Council tries to shave capital budget to minimize tax increase

Final budget expected to be passed in February

PUSLINCH – Presented with a preliminary tax-supported capital budget of $1.5 million in 2024, representing a 3.78 increase to the tax levy, Puslinch council tried to pay for projects from different funds and postpone some projects to keep tax increases down. 

The $1.5 million is an increase of $189,000 from 2023, director of finance Mary Hasan told council at its Oct. 25 meeting and includes nine studies, plans or inspections, a new pickup truck for the parks department, and contributions to three reserve funds.

There are other capital projects in 2024 proposed to be funded from reserves or grants. Council discussed the list of projects proposed to be funded from taxes.

Impact of Bill 23

Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, was passed in 2022 and changed the way municipalities deal with planning proposals, how development charges can and can’t be spent, and made extensive changes to the Heritage Act and what municipalities must do to protect heritage structures.

Several studies on the list of capital projects and in the capital forecast will now have to paid for from the tax base since they are no longer eligible to be paid with development charges, Hasan told council.

She recommended adding an administrative studies reserve fund and contributing $50,000 a year from the tax base to cover these plans, studies and inspections.

A reserve fund will ensure the funds are there to pay for the studies, many of which are legislated.

Council agreed to the new reserve fund and also instructed staff to track the cost the township, and thus its taxpayers, have incurred since Bill 23 came into law.

Pick-up truck

The parks department needs another pick-up truck. Cost is budgeted at $55,000 and was to be paid for with taxes.

Councillor John Sepulis suggested paying for the truck from the parkland dedication reserve.

“That frees up $50,000 that we could allocate to an administrative studies reserve,” Sepulis said. “I think we’ll have to have a pot of money to draw on in the future.”

Council approved this arrangement.

Gravel Pit Assessment

The municipality is expecting a windfall of $200,000 now that an appeal of gravel pit assessments by gravel pit operators has been resolved. Pit operators took Wellington County to the Ontario Land Tribunal to object to the assessment increase the county calculated from 2017 to 2023.

“Wellington County has indicated that the additional taxation for the township from 2017 to 2023 related to the gravel pit appeals will likely be processed in 2024,” reads Hasan’s report.

“We’re working with the county to determine the impacts.”

Mayor James Seeley said that according to his information, the payment could be delayed and therefore not to rely on it so much in the 2024 budget.

He hoped to use the funds to keep the tax levy low, but Hasan said they should not be used to offset the operating budget, although they could be used to fund one-time capital projects.

With a couple of pressing studies – the regionally significant economic development study area is one – council decided to use money from the gravel roads discretionary fund for the study and repay the gravel roads fund with the supplemental taxes when the payment arrives.

Parks and Recreation Master Plan

Council decided to put this master plan update on the back burner until work on the grounds outside the Puslinch Community Centre is complete. There will be new soccer fields, lights for night games, new playground equipment and much more parking.

Director of public works, parks and facilities Mike Fowler said the bulk of construction will be complete before winter but a few loose ends will have to completed in the spring, including sodding the soccer field.

He didn’t think the new soccer fields would be useable until mid-July.

Given that master planning requires community engagement, council decided it would be better to wait till the park was complete and residents had a chance to use it before embarking on the master plan. So they pushed it off until 2025 and 2026.

The master plan was projected to cost $25,000.

Boreham Park

With estimates ranging from $1.2 million to $3.6million to address the ditches around Boreham Park, council decided it’s too costly to level the field at the park.

The park is actually part of the stormwater management plan for the surrounding subdivision in Arkell, wrote Steve Conway, of GM BluePlan, retained by the township.

“Therefore, we believe the open channels within the park are not similar to a typical drainage ditch/roadside ditch in that they serve functions beyond strictly conveyance of flows,” he wrote in his report.

“Any proposed alterations to the existing pond would need to allow for the system to perform with the same quality and quantity control as the system currently in operation.”

In addition, any changes would have to be approved by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

As part of the Boreham Park playground improvements in 2023, plantings will instead be incorporated to delineate the ditch line from the playground.

This was council’s first look at the 2024 budget. More meetings are planned in the coming months and community engagement will take place through EngagePuslinch.

Council typically finalizes the budget in February.