Gravenhurst approves increase to user fees and service charges
Gravenhurst Council approved the proposed 2024 rate increase for the Town’s user fees and service charges, in the September 19, 2023, meeting.
According to the staff report, the 2.8% increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in June and inflation had an impact on the decision. “Given the recent deceleration in the rate of inflation and last year’s nominal increases of 2%, Administration is recommending an increase of 2.5% for 2024.”
The report indicates, “The purpose of the fees and charges is to attribute some, or all of the costs associated with the service, or the enforcement activity, to the user/consumer of the service.” This will reduce the revenue for the tax balance budget.
This is in line with consideration for the taxpayers, with services and activities being paid for by those using them (rather than the taxpayers), while providing fair rates for users and being consistent with other local municipalities.
Staff initially proposed the increases in the August meeting and have since posted notices for public feedback in local publications, and their website, including on their Engage Gravenhurst page.
19 out of 677 visitors responded to the notice about the proposed increases, primarily about the rental fees for the Town’s fields and baseball diamonds. According to the report, “12 of the 19 comments make specific reference with all but 1 comment opposed to any increases.”
Councillor, Sandy Cairns, referred to a statement made in an earlier deputation by Residents Against Muskoka Poverty (RAMP), representative, Barb Bridgeman, “To shine a light on programs that provide tools to let those in poverty lift themselves.”
Cairns expressed disagreement with raising fees this year given the lack of participation of residents in programs because of financial constraints. She suggested holding off on increases for a year, which wouldn’t have a financial impact to the Town because if there aren’t enough participants for a program then it doesn’t run. She said, “We’re not losing any money other than the fact that we put the program together and we’re waiting to see.”
She added, “A lot of people have spoke to me and I asked them to put their comments on the Town’s page. Some did, some didn’t. Some don’t have access and that’s what they told me. They asked me to tell Council that this is the year that we need to just hold off. It’s extremely difficult for so many people right now.”
“The only thing I would be raising rates for is if people are cutting down – clear cutting. Make it hurt them because they’re doing something to hurt our environment. So, make sure that we do something against those people that are doing things again,” said Cairns. She continued to advocate for those “struggling so desperately.”
Councillor, Jo Morphy, expressed concern about the increase at the ball diamonds. Going from $17 to $25 “is substantial.”
Councillor, Randy Jorgensen, inquired about whether the increases will happen next year as well.
Treasurer, Ross Jeffrey, said, “That is the anticipated plan of attack over next year for admin staff.” He explained that the increases are to “close the gap” between current rates and to be more in line competitor’s rates moving forward over the next couple of years.
Jorgensen stressed the importance of keeping up with inflation, and that there are costs associated with having things such as a quality ice rink. He said, “We have a huge demand for ice and if you’re always the lowest, you’re going to have the biggest demand for your ice.”
Councillor, Peter Johnston, suggested that the issue isn’t about rates but rather finding a solution for people that can’t afford the programs, so they can have access to them.
Council members concurred about the risk of the Town falling behind if they don’t raise rates now, or as Councillor, Erin Strength put it, “a bigger pill to swallow” later on.
Mayor, Heidi Lorenz, said, “We all recognize there’s people in our community that can’t afford things.” She indicated that there are community organizations to assist people that can’t afford the Town’s programs. She added, “They pay for people to do things… That’s what they fundraise for.”
Lorenz added that not raising the rates would have a negative impact on other people. She said, “it’s on the backs of everyone else to keep these rates down for so long. It’s on the backs of people who are paying taxes, who aren’t using it. So, you’re spreading the problem over everyone by not raising the rates. It becomes more expensive for everyone.”
Cairns indicated that recreation costs are already imbedded in the tax bills. She inquired to the Treasurer about the “break down of recreation that we tax people for.”
Jeffrey said, “The simple answer is, yes… It’s in there. You don’t necessarily see it, except when we’re presenting our reports to Council.”
The new increases will be applicable in the upcoming year.