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Tough decisions, tricky issues on the table for council’s budget talks for 2018

Mayor Quaiff addresses Chamber of Commerce members at a breakfast meeting Tuesday.

Despite setbacks faced by the municipality, its residents and businesses this year, Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff said there’s economic optimism for 2018 along with resolve to tackle tricky issues surrounding affordable housing and rebuilding infrastructure.

He predicts tough decisions are going to made when council meets for budget talks next month.

Quaiff was invited to review the muncipality’s year to update the business community, during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday morning at the Waring House.

“This has certainly been the most interesting year in my time as municipal politician as our community faced two major water incidents that tested our resolve.”

The mayor declared a water emergency March 28 to April 11  as a result of partially submerged barge in Picton Bay that spilled 1,500 litres of oil and threatened drinking water for Picton and Bloomfield.

“Representatives from the province have told me the County’s response will serve as a model for other municipalities faced with similar situtations,” Quaiff said, noting exceptional staff response working with numerous outside agencies during the crisis.

A second ‘State of Emergency’ was declared May 8  due to localized flooding on the County’s 800 kms of shoreline and 100-year high water levels in Lake Ontario.

“Once again, staff went above the call of duty to assist residents and at the same time, neighbours and friends rallied to help one another,” said Quaiff. “The immediate threats of flooding receded but the wet spring and summer continued to impact farmers and businesses. “It wasn’t easy for many business owners and I commend you on your resiliency in the face of uncontrollable circumstances.”

Despite the setbacks this year, he told attendees the municipality is showing signs of moving forward on fostering a stable community that encourages growth.

“In October at a workshop hosted by County workforce partnerships I was encouraged to see different employers coming together to support a County-wide effort to build a better local workforce. We must be proactive,” said Quaiff, noting an announcement is on the way about the County’s partnership with the Rural Employment Initiative program connecting newcomers to Canada with job openings in smaller Ontario communities.

As work continues to retain business and expand construction and manufacturing, budget talks in December will also see a focus on affordable housing and continued work to improve the municipality’s crumbling infrastructure – including the study under way to find out how best to fix a crumbling County Road 49.

“We’re still in the early stages but to date there’s been 176 applications for new houses with a construction value of $71.9 million,” he said. “As of Oct. 31, we issued 152 permits for new houses with a value of $60 million, far surpassing 2016.”

And though he notes that is good, Quaiff worries that it won’t be enough to help residents and businesses looking for answers to the lack of affordable housing in the County.

“We know that businesses are struggling to attract and retain employees because they can’t find a place to live. The municipality is limited as to incentives to develop affording housing. People who want to live and work in this community are looking to the municipality for leadership so it is an issue.”

A crux, he said, is the rise in the conversion of private homes into short-term rentals that has squeezed the County’s stock of affordable family homes and diminished traditional neighbourhoods. On the other hand, short-term rentals give new visitors access to the County and home owners can supplement their incomes. Given this complexity, public consultations on the issue, with community partners such as the Chamber, will combine with staff reports for examination of short-term rentals in the spring. He said any talks coming forward that result in charging fees for short-term rentals  won’t help the infrastructure coffers as his understanding is that any accommodation tax money would have to be put back into that sector.
Homelessness, he added, is also a problem to address.

This summer, he said staff were informed an individual was living in the washrooms behind the Crystal Palace. Talking to mayors in Quinte West and Belleville, he’s learned there are thousands who are homeless, coupled with those who are working but still cannot afford a place to live.

“It is an issue when you have people buying up the more affordable homes for rentals, putting others out from what they could afford to rent or buy,” he said, adding that what is defined as “affordable” in Prince Edward County simply isn’t for many.

“It’s way out of line,” said Quaiff. “The definition of affordable housing in Prince Edward County is an average of $230,000” – too much for individuals with minimum wage jobs who must also pay for upkeep, water and sewer. “So that definition of has got to change but that happens on a provincial level.”

