Gillies, Ont. — Gillies Township’s long-awaited and contentious draft budget could soon be put to a vote, while many taxpayers unhappy with how the municipality is being run continue to explore the prospect of having it disbanded.
The budget vote could take place later this month or early October, after some additional tinkering, Reeve Wendy Wright said Thursday.
As it stands, the draft budget continues to call for an unprecedented increase of 25 per cent, but Wright said discussions are continuing to potentially soften the blow.
“Changes are still possible,” she said. “We have talked about a couple of proposals.”
In any event, Wright said, 25 per cent would be the worst-case scenario; council won’t approve anything higher than that, she said.
Wright has attributed the unusual proposed increase to a combination of inflation and a reluctance by council to raise property taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were unable to work.
According to the draft budget document available on the township’s website, the municipality is looking to raise $652,000 from local taxes, compared to $438,000 in 2022.
“This is one year when we may have to bite the bullet,” said Wright, who predicts a less severe tax increase in 2024.
“There have been some years where people saw their taxes go down,” she added.
That’s been little solace for some residents who say they’re incredulous by the prospect of having to pay a 25-per cent hike.
“Our taxes are set to go up $10,000, and that just seems ridiculous to us,” said property owner Tara Britt.
The proposed increase has caused some Gillies ratepayers to wonder if the municipality could be disbanded — and become officially unorganized — and still provide services like firefighting and snowplowing.
A petition calling for Gillies to become unorganized has so far garnered about 120 signatures. About 500 people reside in the township, which consists mostly of farms and rural properties.
“We aim to get a lot more (signatures),” said Dino DeBenetti, one of the petition’s organizers. “We’re not in a rush to do this.”
DeBenetti, a former Gillies councillor candidate, contends the municipality’s administration expense has become “too top heavy.”
Wright said she doesn’t support the petition.
“We’ve been a township for 100 years,” she said. “You just don’t throw that away.”
A spokesman for MPP Kevin Holland’s office confirmed it “has been approached by several residents of Gillies Township regarding becoming an unincorporated township.”
“Residents were given information as per Sec. 171 of the Municipal Act, on the actions they would need to take to accomplish this,” the spokesman said.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said any move to break up a municipality would have to be decided by the Ontario Land Tribunal. An application to the tribunal would have to be made by the province or the relevant municipality.
Wright said she has no plan to do that.
Meanwhile, a community meeting to discuss the petition and other concerns has been tentatively set for Saturday afternoon at the South Gillies hall.
The meeting is being organized by taxpayers like DeBenetti. Wright said she has yet to be invited to the meeting.
By CARL CLUTCHEY, LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE REPORTER
Original Published on Sep 08, 2023 at 10:00