Editor: The recent four-year budget proposed by Chatham-Kent administration has brought chills to most of us in the community. We have been told that the majority of the increase is due to inflation. One needs to ask how an annual tax increase averaging 7.8 per cent each year is justified when inflation is expected to end the year at 3.1 per cent?
Chatham-Kent council, endorsed by administration, continually promotes an open and transparent government. Let me give you a few examples of why our office has some real concerns about this mantra and the ethical management of our property taxes.
Back in 2020, with the risk of a projected budget deficit occurring due to Covid-19, council directed administration to investigate savings opportunities to achieve a 2021 budget target of zero per cent. A task force consisting of local business people was formed. Reports dated August 2020 and October 2020 produced a list of action items intended to bring savings to the municipality. However, none of the ideas proposed in the reports that followed were adopted by council.
One report that was originally accepted, the repurposing of an underutilized arena, was overturned at the next council meeting. A slap in the business community’s face, and three years of lost savings. And this is the same group that now appears to be supporting increasing our tax dollars to renovate the Sears building? It’s easy to spend tax dollars, but difficult to cut.
Our office went back and reviewed these 2020 savings reports. Good ideas were presented, however, we found one report that was not responded to by the November 2020 deadline, namely, savings to retiree benefits. For those of you who don’t know, the municipality has a very generous retiree benefit plan that is substantially funded by tax dollars, benefits that you and I pay for but cannot have. An existing incentive for government management is to increase their salaries to fit a “best five-year highest wage earnings” window, which determines their retirement package for life. The police chief and CAO will receive about $175,000 yearly when they retire, and this amount will increase annually with inflation.
Further investigation has revealed there is no record of administration ever responding to proposed savings in retiree benefits.
A recent October 2023 report to council entitled “previous council action items” does not list the retiree benefit report on either the list recommended to remain or to be removed.
In accordance with the laws of governance, once a motion is approved, it stands and can only be removed by a vote of council.
There is no evidence showing this step ever took place with respect to retiree benefits, and we are now in the fourth year since the original motion was approved.
Why isn’t council holding administration accountable to respond to every motion that they create and approve? Council reports are online and these facts can be fully verified by any member of the public.
When the evidence demonstrates that public-owned information is concealed, how are the citizens of Chatham-Kent expected to trust those managing our property taxes? How can we possibly trust their four-year budget figures? Why will C-K not provide details of how they spend money within our 10 municipal departments and 21 divisions?
There is no way council or the citizenry can responsibly scrutinize where tax dollars are going based on the current budget format.
We know that our office is not popular with the municipality, but we speak with facts.
The public will find millions of tax dollars spent in a fashion they will likely find appalling, especially given the proposed nearly 31-per-cent tax hike over the next four years.