moving in the right direction by staff and council to include public opinions in these matters. The Treasurer did advise that further input or questions would be collated and received by email as not all questions were received.

Input was finally received from public after a half hour slide show providing basic background info on taxes, in a two way discussion. Items were recorded by the Treasurer for presentation to council in December. No copy of the presentation was made available as a handout. The working papers found on the website did not include any actual numbers nor any previous YTD numbers for reasonable comparisons which lead to a heated discussion about openness on the website and its very illegible site map for easy use by its intended users, the taxpayer. Preparation for the meeting was noticeably difficult because of this and obvious lack of post meeting preparation time; less than 48 hours to review what little info was available. The CCHT were very surprised and dismayed by the lack of direct answers to questions and the obvious lack of accurate and comprehensive information allowing all members of our community to be openly and fairly informed about our tax dollars and expenditures whether in attendance or not. There was no discussion on council and staffs efforts to take responsibility and to make commitments towards any reduction in expenditures therefore we will continue to get more of the same, more tax increase for the same or less service. We say enough is enough. Time to hold course, investigate and work towards no increases.

A question specifically asked by the CCHT around the Roads budget with reference to a $35000 roads need study by D M WIlls and Assoc presented to current council in March of 2015 asking for the current Roads plan, current year roads completed and future plans were not revealed by staff. Our further reaction was how can you plan a budget without a plan and estimation for that work. Furthermore what's the big secret. Let our residents know what is in the works. Another question about Parks and recreation and a report, again at great cost to the township, in 2013, revealed that fair and proportional representation in all communities should be undertaken. While some projects from this study have been completed many recommendations have still no action 3 years later. It was recommended by the CCHT that a Parks and Rec committee be formed post haste to help implement these actions.

Friends of the Harwood Waterfront asked many questions and were very concerned about Council and Staffs apparent continuing lack of support. It was suggested that at the very least especially after a great deal of fundraising on their part and huge obvious push back by current staff and council that the township provide some free park benches and lighting etc at no cost to their committee.

Bewdley Cemetery, listed as an asset to Hamilton Township, it was noted that members of the legion were caring for the grounds at their cost and not the townships. Why?
Fairness when offering funds to all facilities like Cold Springs Hall $10k plus $3k in reserves versus Harwood Hall and Gores Landing Hall who do all of their own fundraising and next to none at Cold Springs. The CCHT believe the favoritism has to and must stop and cease immediately.
A variety of other questions were asked notably about tourism planning and economic development in our amazing community and what funds/grants were being actioned for increased support. It was met with the same answers and diversionary spin by staff.
It also came to light to all present about the some 96 Reserve Funds accounts held by the township to the tune of more than $6.9 million dollars and the action to pair these down to about 50 or so. Our further question is how do you manage that many accounts with any sense of accuracy?
In conclusion many questions and concerns were vaguely answered with little clarity. Most folks did not feel openness and transparency and total dismay with the budget draft and shortened window of opportunity by the public to be a part of the process. We feel there is much work to be done by staff and council so that taxpayers feel they are part of the process. Many other concerns suggestions and ideas were mentioned but with such little time to have reasonable discussion we hope the staff listened to folks present and that actions and concerns will be brought to council for immediate implementation. At the very least we recommend an immediate budget committee formation to include at least 3 members of our community to avoid increased tension amongst our taxpayers.

Citizens Council of Hamilton Township