Strategic poverty no way to run a municipality

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Sir: Council is scheduled to be launched on its first serious attempt at strategy formation at its Aug. 10 meeting.

If council follows its usual logic, its strategizing will be dominated by the idea that C-K citizens won’t tolerate tax increases. That idea is damaging to our future and insulting to C-K citizens. It is strategic poverty and keeps us poor.

If done right, strategizing will identify a challenging list of things that should be done to improve the quality of life in Chatham-Kent and make us competitive with other Ontario communities. Right now, those other communities are growing and we are shrinking. We’re losing the competition.

Some improvements will cost money and lead to tax increases. Tell us where the money will be spent, and if we agree, we’ll be happy to fund it. We love our communities, want to see them prosper, and will happily invest in critical improvement programs.

The poverty approach to strategy insults taxpayers and exaggerates the importance of taxes in our lives. A 2% tax increase will cost the “average” ($160,000 home) taxpayer about $1 per week – much less for a lower-value (e.g.$100,000) home and much more for a higher-value (e.g. $400,000) home, so it’s geared to affordability.

Every year we can expect that taxes will go up by the rate of inflation, just to maintain services. In addition, council has a commitment to gradually fund the infrastructure shortfall, and that will involve a further 1% tax increase. Face it, that’s what we need to stand still. For most of us, our inflationary income increase will more than cover these tax commitments, so no harm, no foul.

A one-time 2% ($1 per week) tax increase above inflation and infrastructure maintenance will generate about $3 million per year towards community development. Some of these programs are “catch-ups” and so the costs will drop once the catch-up is achieved.

Community improvement is necessary to keep and attract employers and residents. Communities with deteriorating downtowns, intermittent sidewalk networks, questionable water sources, no safe bikeway networks, below-standard tree cover, polluted rivers and beaches, limited post-secondary academics, and no organized venture capital sources will lose out in competition with more progressive communities. This sentence describes C-K’s situation. We need to improve in all these dimensions and most will cost budget dollars.

So we need strategic planning that deals with deteriorating downtowns, intermittent sidewalk networks, questionable water sources, no safe bikeway networks, below-standard tree cover, polluted rivers and beaches, limited post-secondary academics, and no organized venture capital sources, affordable housing for the homeless, plus a focussed economic development strategy. I’m sure others could add to this list.

A “dab” isn’t a strategy. We have a sidewalks budget that will take 15 years to fill in the gaps. Surely that’s not acceptable. The same holds true of many of these issues. We need to set a target completion date and budget accordingly. When will we get to 10% tree cover? When will we eradicate homelessness?

Come on, council, don’t insult C-K citizens. Identify what needs to be done to make our communities successful and base the budget on that!

John Sigurjonnson

Chatham

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