CAG gives pledge-signing councillors a pass on 2015 budget

Coun. Justin Towndale, left, and Coun. David Murphy during a water and sewer budget meeting in December 2014. Towndale voted for the budget while Murphy voted against the 2015 document on March 30, 2015. They were among a half dozen councillors that signed a CAG pledge during the election campaign to roll back taxes. (Cornwall Newswatch/File)

CORNWALL – A city tax watchdog group is giving its pledge-signing members of council somewhat of a pass this year on the budget.

Council approved a 2.4 per cent tax increase yesterday (Monday) which will add $54 on the average homeowners’ yearly tax bill.

During the election campaign, six candidates who ended up getting elected, signed a pledge to do everything in their power during their term in office to roll back taxes.

Three voted for the budget: Maurice Dupelle, Claude McIntosh and Justin Towndale. Three voted again it: Brock Frost, Mark MacDonald and David Murphy.

“It’s not the best for the long term needs of the city but the Community Action Group also understands that the council had a difficult challenge this year, mostly due to timing,” spokesman Roy Perkins tells Cornwall Newswatch, “Basically they were elected in October and then they got into budget deliberations immediately and a lot of the infrastructure and needs are already in place.”

Perkins says the group, which has about 360 members, is still stressing that a zero per cent tax increase is the only long term option and it may come with some tough decisions that could affect services. CAG believes the city has a service level based on a metropolis of 70,000.

“Short term, you can do what you want, but 50 bucks more out of a homeowners’ pocket is $50 that they don’t have. With the tax increase plus the water/sewer increase ($7-11 a year on average) it makes it difficult for a lot of people who own homes to continue to pay their bills,” Perkins says.

The CAG spokesman is hopeful, noting discussions are happening about changes on the way.

“We are really hopeful that the 2016 budget, where the council members will have one year under their belt, they’ll have a lot more knowledge and information, and they’ll be able to make decisions that need to be made to ensure the overall city is moving forward in the right direction,” Perkins says.

Unlike previous budget years, members of CAG didn’t show up in the gallery during budget meetings.

“We believe when someone signs a document saying they’re doing to do the best that they can to reduce taxes that they will come true on that signature and therefore we didn’t believe it was time to put any undue pressure on council. We thought it was important that we stay in the background,” Perkins said.

“We are hopeful all members of council will buy into the idea and the long term plan for success – you’re going to have to make some changes. We trust people….we’re not going to chase you and hound you. We still trust them (the councillors)…they’re there to do a job. They were not just able to get the job done this year,” Perkins says.

“But next year we’re going to ensure that the message goes back loud and clear that zero per cent is the only way.”

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