Mayor, finance director critical of past councils’ budget decisions

MAPLETON – During a Jan. 3 budget meeting Mapleton council discussed placing the minimum 2019 tax rate increase at zero per cent and the tax levy increase at 7.8%. 

If the draft is accepted, it will mark the first time in the last four years Mapleton will not have a double-digit levy increase, according to councillor Michael Martin. 

Adjusting the levy increase to 7.8% from the 3.75% originally proposed by finance  director John Morrison, means raising an additional $298,000 in taxes. Council agreed that money should be used to increase reserve funds if the draft budget is approved. 

“In order to fund the capital budget over the next 10 years, we are going to see or must see an average increase in the reserves of about 9.3% per year,” Morrison said.  

“Otherwise we may not be able to fund the capital projects as we move forward.”

The capital budget for 2019 is projected at $6,015,315. 

However, it includes projects carried over from the 2018 budget, which was set at $13.6 million. 

“You didn’t have $13.6 million in the reserve, you didn’t go out and fund it, you didn’t get grants, you didn’t properly account for it,” said Morrison. 

He added current staff had to revise the previous budget and finish the projects the township could afford before looking at projects for 2019. 

Given Morrison’s explanation, Mayor Gregg Davidson said, “The way I look at it, last term of council, council was given a rainbow and a pot of gold … In reality they were given quicksand and we all sunk to the bottom.” 

One of three returning councillors, Martin attempted to shed some light on the 2018 budget. 

“To be fair to the 2018 staff and council, over $7 million dollars of that was water and wastewater which is included in that $13 million capital budget which was always contingent on funding sources.  

“So yes, it’s in the budget … in reality we didn’t have the money for it but we weren’t going to spend it unless we got the money anyway,” Martin said. 

CAO Manny Baron added that the previous council was at times working with flawed reports that included the wastewater rate study. 

“That is why in 2019 we are re-doing the asset management plan, we are re-doing the roads needs study, we are re-doing the wastewater rate study,” he said. 

“We are trying to find new ways of financing; we are progressively seeking grants to try to reset ourselves and give us a new starting point where we can properly plan over the 10 years, and properly set tax rates.”

Based on current budget projections, the largest share of township expenditures goes towards roads and sidewalks: about $3.1 million, or 52% of the total budget. 

Wastewater and sewers is the next largest item, at just over $1 million or 17.8% of the capital budget. 

“Salary and wages currently represents about a third of our budget,” said Morrison. 

It is also one of the items with the largest variances from 2018 to 2019. The main reason for the variance is the two new staff positions added this year: a deputy clerk and a planning clerk.

It is projected salaries and wages will account for $3.5 million in the 2019 budget. 

Council and staff then discussed the draft capital budget item by item looking for areas to reduce costs. 

One area identified was Christmas street lights for Glen Allan and Rothsay, which came in at $35,000 on the budget. Council agreed to remove this item from the draft budget as neither of the areas have main streets or a lot of businesses. 

The draft budget was to be presented during another public meeting on Jan. 10 at 7pm in the municipal building at 7275 Sideroad 16. 

The budget is expected to be approved by the end of January.