The results of a recent survey about property taxes in the Town of Huntsville have been made public.
According to a staff report, 258 people took the time to respond to the 14-question survey launched this past fall and, remarkably, those 258 people provided more than 500 comments and suggestions about which Town programs and services provide the most value and why, what services should be enhanced or reduced, and which Town assets they would dispose of to reduce maintenance cost.
Not surprisingly, road maintenance topped the list of concerns with 66 per cent of the respondents wanting that service enhanced. Roads are followed by road network at 64 per cent, winter control at 47 per cent, community development at 31 per cent, and transit at 28 per cent.
One respondent conveyed the sentiment of many with this statement: “I think road maintenance speaks pretty clearly for itself. People are fed up with potholes and bumps and the mediocre work being put into repairs. I for one am tired of the extra costs of maintaining my car from damages caused by the roads.”
In contrast, the top five services respondents felt should be reduced are administration at 23 per cent, Muskoka Heritage Place at 20 per cent, protective services at 18 per cent, arts and cultural programs at 17 per cent, and sustainability at 14 per cent.
One respondent didn’t mince words in suggesting no further increase should go to administration. “Hiring and salary freeze now! We are the country club of Muskoka. Sunshine list is way too big and there are too many people in town hall.”
Protective services also took a hit. “By‐Law no longer works weekends or evenings and doesn’t enforce anything so get rid of them or start to enforce by‐laws including parking.”
Perhaps most surprising is that 60 per cent of respondents are in favour of a tax increase if it enhances (chosen by 33 per cent) or maintains (chosen by 27 per cent) services. However some people did balk at the wording of the question, which gave these three options for an answer:
- I do not support an increase (decrease services)
- I support an increase (enhance services)
- I support an increase (maintain services)
Criticizing the leading phrasing of the question one person wrote, “Your choices are skewed by the bracketed comments. Just because one is not in favour of a tax increase doesn’t mean that services must decrease!”
Many respondents accepted that a lot of money is needed to fix the roads, “If our roads start seeing improvement I’m ok with an increase,” wrote one person. “I would rather pay a little bit more a year if I knew my road would be properly re‐constructed,” wrote another.
However, others took the opportunity to ask the Town get back to basics. “I do not support a tax increase. We just have to manage our tax money better. We all only have so much money to live on, and we have to live within.” And, “Time to be more critical on choices. Get back to funding CORE services and stop spending on wants instead of needs. Say No.” And, “Find efficiencies and use assessment growth to fund inflationary pressures. If no assessment growth, cut level of service on items above.”
The Waterloo building didn’t fare well. When respondents were asked what Town assets should be disposed to cover an infrastructure deficit the overwhelming response was the Waterloo building. Other buildings that were mentioned quite often were the community halls and Muskoka Heritage Place. Speaking of getting back to basics, one respondent urged the Town to dispose of, “Any buildings not required for daily running of the town’s work.”
While it’s impossible to please all the people all the time and especially hard in a diverse community such as Huntsville, a few themes did repeat themselves. Our roads are in really bad shape; the Waterloo building should be sold; and council has a tough job ahead of them in deciding how to tackle the budget.
To see the full survey and the results see the agenda for the meeting on pages 50 – 104.