Mapleton council rejects dedicated tax levy for fire department

MAPLETON – Council here has rejected a proposal to implement a two per cent dedicated tax levy to cover the financial needs of the township’s fire department.

Mayor Gregg Davidson put the motion forward at the Nov. 14 meeting, calling for a 2% dedicated levy starting in 2024, in addition to the regular tax levy, “to be put towards the Mapleton fire department’s financial needs.”

The levy was to remain in place for at least the next three years and would have continued until cancelled by council.

“I think we can all agree, council, that our volunteer firefighters do an incredible service for our community and we’re very grateful for their dedication,” said Davidson.

“We’ve heard that many times over the years at council have they have to be trained just like a full-time firefighter is and they also require the same type of equipment that a full-time firefighter would need.”

Davidson noted a Fire Master Plan presented to council earlier this year highlighted both challenges and opportunities “that we as a council must address.

“And we have the opportunity with his budget to make sure that our firefighters are up to date.”

Davidson pointed to the pending replacement of four vehicles between 2027 and 2031 as among the expenditures the levy would help cover.

The mayor said an expense of $911,020 is projected for a vehicle in 2031, $805,020 for another vehicle in 2029 and in 2027 two vehicles are projected to cost $1.9 million.

“To help pay for the 2027 vehicles, a debenture of $1 million is in our budget currently and the 10-year capital requirement for the fire department is $3.98 million,” Davidson explained.

“By adding the 2% levy each year for the next three years, on top of what is currently proposed, we could reduce the large tax levy bump in 2027, potentially reduce, and we would eliminate the $1 million debenture that is proposed in 2027.”

Davidson estimated that eliminating the planned four-year debenture would save the township between $400,000 and $450,000 in interest over that period.

Councillor Michael Martin opposed the special levy.

“I’m assuming you know what I think about dedicated tax levies. I think that’s been pretty clear historically. To be blunt, I don’t think we need it,” he stated.

“I think what’s also pretty clear is, if you look at our financial flexibility, sustainability and vulnerability numbers, I think we’re in a position where we could have flexibility internally to either just do the debenture when we need it, or perhaps start funding that particular reserve a little more aggressively.”

Martin said council needs to take responsibility for inadequate planning for the needs of the fire department.

“I don’t know that simply parceling that 2% on the general taxpayer to make up for this is something that I’m really interested in, to be honest,” he stated.

“It puts our levy up by a number that’s uncomfortable for me. I think that the levy, as it sits right now is, you know, arguably reasonable.”

“We’ve had this discussion (about dedicated levies) many times and this is one of the reasons I wanted to put this forward, because previous council and even this council last year, we talked about a dedicated levy but we never had a motion on the floor to actually discuss,” said Davidson.

“So I wanted to make sure we had one on the on the table. And this is one that I think has value to it being that we can eliminate a million dollar debenture and the interest that goes with that.”

“I’m torn. I see both sides,” said councillor Marlene Ottens. However, she noted, “in the end, there’s only one taxpayer.

“It’s dipping into one fund, right? So the people are giving from the left hand or the right regardless of how you put it out there.

“A dedicated levy for the fire department is a lot more palatable to people, I suppose, than one for roads. So I can see how that can be sold.”

Ottens suggested dedicating a portion of any future budget surpluses to the fire department as an alternative to the levy.

“This is a three-year budget, so if we have any surplus in ’24, ‘25, or 26, we can’t allocate it to the fire department until the end of that period of time,” explained finance director John Morrison.

He also pointed out that if a surplus is realized in the current budget at year end, “then that could be delegated to the fire department, if you wish.”

“With respect to flexibility, I think the corporation can take on more debt,” added Morrison.

“I’m not going to comment whether that’s desirable or not, but it definitely could, without … us going into a conversation with the ministry that perhaps we’re assuming too much debt. So we shouldn’t be afraid of debt.

“On the other hand, it would be better to have the cash in hand and avoid having to make another million-dollar debenture.”

In response to a query from Ottens, Morrison estimated the 2% levy would generate about $189,000 annually.

“So we would still have to borrow in 2027?” asked Ottens.

“No, we wouldn’t. You could avoid the debt. It’s timing of when the reserves are coming in and the money that’s required,” Morrison explained.

“There is some money in the reserves now, so it’s all about the timing of when you’re spending the money.”

The motion to implement the dedicated levy was defeated in a recorded vote. Ottens’ vote in favour of the levy was followed by nay votes from Martin and councillor Amanda Reid.

With councillor Martin Tamlyn absent, the two no votes were enough to defeat the motion.

“Thank you, council, for that conversation,” said Davidson.