Draft budget projects 3% levy hike

“Keeping it Real” is the theme of this town’s 2017 budget, presented in draft form at a special council meeting on Dec. 2.

“The 2017 theme suggests council meet its operational and infrastructure needs while staying within it’s means,” explains a preamble to budget documents presented by CAO Bill White and treasurer Gordon Duff.

As presented, the draft budget would result in a three per cent levy increase over the 2016 budget. The 2017 budget calls for a levy of $4,715,435, up $136,334 from the 2016 budget. The draft calls for tax-supported capital spending of $510,000, up $10,000 from 2016.

Town staff are projecting a less ambitious capital budget than in 2016, when about $7.42 million was budgeted for capital projects. The tax-supported portion of last year’s capital budget was the same as 2017, at about $500,000, however about $1.42 million was supported by borrowing.

“This year the town must deal with paying for its 2016 borrowing as well as address the reduced water and sewer revenue due to conservation efforts of users resulting from full metered rates,” the preamble explains.

Grant funding has either been confirmed or anticipated for several projects pencilled in to the draft 2017 capital budget. These include work on Inkerman and Jane Streets in Palmerston, $400,000; Harriston Pool, $250,000; accessibility upgrades at the Harriston arena, $145,000; work on George Street in Harriston, $1.1 million; and design work for the Highway 9 Connecting Link project in Clifford, $500,000.

While the five projects total $2.4 million, the town will need to raise just over $1 million to complete them based on grants either confirmed or anticipated.

In terms of revenue, Minto will have an additional $215,361 in provincial funding to work with. The town’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund allocation will increase from $1,680,700 in 2016 to $1,802,900 in 2017, while the Ontario  Community Infrastructure Fund contribution will rise from $130,000 to $223,161.

However, Mayor George Bridge noted Canadian municipalities have been pushing for upper tier governments to commit to larger percentages of joint infrastructure projects.

Bridge, the county’s representative to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), recently attended an FCM conference in Ottawa where municipalities were “pushing hard to keep the federal contribution at 50 per cent and provincial at 25 … or trying to boost provincial to 33 like they used to; that would keep it at 17 for the local municipalities.”

Noting that while Minto has been successful in securing upper tier funding in recent years, “It’s pretty hard if we have to keep coming up with 25 or 33 per cent of that project, it’s going to be very difficult.”

White said, “I know this isn’t a new problem for council. Back in 2008 when the recession first hit there was borrowing back then. We’ve had to borrow just to keep up … it’s good that these discussions are ongoing.”

Other factors impacting the draft budget include:

– a Town Landscape Care (TLC) budget increase to accommodate wages, benefits and training for a full-time staff member shared with winter control (“The TLC coordinator position was a move from part time to full time using funds in snow removal and other operations to allow full time,” the budget summary explains);

– road maintenance costs will increase by less than $5,000 on a $1.042 million budget;

– the winter control budget is up $22,000, almost exclusively to account for increased salt costs; and

– most department budgets include wage and benefit increases as 2016 is the final year to implement adjustments from the 2012-13 compensation and pay equity study (town policy requires wage re-assessment in 2017 and council’s decision on a possible cost of living increase for 2017 is pending).