Minto council approves 2011 budget; capital spending drops by $1.7-million

Council here passed its town budget on March 22.

Final tax rates will likely be set following Wellington County’s passage of its tax rates in late April.

Preliminary figures suggest the average urban home in Minto will see a total tax increase in the local portion of the bill of about 2.6%, with a somewhat smaller increase for rural properties. Overall, the levy is up about 3%.

For an average residential property assessed at $179,000, that represents an increase to local taxes of about $40.

Education rates have fallen for the municipality – the township reported the total education levy for Minto ratepayers has dropped by $7,000 from 2010.

Minto Mayor George Bridge said the budget process was a long one.

“Most of us on council were new and had a learning curve. And the town faces some serious challenges,” he said. “Insurance costs have risen sharply, the OMERS pension plan contributions went up, recreation revenues are down. We don’t have the federal and provincial infrastructure grants like we did last year, so our capital projects had to be cut back.”

Council finance chairman Mary Lou Colwell echoed the mayor.

“We went through several meetings to get this done,” she said. “I certainly congratulate the department heads and in particularly our treasurer, Gordon Duff. They gave us a lot of good information and showed us areas where we could save. They did a lot of work and helped us to keep taxes as low as possible.”

Minto’s operating budget (which excludes water and sewer operations) will be $3,419,615, a 2.4% reduction from the 2010 tax-funded operation. The capital budget will include $1.9-million for roads, $550,000 for recreation and other facilities, $447,000 for the completion of downtown revitalization and other development projects, and almost $900,000 in water and sewer works. Because fewer grants are available, capital spending has dropped from $5.8-million in 2010 to $4.1-million this year.

Minto is taking full cost recovery of its water and wastewater systems. Funding for water and sewer projects, including debt-servicing costs, is paid by user fees. Those rates are currently under review.

The balance of reserves and reserve funds will be about $6.8-million at the end of 2011.

Municipal expenditures are partially funded by an Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund Grant of $1,292,000. User fees and reserves will fund the balance.

There is no new borrowing in the budget and the anticipation is the total external debt will fall this year from $8.46-million to $7.45-million.

Bridge explained the decisions that went into the budget.

“The town’s staffing costs in administration and recreation have dropped, and we have been able to reduce recreation expenditures to offset most of the declines in revenue there. Service levels in public works have been funded at current levels. We can’t do all the projects we would like, but we will rebuild another two kilometres of the Ayton Road, repave the highway connecting link in the north part of Harriston, and replace the culvert on Elora Street, in Clifford. We put money in to have another look at the sewage capacity problem in Palmerston and to finish up the Lions Park.”

Duff explained the 3% increase is based on the levy, but Wellington County has yet to issue its tax rates.

“That $40 [general increase]is an estimate,” he stressed.

Duff noted, the end of the streetscape projects is coming, with some work to be completed in Palmerston. Clifford and Harriston are basically done.

As to an early passing of the budget, Duff said, “We had so many meetings – finance and between all the department heads and council.”

There were five new councillors to be brought up to speed. “They decided very early on that they wanted to pass the budget earlier. So we buckled down and did it. It was a bit of an ambitious target, but we got it done.”

The other big issue, Duff added, was an early decision of council not to do additional borrowing.

He said if there was a critical reason or a need to service an industrial park, that would happen, but otherwise, the decision would be to avoid additional debt. Debt in the budget is falling, Duff said, comparing it to paying off a mortgage, where the principle is being reduced.

As for water and sewer rates, Duff said the bylaw for those rates was set in 2008.

“But we cannot pass our tax rates until May, because it is late April when the county passes its rates.”

Regarding infrastructure funding for the future

“The stimulus funds have basically had it,” Duff said.

As of 4pm March 28, the only certainty was the federal gas tax revenue for the municipality. “From a federal-provincial point of view, they gave us the money – and we’ve pretty much spent it all. We’d love to have some more.”

Bridge said of the process, “We started in December and January. I wanted to have it done by February, but it was a lot bigger job than I anticipated.” He said one thing that puzzled him until he got into the process was, “We don’t get our year-end bills for 2010 at the end of the year. They keep dribbling in, so you don’t know whether there is a surplus or a deficit, you have to guess.”

“The timing was pretty good that we got to this point,” Bridge said. “I’m a great believer in budgets, but if you don’t have a budget until June, what happens if you’re out of whack somewhere? It takes six month to catch up.”

Bridge added council spent at least five meetings with staff to understand the process.

“We wanted to keep it under 3% without robbing the reserves.”

The budget bylaw is online at