Niagara’s Regional Government Wants More Public Input On Budget

By Doug Draper 

What if the regional council for Niagara, Ontario began talks on its yearly budget and hardly anyone from the taxpaying public showed any active interest?

Dave Augustyn, Pelham, Ontario’s mayor, regional councillor and chair of the regional government’s budget review committee, wants citizens across Niagara to get more involved in calling the shotes on region’s next budget..

That’s pretty well the way it’s been for most of the 42 years Niagara’s regional government has been in existence. And it has been so even though the regional government’s portion of taxes range somewhere around 40 and 50 per cent of the total property tax bill, compared to local municipalities that consume about a third of the property tax pie, and the province that takes about 15 per cent for education.

It is a sad comment on how little too many of us care about what our municipal governments are doing to our pocketbooks and the services they are mandated to deliver that year after year, it is not unusual to see only a half dozen Niagara residents – usually the same half dozen residents – participate in any way whatsoever in the regional council’s budget discussions.

How come there is never any end to the number of residents who complain about any hike in property taxes after the fact – when it is too bloody late to do much of anything about it. Where were these complaining when the budget hike was being debated? The answer is not much of anywhere, so what right do these complainers have to turn around and be grumpy about how hard they are being hit in the pocketbook? Where were these complainers earlier on? 

Niagara’s regional government is hoping to change all that with a campaign to get more residents to pay attention and speak out before the next budget is approved.

“Since Regional programs and services touch our lives every day, it is important for Niagara residents to get involved in the budget process,” said Dave Augustyn, Pelham’s mayor, a regional council member and chair of the Budget Review Committee of the Whole for the regional government. “Regional Council and I would like to hear directly from residents about how their money is spent. I encourage all to participate in the special online survey and the other budget engagement tools this year,” concludes Augustyn.

I don’t know about you, but I think a call by any level of government to encourage citizens to become more involved in something so important as the passage of a budget, is not something any of us should take for granted.

In that spirit, Niagara At Large is posting below a recent public advisory, asking citizens across the region to get more involved. The only p.s. I would add here is how sad that the region feels it has to offer a prize to get people more involved.

 Have Your Say On The Region’s 2013 Budget And Win

 Region launches interactive, easy-to-use web tool

Niagara Region July 25, 2012 – Niagara Region launches a user-friendly, online survey to get resident’s feedback on the proposed 2013 budget. Residents are encouraged to watch a 90 second video explaining Regional programs and services and how much they cost in 2012. Then they will be asked a few brief questions about the proposed 2013 budget. Residents can then enter to win one of three $100 gift cards to a local restaurant.

“Since Regional programs and services touch our lives every day, it is important for Niagara residents to get involved in the budget process,” said Councillor Dave Augustyn, Chair of the Budget Review Committee of the Whole. “Regional Council and I would like to hear directly from residents about how their money is spent. I encourage all to participate in the special online survey and the other budget engagement tools this year,” concludes Augustyn.

Niagara Region will also be out in the community collecting feedback. Residents can watch for our booth in community events and locations near them for a chance to fill out the survey and enter the contest in person.

“This is an entirely new approach for Niagara Region,” said Brian Hutchings, Commissioner of Corporate Services/Treasurer. “Our goal is to make the Regional budget process as transparent as possible and to engage residents on a wide-scale. Our hope is that by using an easy to understand, YouTube style video and asking very simple questions around a complex topic like Regional budgeting, we will reach out to more residents,” concludes Hutchings.

This is the first step in a series of engagement opportunities that Niagara Region will offer on the 2013 budget. There will be a hands-on focus group that is open to the public in September along with a series for Budget Committee of the Whole meetings which are all open to the public.

Visit http://www.niagararegion.ca/ for more information on Niagara, Ontario’s regional government and use the search engine on the site to learn more about the region’s budget.

(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views on this post, remembering that NAL only posts comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.)

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