Special to The Lake Report
Every year, Niagara-on-the-Lake town council and staff draft a budget for the following year.
And each year it gets harder for them to do so. One reason is the ever-increasing demands of the taxpayers on the municipality.
For instance, the demand for a transit system has now added some $3 million to the town’s budget.
Most recently a group is seeking an indoor pool for NOTL.
See the 2017 indoor pool study. And also ask why have YMCAs in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie closed?
Then there is the other side, with unhappy taxpayers concerned about our increasing municipal taxes. Is the indoor pool group also part of the no-increase taxes group?
A recent letter from the pool group noted the town has two arenas, so it should be able to afford an indoor pool.
However, at the time the second arena was built, the town could not afford it. Parks and recreation staff tried to advise council, but because of pressure from some residents, the plans went ahead anyway.
I serviced the Centennial Arena in town for almost 25 years, until 2001. I knew the parks and recreation staff and I played hockey in that arena.
My wife was on the committee that drafted the parks and recreation master plan adopted by council in 1985. It contained information on an indoor pool and arenas.
The Centennial Arena has never funded itself. Its operation has always been subsidized by taxpayers, the same as municipal arenas in other communities.
To reasonably support one arena takes a population of about 20,000. This town built a second arena with a population of about 13,000.
Do the math. Either our taxes go up to cover the new operating and maintenance expense or something else does not get maintained properly.
Two current examples of this are the Upper Canada Heritage Trail and the St. Davids Lions outdoor pool.
We do fundraising. We get government grants (also taxpayer dollars) and our provincial and federal income taxes go up.
We tend to forget about operating and maintenance costs. Think about some of the more recent projects the town has completed and the long-term financial impact they will have on taxpayers if they are operated and maintained properly.
There are problems with sewer lines, though this is not a new problem. It has been going on for years.
The town has been working on it, but it is very costly. And because of upset taxpayers, work gets stretched over longer periods, so the problems persist longer.
The spillage of sewage into the Two Mile Creek is not new news to me. The discharge might also be from a relief valve engineered into the sewage system – to relieve it when the system becomes overloaded.
This is used when sewer lines are not large enough. They handle the load most of the time, but not at peak times. If the load on it has increased, it may be relieving all the time.
But everything can be fixed – it is purely a matter of dollars and inconvenience.
Infilling of lots adds to the sewage problem, as does building three homes where there used to be one, lot severances allowing for the addition of another home, allowing apartments or hotels instead of single-family homes.
Chautauqua, built as a cottage area, is now a year-round residential area, with small cottages torn down and replaced with larger homes that almost completely fill some lots.
More humans, more bathrooms equals much more load on the sanitary and storm sewer systems.
Some subdivisions are going in at much higher densities than the official plan called for while sewer lines and water mains were installed for lower densities.
It can all be fixed but, again, it takes money. And who pays?
In many cases the problem has been created by homeowners, but they want the town to come in and fix it.
In the time we owned our farm, we paid twice for a water line – once when it originally went in and again when it had to be replaced and increased in size.
Now, in our rural area, I pay for my own septic system installation and maintenance. Why should my tax dollars help pay for your sewer problems when I am paying for my own?
Why are my tax dollars being used to repair grinder pumps belonging to individual property owners in St. Davids? Why do I have to subsidize a $3 bus pass for a service my wife and I do not need?
As my daughters have reminded me to do on occasion, it is time for we the taxpayers to wake up and smell the coffee.
Kip Voege is a longtime Niagara-on-the-Lake resident.