As Lord Mayor Betty Disero has said, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake needs to become self-sustainable.
In effect, it needs to achieve a balance between the money it spends on behalf of taxpayers and the revenues from all sources that it takes in during the fiscal year, without making municipal taxes so onerous that residents no longer can afford to pay them.
There are different ways that council could consider to achieve this goal, but in general they all involve either raising revenues, cutting expenditures, finding ways to operate more cost effectively, or a combination of these things.
Unfortunately, it does not appear likely that council will find the balance needed for the town to be self-sustainable in the near future if the proposed 2020 municipal budget is anything to go by.
The time has come for council to take a much harder look at discretionary grants, including those that have become line items in the budget such as the $118,000 earmarked for the NOTL Chamber of Commerce.
It must also come to grips with the need for new sources of revenue, such as an accommodation tax, to ensure that visitors to NOTL contribute in a fair and reasonable way to maintaining the town’s critical infrastructure, beautification program and bylaw enforcement requirements.
And it should consider cost efficiencies, including looking at whether town has the right staff doing the right jobs, and the right number of staff, to meet the needs of local residents and businesses.
Ultimately, council will have to take the demographics of residents into account as well. If, as the average age of NOTL residents suggests, many are living on fixed incomes, continued high annual increases to municipal taxes are clearly unsustainable.
Instead, council should be looking at other options, such as deferred taxation (through which seniors can defer paying a portion of their annual municipal taxes until they sell their home, at which point the deferred taxes must be paid), to help residents be able to stay in their own homes as the cost of living increases.