There was a modest turnout at this morning's first public engagement on the 2023 municipal budget that calls for a 7.55 per cent increase in property taxes.
It continues tomorrow (Oct. 29) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. near the front entrance of the SLS Family Sports Centre, and a larger crowd is anticipated.
Long-time Cochrane resident Glen McLaughlin was among those who participated. He says another huge jump is simply not acceptable.
"Well, I find after last year's 10 per cent increase we were told that was a one-off, that there had to be a catchup because of the pandemic, and we reluctantly accepted that increase," says McLaughlin. "Now we're finding that they're going to load us with another 7.55 per cent increase, which is 18 per cent in two years. I find that intolerable and unjustifiable. I don't care how they spin the numbers, that's got to be rolled back. That's not acceptable to the ratepayers of this community."
It is disappointing that the increase proposed in the draft is so large, says Councillor Susan Flowers, and says council will be closely examining it.
"But the inflation this year has just been unreal and of course, all of our costs are going up as well as those of the community. It's scary, but we'll have to look at it closely. We don't want to cut any services so we'll have to figure out where all the money is going to go."
At this point, the budget is a draft prepared by town administration, and council doesn't t begin its debate until Nov. 15. Four days have been set aside to go through the finer points of the budget that's expected to be finalized by Dec. 12.
With the budget book only coming out Monday, Councillor Patrick Wilson says he hasn't had a chance to closely examine it yet, but he says he is deeply concerned and he's heard from residents who feel the same.
"I was the guy there last year arguing it, so we'll see what this year brings."
Last year's budget was also opposed by Councillor Marni Fedeyko, who says the public has already spoken about this year's budget and they demand it to be reduced somehow.
"I think it's got to come down, and think we really need to do some hard work and ask some hard questions this year to figure out what it's going to look like. Also, just to make sure whatever percentage we are passing on to people is going to match their expectations.
She says if the town adds another eight per cent on top of last year's 10 will be difficult if residents don't feel their services are being improved.
Councillor Alex Reed says like most people he was a little shocked and struggles with the cost of living increases to our community as a whole.
"But I also recognize it's not the municipality's responsibility to subsidize the community in terms of the costs that they're experiencing," says Reed.
"So, I'm cautiously optimistic about where we're heading with it," says Reed. "I think 7.55 per cent is a good start but I look forward to getting into more detailed discussions about where we go from here."
Mayor Jeff Genung says he wasn't too surprised with the increase proposed in the draft budget.
"We had a difficult budget year last year and that was coming out of COVID. Now, everybody's not surprised with all the inflationary pressures that everybody's under, the cost of everything has gone up, and that's affected us as a community just like everybody's household, so I'm not surprised with the administration's draft form."
He's interested to see what council has to say about it during their budget debates and says they'll be rolling up their sleeves and getting down to what they feel the community can afford.
"It's a really difficult position. This morning, I was at a rec board meeting, the library, the rec facility... everybody's got more demands for more funding, and that ultimately equates to more taxes for Cochrane residents."
He says adding to the challenge is a 23 per cent reduction in provincial funding, primarily for capital projects. He says it has left Cochrane and other larger centres with the challenge of doing more with less.