Let your voice be heard this time

Each year, the City of Estevan gives the public the chance to offer its thoughts on its financial plan.

The document is a lot to take in – a 35-page plan sharing what each of the city’s departments accomplished in the previous year, and, obviously, what they hope to do this year.

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It’s well worth a look. While you won’t get a line-by-line examination like some might want, it still gives you a good review of where your tax dollars are directed.

(You can find a copy of the budget on the city’s website).

In previous years, the city has asked for the public to give their opinions on the document. Most years, they don’t receive any comments. Other years, they might receive one or two correspondences.

The Estevan Chamber of Commerce will typically submit their thoughts. One or two ratepayers might have something to say, too. But generally opinions are scarce. 

There’s no increase to the municipal portion of property tax in this year’s budget, at least not as of yet. In years in which there was an increase, people would be upset, although they wouldn’t write the city to vent. Worth noting is that if the municipal property taxes remain the same, it would be the third straight year for the status quo.

I believe last year someone did reach out to the city and suggest a tax increase was in order; that person reasoned that it’s better to have small, incremental tax increases each year, rather than waiting a few years and then having to jack up taxes significantly. (Note: that person wasn’t me).

It’s rare for someone to public call for a property tax increase, but we do have to remember that property taxes account for the lion’s share of revenues for Estevan and likely every municipality of this size in Canada.

Hopefully some people will reach out to council or city hall with their thoughts on this year’s budget.

If there’s a capital project that you would like to see in the budget, or if you think council’s spending priorities are out of order, then let them know.

During the past election, several candidates campaigned on increased transparency from council. They want to see more information, and we’ve seen results already. The media was allowed to sit in on a council budget discussion for the first time in several years, council has added meetings to their 2021 schedule, and there have been more questions asked at meetings.

Yes, we have four new councillors, but the learning curve of the new members isn’t the only reason for what we’ve seen in the past couple of months.

And so it’s important for the public to respond accordingly.

Soliciting public feedback is part of the beauty of municipal politics, especially in smaller communities. You have access to the municipal leaders that you don’t get at the provincial or federal levels. You can call your city manager, your town or village administrator, or your rural municipality administrator, and talk to them, ask questions, and get answers, even though you might not like the answers to your questions.

You can approach your mayor or reeve, or your councillor. Just be sure to do it at an appropriate time. Don’t do it in the middle of the night or when they’re having dinner with their family.

(This isn’t a knock against our MLAs and MPs, or the staffers of the provincial and federal governments. Just a statement of fact about accessibility).

And in the case of the city of Estevan, you can provide input on the budget. You wouldn’t get that with the federal government.

So please take the time to go through the budget. Review it. Learn from it. And if you have concerns about the budget, raise them in a valid fashion.

Approach the city manager or city council. Don’t leave your concerns to coffee row or to social media. Don’t bank on council seeing your post on a Rant and Rave page, and don’t expect it will be taken seriously if you don’t use your real name.

If you think the budget is fantastic, then let council know. That’s one of the tough parts of being on council; typically, you only hear from people when they’re angry.

We’re given an opportunity to share our thoughts on a budget each year. There’s no guarantee that council will heed your advice or do what you’ve asked. But at least you know you’ve tried.

And at least you know that council has heard your concerns.

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