The province, he said, is going to have to step up with funding plans for the County, and all other municipalities to move forward. “We’ve been told that there’s going to be $400 million a year available for municipalities so that will scratch the surface. It’s a start, but conversations are going to have to start being held with the province about uploading more services.”

While he’s excited to hear possibilities in early talks about changing Queen Elizabeth School, or the now vacant Pinecrest school, into affordable housing, he’s disappointed a fair market assessement will produce a price tag for a building he feels the taxpayers already bought and paid for with taxes.

“The County not unlike any other municipality across Ontario. They’re all going through the same thing to try to find funding,” said Quaiff, who is chairman of the Wardens’ Caucus of Eastern Ontario, and a director on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario board representing 444 municipalities.

“Policing comes to mind. Prince Edward County pays $4.8 million per year for policing and that’s something downloaded from the province years ago. Municipalities shouldn’t be in the policing business. We’re in the business to look after our roads and infrastructure and things of that nature – not policing, not ambulance costs and hospital costs.”

When council meets Dec. 3-8 for budget talks, they will also be looking for money to continue infrastructure upgrades – including roads that those living here and playing here need to use. That’s estimated at $31 million each year for 10 years just to bring infrastructure up to standards” that can’t be accomplished without significant support from upper levels of government.

“Council really has to dig in their heels and take a look at some of the roads that can go back to surface treated, or gravel roads. We can’t have the luxury of driving down 1,100 kms of paved roads here with bicycle lanes on each one of them. We just can’t do that.”

“For 2018 I also want to be very careful that we’re not going to use up reserves as a voting tool. When this council first got in, we had $450,000 in reserves and now we have into the millions set aside. We’ll have to be careful when people say ‘let’s keep the taxes down as low as zero and use our reserves’ because the next council that comes in will have to play catch up and build those reserves up again. ”

Also known is the need to address building staffing levels back up to deliver services County residents expect.

“There’s that big of a demand that we’re starting to re-hire again because we just can’t handle the volume of what we’re doing.” CAO James Hepburn continues work on re-organizing.

“With the water crisis we had shutting down the Picton treatment plant we’re getting upwards of $1 million in additional expenses that we had to incur and any assistance information is not yet known… The emergencies really caught us behind the eight-ball because it took a lot of staff resources – took people away from our roads department and we got behind on upgrading our roads and doing the work that is required, so we will have to catch up next year.”

“It’s been one of those incredibly difficult years,” said Quaiff. “Tough decisions are going to have to be made at budget time.”

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Emily Cowan and President Gil Leclerc reviewed its business services, lobbying and advocacy projects over the past year along with plans for 2018. The chamber has sold its Main Street Picton location and is seeking a new home to provide expanded services to members.

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  1. Scott Farkus says:

    Thank you Dennis and Chris for your insights.

    Dennis- I definitely relate to your previous post about the three major political parties in the province right now. They don’t seem all that different and it makes it incredibly difficult to reasonably decide on any of them.

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    I think it would be a good idea for people to read this week’s issue (Nov.29/17) of The Times. A letter written by Philip Bender, who holds the title of “Chair -Policy & Governmental Affairs Committee, PEC Chamber of Tourism and Commerce” appears on page 11.

    According to this letter, both Mr. Thompson and “County representatives” met with this Chamber Committee and presented their position. ???? It appears that as a result of these meetings, the Chamber is supporting Thompson’s tax cut position for farmers and increasing residential taxes.

    First – I thought(as reported in our local papers) the County had no position at this time and asked staff to report back in January with the facts on this issue – before a decision was to be made.

    Secondly – since when did the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce get involved and pick a side in local politics – particularly on issues they have had no previous involvement in, nor did they have any communication with the broader community for input?

    Thirdly – so who were the County Representatives that attended this meeting and just what position did they represent – given that the County supposedly didn’t have one? How did “The Chamber” arrive at their position to support Mr. Thompson?

