Given the Sarnia city council was elected in the fall of 2018, its first opportunity to fully set its own budget was in the fall of 2019 for 2020. For the three police budgets from 2020 to the 2022 draft, the annual increases reported are 3.04 per cent, 3.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent. The three-year compounded increase is 11.55 per cent. This is 4.67 percentage points above the inflation of 6.88 per cent (September 2018 to September 2021, Bank of Canada).
Regarding city general budgets, the annual increases reported for the same three budgets are 5.16 per cent, 1.39 per cent and 2.96 per cent, respectively, with the compounded tax increase being 9.78 per cent, which is 2.9 percentage points above relevant inflation.
If we simply apply budget increases to estimate tax effects, a property tax city portion of $3,000 in 2020, as an example, would become $3,293 for 2022. This is an accumulated increase of $293 per year (over the course of the current council’s term) which is $87 per year more than what taxpayers might get with inflation-adjusted income.
These persistent trends on budget increases present concerns. Council needs to make necessary choices on priorities and look at deferments where necessary. This should include, with some courage, rejecting initially proposed excessive police budgets as they have legislative authority to do this. Has any council ever had the courage to do this before?
Eventually, prioritizing and deferring expenses is what taxpayers will need to do themselves when city taxes and fees keep taking more money, year after year, relative to what income adjustments can make up. Appropriately, the opportunity for council accountability will become available in the fall of 2022 as taxpayers will be able to pass judgment then.