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Low leaders failing in civic duty

February 8th,2023 | Opinion

The municipality of Low needs some serious training in communication.

It should never have taken a month for the municipality to provide the newspaper with simple budget figures — especially when residents are facing an average 20 per cent tax hike.

It’s no secret that most journalists are notoriously bad with numbers, so you can imagine what it was like on deadline day in the newsroom as we tried to make sense of Low’s cryptic budget presentation, which only eluded to a “balance of revenues and expenses of $3,442,951.”

This says absolutely nothing to the average resident. What residents want to know – and, really, all they want to know – is how much their taxes are going up.

Instead of providing easy-to-understand language – like La Pêche and Chelsea did by telling residents they were facing a 3.5 and 3.4 per cent tax hike, respectively – Low just dumped confusing numbers onto a spreadsheet, imported them into PowerPoint and left it to residents to figure out for themselves. The municipality also quietly scheduled its final budget presentation for Dec. 22 — just three days before Christmas, when most residents were either away or had holiday plans. Was this on purpose?

La Pêche’s budget presentation was on Dec. 19 and provided a graphic on the documentation, highlighting the extra $79.62 each homeowner would pay, on average, in increased taxes. Why didn’t politicians in Low do the same? Were they afraid of spelling out the giant 19.7 per cent tax hike to its residents? Did they not have an explanation for why some homeowners are facing a more than 60 per cent increase on their property taxes?

By remaining cryptic, the municipality has sent some residents into a panic, as they try to figure out how they will come up with a nearly $400 increase to their municipal contribution. Some residents will be paying even more and some less.

What makes matters worse is that it has been equally difficult for this newspaper to get any clear answers from municipal leaders in Low. Mayor Carole Robert has been notoriously poor at answering the Low Down’s questions, and while it’s clear being mayor of a small and oft-forgotten town is a thankless job, it’s a civic duty to communicate policies and budget decisions with the local newspaper — especially if it isn’t providing that information to residents.

La Pêche has notably improved its communications with residents since Mayor Guillaume Lamoureux took over from former longtime mayor Robert Bussière. The new mayor implemented weekly newsletters and news updates on its websites, adding a dedicated communications team to its payroll and increased the municipality’s social media presence. Low still doesn’t have its 2023 budget posted online.

It’s time for Low to take a page out of the La Pêche and Chelsea governance books — and explain in clear language what it’s doing with taxpayers’ money.

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At the Low Down, we are passionate about delivering quality local news to Gatineau Hills residents. But passion alone cannot pay the bills.

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