AMHERST – Amherst council candidate and former town manager Ed Childs says a $300,000 surplus just announced by the town’s top administrator means Amherstonians are paying too much in taxes.
Childs said surpluses nearing $700,000 over two years warrant an immediate five per cent tax reduction.
“The town manager brags that he had a surplus for last year of $383,116, so that makes a total of more than $686,000 of over-taxation in just two years,” Childs said in a news release.
Childs said the proper way to run a town is to have a very small surplus each year because it gives town staff a very tight target to work with.
“It’s easy to have a large surplus when council approves an over-inflated budget and then sets a high tax rate to cover the inflated costs,” he said. “This is a tactic that’s used to make council and administration look like they are sound financial managers when, in fact, they are overcharging taxpayers who are already feeling the pinch.”
Childs said the town has another option – start giving some of that money back to taxpayers.
“I’m running on a lower tax platform, so let’s start right now here: tighten expenses, no more large surpluses, and lower the tax rate immediately,” he said.
He said also wants to see “no more fat cushions for council and administration, but a realistic operating budget that they have to work hard to meet.”
Mayor Robert Small said Childs’ idea has merit, but lowering taxes is not as easy as its seems and can have repercussions.
“While there is merit to lowering taxes when you have recurring surpluses, it can also be an opportunity for the town to accomplish some larger projects in future years along with leveraging external dollars from both the provincial and federal governments, without the need for borrowing money every time you want to do something,” Small said. “The word coming down from the federal government to municipalities is that there will be a future infrastructure program and municipalities need to prepare for this program. This would include any financial needs the municipality would require.”
Small said there are other elements to budgeting that are used to develop estimates of costs and it’s prudent to be cautious when developing these estimates because people are quick to judge when an unplanned cost hits the bottom line.
“While it may seem like a significant number, in terms of year over year surplus, it only takes one unforeseen event, such as an ice storm or higher than usual snowfall, to wipe out any financial cushion the town may have.”
Childs also took issue with the fact the financial information was released by the town CAO rather than the mayor and council since they are ultimately responsible to the voters.
“It’s the town manager’s job to compile that information for the mayor and council, but it’s the elected people who should be releasing it to the public,” Childs said.