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Jun. 5, 2020 | Friday
Editorials and Opinions
Letter: Town needs to control spending now
Letter

Dear editor:

As the COVID-19 curve in Canada begins to flatten, our federal, provincial and municipal leaders should be commended for their efforts to manage the crisis. It has been a very tough six weeks for them, as well as for the front-line people who work in our hospitals; seniors’ facilities; police, fire and paramedic services; grocery stores and pharmacies, etc. I’d like to thank each and every one of you, and your families, for all you have done for us.

In these challenging times, NOTL town councillors likely have not given much thought to municipal taxation levels. That’s understandable, although I was dismayed to learn that Council has approved $1.5 million in new spending for two streetscape projects (The Lake Report, April 23). This decision, made at a time when the town’s financial future is uncertain and NOTL is concerned about the decline in parking and other revenues, will almost certainly lead to tax increases down the road.

The timing of the decision, as well as the requirement for it to be made now, is terrible. Stock markets around the world have suffered huge losses. Mutual fund values and interest rates have plunged. How long it will take for them to rebound after the pandemic ends is unclear. Yet they are the primary sources of retirement income for many NOTL residents.

Even when things return to a semblance of normal, it may be challenging for local residents and businesses to cope with day-to-day expenses, let alone the tax increases we can anticipate as governments at all levels attempt to bring their debt and deficits under control.

Council should postpone major spending decisions until there is more certainty about what the future holds, and there is clarity around what funding support, if any, will be available from the provincial and federal governments to help municipalities recover from financial shortfalls related to COVID-19. The town needs a better understanding of its post-pandemic balance sheet and future revenue streams, as well as a plan to move forward from where we are today, before it invests significant dollars in nonessential infrastructure. Especially when that spending will result in ongoing maintenance costs and almost certainly municipal tax increases.

Part of the town’s plan could – and I believe should – include implementing an accommodation tax in NOTL. If it is still available, the town could also seek federal and provincial funding for the establishment of a business improvement area (BIA).

It’s unrealistic to expect residents and businesses to continue paying the bulk of the costs town incurs to maintain local infrastructure when the requirement for maintenance stems in large part from the wear and tear caused by the millions of tourists who come here each year. Transferring some of those costs to tourists is both fair and reasonable.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Niagara-on-the-Lake offered tourists a unique visitor experience. We can only hope that this will continue to hold true when the pandemic ends – that our wineries, restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, shops, historic sites, theatres and other businesses will be able to resume normal operations, and that people from around the world will resume coming here to experience them.

That said, when the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over, I believe town should also consider the inherent risks of NOTL relying so heavily on tourism to fuel the local economy. I’d like to see our town become a self-sustaining community focussed on meeting the needs of its residents and local businesses, including farmers, along with visitors. A day when the short-term and vacation rentals that have become common in NOTL become family homes, occupied throughout the year, and when Queen Street includes a mix of shops that appeals to both residents and tourists.

As the local volunteers who have diligently made protective masks, gowns and face shields over the past several weeks have demonstrated so clearly, the heart of NOTL – what makes it so wonderful to live here – is ts residents.

Terry Davis

NOTL

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