TRENTON — The Town of Trenton hosted a lively debate Monday afternoon during a public hearing about the proposed user-pay system. After a presentation on how the new system will work, CAO Brian White as well as the councillors fielded questions.
With nearly 30 residents in attendance for the afternoon session, there was a lot of pushback from the public on the idea and a lot of concern about lower income households that may end up paying more than they currently pay at the fixed rate.
The reason for the user-pay proposal is because of concerns that some residents of the outer limits of the town are paying for services that they do not receive.
White noted that all the legwork of calculating the difference for each residence has been completed and anyone who would like to see how their current bill will compare to a user-pay system is welcome to stop by or call town hall to be walked through it.
“The higher assessed properties will be paying less and the lower assessed properties will have to pay more,” said resident Donald Wiley. “You talk about fairness, where’s the fairness in that?”
Mayor Shannon MacInnis added that they will be addressing this issue by way of a bolstered tax exemption. The current low-income tax exemption was $150 and will be raised to $250 if the user pay system passes.
“When we install this we knew it was going to be a concern,” said MacInnis. He added that the town has to set the same rate and system for everyone and cannot pick and choose the rates.
“In the end, the town is not charging you more,” MacInnis said. Some in the audience pointed out that their taxes would likely go up. The debate turned heated at one point.
“Are you convinced from this meeting that you should put this through?” asked resident Jim Fraser. He proposed to council that the whole process was being pushed through very quickly and that they should consider waiting a year before implementing the user-pay system.
Coun. Don Hussher, the sole councillor who has spoken against implementing the user-pay system said, “It’s going to be very detrimental to the lower income, not necessarily the lower income but the lower assessed.” He likened passing the motion to standing at the edge of a cliff saying that they should take their time and work their way down the cliff instead of just jumping in a hurry.
“It’s not good for Trenton right now, it’s too fast,” he said. This statement was met with a round of applause from the residents at the hearing.
Other councillors then pointed out that a user-pay system would lower commercial taxes and hopefully attract new business to the community.
“To go forward we have to be competitive, we have to reduce things down to entice people,” said Coun. Steven Stewart.
MacInnis assured residents that a vote would not take place before March 13.
“It was expected that we were going to come up against some resistance,” MacInnis said after the meeting. As for the time line, which some in the audience were saying is too short, MacInnis added that the project is not as rushed as it may seem because council has been considering it for the last year.
“We are trying to come up with the most fair process for everyone,” he said.
Little Harbour Road resident Gerald Cameron was also in attendance. He and others in his area have been paying fees for services not used for as long as he has lived at his property. He added that for the first 12 years of his 51 years living on Little Harbour Road he appealed his taxes with no success.
“When this came to light I was quite excited,” Cameron said adding he does feel that it may be going through a bit quickly.
A session was also held Monday evening for residents who were unable to attend the afternoon meeting. In the end, the decision on whether the vote will go through will be up to council.
Mayor Shannon MacInnis talks to Trenton residents during a public information session on Monday afternoon. Another session was also held that evening. (Brimicombe photo)