$1,120,817,697 - That is the total estimated spending by the Niagara Region in 2018.
That number is made up of an operating budget of $934,235,000 and a capital budget of $186,582,000. So I could tell you that I am treasurer of St. Catharines Minor Baseball or some other local organization and that qualifies me to help managed these budgets. But I doubt many would think that managing budgets of these organizations compares in any way to managing and controlling a budget of over $1 billion dollars.
What qualifies me is that I have a degree in accounting from Brock University, I have a law degree from the University of Toronto and I have spent more than 25 years in the accounting and tax profession dealing with small and large corporations. In the companies I deal with every day, they do not have the solution of just increasing prices whenever they have a shortfall, they have to live within their means.
As a community, hard choices and unique solutions have to be implemented to get St. Catharines and Niagara on track. If elected I will review to fine efficiencies so that we can free up funds to pay for things our community needs.
But even if we find additional savings by doing line by line budgeting that will not solve our financial problems. These savings will only be a portion of the funds we need to ensure Niagara thrives.
We need to be innovative. One idea may be to partner with private housing companies to create affordable housing. We simply do not have enough internal resources to deal with this problem. So perhaps we need to leverage our limited funds with the private sector to develop housing projects. If elected this will be an idea I will stress we explore.
On the revenue generation side, perhaps we need to look at a Region wide tourist destination fee that does not just create funds to market the region but a small percentage to alleviate homelessness and drug abuse or other social problems.
Also we need to emphasize economic development of our businesses, if they succeed that will result in more tax revenues and wealth for our residents. One of the main reasons taxes are so high in Niagara is that we do not have enough successful businesses paying taxes to reduce the burden on the residents’ property taxes. Most of the burden of running our municipalities and the region is placed on the shoulders of the residents.
In the end, hard choices will need to be made. Including a ranking of what is important to us and what we will need to cut. In the end, my first job as regional councilor will be to listen to you the residents of St. Catharines and Niagara as to what is important to you. I feel I am one of the most qualified candidates to do this role with my strong business, accounting and law background. As well, my ability to listen to the residents about their needs and be willing to make hard choices.
The current regional council has depleted reserves, increased taxes and not made the hard choices in order to create a vibrant Niagara. Economic Development has not brought enough tax revenues in. We don’t have adequate services (see my last post on garbage collection, or consider homelessness and lack of affordable housing). We are paying more in taxes each year but we don’t seem to be getting ahead. Currently, there is no cohesive plan developed by our current regional council to move Niagara ahead while keeping it affordable for those living in it.
If elected I commit to spearheading a thorough review of the budget process and finding efficiencies. I commit to working to produce a cohesive plan that will move Niagara forward while keeping property taxes affordable. I commit to making hard choices and being upfront with our residents as to what the trade offs are and getting their input as to what is most important to them.
There is no simple solution to our high taxes, need for more economic development and lack of proper services but the starting point is by putting in honest, knowledgable regional councilors who will challenge the status quo, listen to the residents and make changes.
It is time to clean house at the region! Please help me make that change by voting for me.