    To some of the previous comments made on this topic – this issue is not about supporting farmers and their work, nor is it about a desire to support farm families – It is about a needless money grab that residential taxpayers are being deceived onto paying, by one person. Oh what a tangled web that is being woven here!

    The public – all of the public (including farmers) deserve better. This kind of decision-making only creates bad feeling and division within our community.

  3. Gary says:

    Many urban properties have doubled in MPAC assessment. Water/wastewater rates have skyrocketed to near the highest in Canada. Would everybody be willing to kick in 75 cents a week to help out those struggling to make it?

  4. Snowman says:

    What this boils down to is tax fairness and greater good.
    First of all I am not a farmer. Under this proposal the 90% of we non farmer land owners of property are being asked (on average) to pay about 75 cents per week( my calculation,on my tax bill) more in taxes to help ensure a enduring farm economy in Prince Edward County.
    The younger generation of farmers need our help. I’m not talking about the “60 somethings” that have low debt and have worked long and hard for 40-50 years and drive a 1-2 year old half ton truck.
    Most of them make their “real money” in secondary enterprises selling seed ,custom work,or trucking grain etc etc.
    If we can’t support farmers until the next MPAC cycle, then we will see more empty barns ready for destruction, less of the “local” food we like to brag about,less $$$ in the local economy and more at Shire Hall to be wasted on a new half ton truck for the manager god-knows what.
    I think 75 cents per week is a small price to pay. I also think the 3 or 4 people posting here continually showing their short sighted view of this, should decide to support the industry that help make Prince Edward County the great community it remains today

  5. wevil says:

    with the price farm land is going for most farmers are sitting on a gold mine and don’t want to pay their share of the taxes

  6. John Thompson says:

    Gary, if the farm tax ratio is reduced to 20% of the residential rate from 25%, the PEFA will ask that it be in effect for 2018 to 2020 when a new MPAC cycle starts. It would be re evaluated for 2021. If residential values are up substantially then it may make sense to revert to the maximum ratio of 25%. Reducing the rate now to reduce the shift of County cost onto farmland has little effect of the residential tax (which farmers also pay) as a major cost to family farms and the overall economy of the County would be spread over thousands of tax bills.

    If per chance the residential values are double in the next round, this would have little effect on the tax payable as residential pays 90% of the tax and such an increase would mean that the tax rate (mill rate) would be reduced by almost half. It’s just math and math matters.

    Who really thinks that a tax increase of 70% is not enough?

  7. Dennis Fox says:

    It appears that “funny numbers” are being tossed around by at least one farmer. Don’t talk in terms of tax ratios or percentages – instead talk in real dollar figures. It doesn’t matter which way you cut it, John Thompson is asking Council to reduce the taxes for farmers and transferring a greater burden of payments over to residential taxpayers.

    Lets remember this is NOT a case of hardship nor poverty we are talking about – instead it is a case of farmers becoming very wealthy – where farmland is worth much more now and the farmer is being asked to pay up -just like the rest of the taxpayers have had to do several years ago and are still paying.

    Where was the OFA, and John Thompson when lake front property and other residential property assessments went through the roof? Our Council then claimed they could do nothing to help. Is this another case of where the squeaky wheel gets the grease?

  8. Chuck says:

    What a crock! Not asking for lower taxes.Just asking to pay “less” tax than required and pass the shortfall to residential. Not to mention accumulating the capital gains in wealth .

  9. Chris Keen says:

    Fred – Toronto attempted to introduce tolls on several 400 series roads. Wynne summoned Mayor John Tory to her office and gave him a public spanking. No new taxes while she’s trying to get reelected. Now, what would happen to our mayor if we did this?? Not sure given his current situation. 🙂

  10. Gary Mooney says:

    John Thompson, speaking on behalf of “the farmers” (which farmers?) is asking that, in future, farm taxes levied and paid will be reduced by 20% as compared to the current level of taxation. He’s asking that residential taxpayers make up the shortfall. This transfer of taxes will continue on a permanent basis.

