Read it and weep as council strums the budget blues
During recent sessions, councillors faced the unpleasant but necessary prospect of raising costs of storm water by 9.2 per cent, sanitary/sewers by 10.8 percent and water by 7.6 per cent. On top of a 1.75 inflationary hike to property taxes this represents a $117 tax increase for the average homeowner.
Surprisingly, alongside a few special-interest groups, not a single average homeowner showed up at Monday’s budget debate organized to receive public comment.
Next Monday, Jan. 23, we will once again bemoan the fact that, in order to help replace Kitchener’s aging water and sewer pipes, large and painful annual hikes are necessary for the next decade. Depending in part on help from higher levels of government, it could take many more years to catch up on our infrastructure deficit.
And while we have little control over such essential items, we do have a symbolic say over a new proposal at the final budget meeting that could, depending on individual councillor use, provide up to $55,000 a year to help pay potential legal fees. The amount would be used any time a councillor preparing to vote seeks legal advice on whether a conflict of interest exists. Currently, any regional councillor can claim a similar $5,000 for advice.
Unlike some fellow councillors, I will argue against any such allowance on Jan. 23.
A staff report shows that since 2010 individual councillors have declared anywhere from one to 54 conflicts. Many were repeat declarations on similar matters and I would argue that, without need of expensive legal advice, councillors know when they have conflicts.
While I am certainly critical of Ontario’s conflict legislation governing municipal councillors, I think, instead of subsidizing legal fees, we should pressure MPPs to rewrite conflict laws. That way, councillors elected to represent residents on important ward issues could do so without facing the ridiculous possibility they are muzzled by fuzzy conflict regulations.
Councillors can’t ignore their responsibility to maintain and fix utility woes, but they should pay their own legal way and reject efforts to have taxpayers cover high-priced lawyer bills.