Erin council approves 2021 budget, 1% tax increase

ERIN – Erin councillors have unanimously approved the 2021 budget, including $12.3 million in operating costs, $25.7 million in capital spending, a freeze on wages and salaries for staff, and an increase of 1 per cent on the local portion of the property tax bill.

That amounts to an additional $18 on a $600,000 home.

“We wanted to take into account that many residents in the community are experiencing financial hardships,” said director of finance Ursula D’Angelo as she presented the second draft of the budget on Dec. 15.

Capital projects planned for 2021 include:

  • replacing culvert 10 (17th Sideroad, west of 8th Line);
  • starting a road surface treatment program;
  • repairing playgrounds and the Ballinafad Community Centre;
  • a Community Improvement Program for small businesses; and
  • a storm water management study.

Staff was able to make the adjustments council had asked for at its previous budget meeting and still hold the increase to 1%.

Those adjustments included:

  • $7,500 to fund Orton Community Centre repairs will come from 2018 Nestle Community Grant;
  • $1,500 to fund a traffic calming sign on Wellington Road 42 in Ballinafad will come from the existing roads department budget; and
  • $10,000 to fund a landscaping initiative at town hall. To do this, staff recommend that $1,500 from the Nestle Grant for the Erin Lion’s Christmas Parade be reallocated to this project along with $7,500 of unspent funds for community grants in the 2020 budget.

Councillor Rob Smith said he is not in favour of the landscaping project and put forward a motion to remove it from the budget.

“The timing is bad,” he said. “It could be left off for a year.”

The landscaping project was proposed to be done largely by volunteers, “but with social distancing and all, I’m not for it this year,” Smith added.

Smith also thought that when the pandemic is finally over “we will want a big party.

“Everything will be bigger and better,” he said, adding he’d rather build a small reserve for celebrations like the fall fair and Christmas parade than begin a landscaping project.

Councillor Michael Robins noted there could be an ongoing cost associated with the project if the volunteer pool dries up and a property maintenance company must be hired to maintain the space.

“We need to understand the implications of this,” Robins said.

In the end, council decided to take the landscaping project out of the budget and leave the funds for other purposes.

Robins also had trouble with the fact that even though a consultant had recommended regular investments into the infrastructure reserve fund in order to keep on top of repair and replacement costs, the budget proposed investing 1% instead of the recommended 1.4%.

“We should be building reserves. Instead we have gone back to levels lower than 2018,” he said.

D’Angelo reminded councillors that reserve funds are used to fund projects, “and we have quite a few projects,” she said.

“I know reserves are to be used, but they also need to be replenished as well,” Robins said.

Robins proposed a motion to increase taxes by 1.4% so more money could go to reserves, but he didn’t get a seconder.

Councillor John Brennan proposed a friendly amendment to Robins’ motion – taking $80,000 from the tax stabilization reserve fund and transferring it to the infrastructure renewal fund as a way to satisfy Robins’ desire to keep on schedule with infrastructure and still hold the tax increase to 1%.

The amended motion carried.

With those amendments, council unanimously approved the 2021 budget.

“I want to thank staff for bringing us a responsible budget,” said Mayor Allan Alls.

“You made it easy for us to make decisions. Taxes are not going up a huge amount.”