Erin budget passed in 4-1 recorded vote; town taxes to increase 2.9%

The 2015 Erin budget includes a town property tax increase of 2.9%.

That means the average home owner with a residential assessment of about $400,000 will be paying $1,150 in town taxes, up $32 from $1,118 last year.

Factoring in the Wellington County and education taxes, the blended tax rate increase for the average homeowner is about 2.2%, up $98 to $4,526 (from last year’s rate of $4,428).

For every total property tax dollar paid, about 25% goes to the town while 57% goes to the county and 17% goes to the province for education.

Total spending in Erin this year, including operational and capital spending, is $13.2 million, down $155,029 from last year’s budget of approximately $13.4 million. Of the 2015 total, $5.8 million will be funded through tax dollars.

At the April 21 Erin council meeting the budget passed, but not unanimously. Councillor Matt Sammut, who requested a recorded vote, was the only member of council in opposition and the budget passed by a 4-1 margin.

“I didn’t have enough time to challenge [department heads], to work with them, to debate them on a lot of issues,” Sammut said at the meeting. “I just don’t think it was fair for someone like me to now come forward and say that I really felt they did a good job at tearing apart the budget of their department heads.”

Sammut, who could only attend one of the two budget meetings, asked on April 7 for at least one additional meeting but his motion was defeated.

Councillor John Brennan said last week he thought the budget was good but the town was slow to get started this year because of the election.

“I’m hopeful that when we get into the last quarter of the year this year we’ll be in a position to start working on the budget for next year, which I think will give us a lot more time and a much better handle on what’s happening than we did this year,” he said.

Sammut said one of his concerns is the budget isn’t looking at the longer-term needs of the town and he didn’t like seeing the reserves go down.

“So we’ve got to say it’s not just a year-to-year issue and we did a good job because we’re at 2.4 blended or whatever it is,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do to get this number down both operationally and I don’t know what we’re going to do on the capital perspective, but we’ve got to work with our department heads, especially roads and fire, to figure that out, as well as water.”

Mayor Allan Alls said he and Sammut had actually had more time than any of the other councillors to review the budget.

“The two of us spent more time with department heads than any of the rest of council did so we did have a good chance to chew through it to some degree and we could have asked questions which I did do,” he said.

“We’d be the lowest in the County of Wellington and yes I agree with you 100% we have not addressed our capital needs and we probably should have looked at the higher tax rate.

“But the direction from council, as you’ll recall was that we wanted to keep it as close 2% as we could this year and there’s no way that we could have done that unless we did what we did with the reserves.”

After proposed 2015 transactions, the town’s reserves will be at $3.4 million, down $98,469 from last year; while the town’s reserve funds will be $1.1 million, down $217,011 from last year; and the development charges reserve fund will be at $1.1 million, down $168,980 from last year.

The town will have debt of about $3.2 million in 2015, a $686,908 increase over last year. Borrowed funds will go towards replacement breathing apparatus for the fire department ($240,000), a new rescue pumper truck ($260,000), a replacement culvert in Cedar Valley ($255,000) and the reconstruction of George Street in Hillsburgh ($267,130). The annual debt repayment is $125,983.

Sammut said he doesn’t think the budget has enough debt to put the town in a better position with the province for grants.

“We can do something about our debt position and that doesn’t mean the town’s in worse shape, all it does is we’re saying we’re going to amortize certain assets for a long period of time at very, very, very low interest rates,” he said. “All of a sudden we can go and say ‘we’re leveraged’ in the province we need grants, we can’t leverage ourselves anymore (and) we’re positioned to get it.”

Alls said Sammut’s concern would be looked at in the town’s strategic plan discussions.

Councillor Jeff Duncan was in support of the current budget. “This is the seventh budget process I’ve been through; this was probably almost one of the smoothest,” he said. “The staff with the initial sort of direction providing us with the initial numbers, I thought actually worked really well.”

However, he also acknowledged some of the challenges Sammut pointed out.

“I think the frustration is that we know there’s huge challenges out there,” Duncan said. “It’s not necessarily in this budget that we’re passing tonight.

“It is those bigger issues that are getting us frustrated with knowing, I think the frustration is the inability that we know we can’t do a lot, we’re mandated to do so many things and our revenue tools are pretty minimal.”

The following are the operating budgets for the various municipal departments:

– council: $150,190

– administration: $948,450;

– building: $268,500;

– bylaw/crossing guards: $75,538;

– conservation: $145,520;

– fire and emergency: $707,482;

– emergency plan: $1,500;

– animal control: $18,280;

– roads: $2.7 million;

– environmental services: $327,815;

– recreation: $812,132;

– cemeteries: $36,570;

– planning department: $114,705;

– community development summary: $59,085; and

– economic development: $118,608.

The budget for capital spending in 2015 is $3.9 million, including (in addition to items being funded by incurred debt):

– reconstruction of Sideroad 17 ($624,000), Station Street rehabilitation ($145,057);

– Cedar Valley culvert ($500,000 with $255,000 coming from incurred debt),

– roads shop maintenance ($100,000);

– the pulverizing and resurfacing of the second line ($350,000); and

– 50% of the water portion of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan ($202,290) and 33% of the waste water portion of the SSMP ($200,000).