  11. John Thompson says:

    The farmers are not asking for lower taxes as mistakenly reported below. We are asking that the farm tax ratio be lowered from 25% to 20% which will translate into a tax hike of about 70% by 2020 rather than 110%. In addition to this the farm residential tax will increase by the same percentage as every residential property.

  12. Fred says:

    Chris; how do road tolls work as possibility?

  13. Chris Keen says:

    The question of taxing tourists was well and truly flogged to death here a few months ago.

    Municipalities are NOT allowed to levy a tourist tax. They can set a Destination Marketing Program and collect a fee which is to be used ONLY for marketing related activities designed to attract MORE tourists. See http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/invest/destination_marketing.shtml

    A tourist tax would be impossible to implement, and in an election year no government is going to entertain yet another tax as Wynne made perfectly clear when she refused to entertain the idea of a 1% increase in the HST designed to directly help municipalities deal with their infrastructure issues.

  14. Dennis Fox says:

    Scott – as you no doubt know, you are talking my language about taxing the tourists – your comments would have been very helpful when this debate was going hot and heavy during the summer – but no harm in keeping the ball bouncing!

    What I find annoying is that our property taxes continue to increase every year by 3 to 5% and now council is “considering” lowering farm taxes by 5%. Do we need to ask where the balance of that money will come from? Many in this community will get some kind of tax break, except for anyone who is retired and on a fixed income.

  15. Scott Farkus says:

    I just want to know when the county is going to start taxing the tourists properly for all of the extra wear and tear they put on the roads, garbage collection etc.? The extra revenue they bring to the county in sales doesn’t pay for these services. When the province gets more tax revenue from the county they don’t return the favour. Yet residents taxes are made to pay for the enjoyment of everybody. The relationship needs to be made fair.

  16. Dennis Fox says:

    Both of the previous writers (hockeyman & Fred) are right! So gentlemen don’t ever say that I never agreed with you. Right now, the political scene in Ontario is dismal – none of the parties stand for anything, they have no real ideology other than to say anything to get elected. Brown, Horwath and Wynne are all cut from the same clothe – AND none of them have/nor can they promise to stop the IWTs planned for PEC.

  17. hockeynan says:

    And what I have seen of Mr Brown,I don’t think that he could even do that

  18. Fred says:

    Those with very short memories forget the downloads, super expensive amalgamations, service cuts and deregulation of our Ontario Hydro by the last Tory government. They did manage to get beer on golf courses however! Lol

  19. Dennis Fox says:

    My concerns about tax dollars and budget are not aimed solely at the mayor – but at the entire municipal operation. On too many occasions issues and initiatives are introduced to the public, only to find out that Council has to go back for more information or to reverse their decision at some point. Recent examples of this are the Benson Park plan,and the revitalization of downtown – both ended up costing more. My point is- Council needs slow things down a bit, have the info before making it public and to have an accurate costing of the initiative ahead of time – AND to stop looking at a population of maybe 10,000 taxpayers as if we can afford everything that is out there – WE CAN”T !! I’m tired of seeing my property taxes increase every year by 4 -5% – that is just crazy!

  20. Chris Keen says:

    Mayor Quaiff is running for a party which cost taxpayers more than $500 million dollars exporting clean energy to the US in 2016. (https://blog.ospe.on.ca/advocacy/ontario-lost-500-million-exporting-clean-energy-2016/) With Ontario’s debt at $300 billion plus and climbing daily, it’s hard to see how there’s any likelihood the province will be undertaking the uploading of any service costs from municipalities – especially in an election year! The fools haven’t even got the sense to cancel the completely unnecessary wpd project. (Hint-Liberal party campaign supporters.)

  21. hockeynan says:

    Quaiff says that they are in the business to look after roads.I wonder when that 8s going to start.The roads they supposidly resurface is a total waste of money.6 months down the road they are filling potholes again and they still have the same bumps in them.

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