In the wake of the City of Brandon’s budget and taxation debacle last winter, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was looking to lend a hand to set up a local group to watch over governments — primarily local — in the area of taxation.
That’s what was announced Sept. 13 during a Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon. During his address to the crowd, CTF Prairie director Colin Craig called on interested Brandon taxpayers to meet at the Royal Oak Inn on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m.
That was Tuesday night.
Earlier Tuesday, Craig said he’d be pleased to see 10 people show up — 20 would be great — in a city the size of Brandon for an inaugural meeting.
As we’ve noted here previously, in February, council scaled back a large increase to the city’s operating budget for 2012-13 to an average of 4.9 per cent, following an outcry from taxpayers over a proposed 15.6 per cent increase in a year in which private sector wage increases amounted to one per cent.
Many ratepayers were steaming mad, but all that seems to have been vented now that the bills have come and the payments made.
But folks are understandably jittery over what council might try to pull off this upcoming budget cycle.
“What we have seen over the years is taxpayers can win a lot of great victories if we get people organized and speaking out,” Craig said. “Politicians get worried if they hear enough people commenting on an issue that could lose them votes.”
Well, despite all the ranting and raving over what was indeed a terrible implementation of a high property tax by the city, only five people showed up to a room designed to hold 50 at a Victoria Avenue hotel Tuesday night.
In fact, the number of media in the room was close to the number who showed up for the meeting.
The meeting was billed to unite “all frustrated Brandon taxpayers.” But it certainly didn’t did not draw the angry mob that gathered at Brandon City Hall during the 2011-12 budget debate, fuelled by a 1,000-name petition organized by a local businessman.
That businessman — as well as many others who have led attacks on city hall taxation policy — was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
One of those who did show up was very pragmatic about the situation.
“Well, if all people do is complain, nothing is going to change,” said Peter Hamm. “But if we have three or four people here, we would at least need to have another meeting and how it may be publicized, I don’t know.”
Hamm said a local taxpayers watchdog would not work unless there were 10-15 people at a meeting to organize, with seven of them taking on senior roles.
CTF regional director Craig said if the small group of people who did show up connect with more concerned citizens, there is potential to grow the group into an organization.
We won’t hold our breath on that.
The Brandon Chamber of Commerce has always been known as a tax watchdog. And it has the expertise, reputation and membership to make elected officials take notice.
And we have no reason to believe the chamber won’t be all over every twist and turn of the city’s upcoming budget process.
Meanwhile, for a grassroots group that was supposed to be calling for more transparency from elected officials, it was odd that Craig attempted to have the media removed from the Tuesday night meeting just before it was to start.
After a quick poll of the small crowd, it was determined the media could stay.
Let’s not forget that the media are the eyes and ears — and on this page, even the conscience — of the people and to close a door in their face isn’t sending a very good message out right from the start.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 4, 2012