Public provides budget feedback to Mapleton council

DRAYTON – Rising staffing costs and waste collection were among the topics raised by members of the public at a Mapleton community budget workshop at the PMD arena on Jan. 5.

About a dozen local residents attended the meeting.

A first draft of the township’s 2023 budget shows a proposed tax levy increase of nearly seven per cent is required to cover anticipated expenditures.

However, Mapleton finance director John Morrison explained weighted assessment growth of nearly 3%, the second highest in Wellington County, should keep the proposed tax rate increase under 4%, adding about $18 per $100,000 in assessment to the tax bill of the average residential ratepayer.

The proposed removal of withdrawals from tax stabilization reserves – used in recent years to keep increases down – is among the factors pushing up the budget numbers.

The budget estimates revenues of $6,534,738, up from $6,298,680 in 2022, against expenditures of 15,994,677, an increase from $15,142,872 last year.

That leaves a levy of $9,459,939 to be raised through taxation, up from $8,844,192 in 2022.

The draft budget projects $7,680,632 in total capital spending in 2023, offset by identical figure from funding sources including reserve funds, gas tax transfers, development charges, grants and donations.

The budget includes a proposed 7% cost of living allowance (COLA) increase for staff, which Morrison explained is based on a township human resources policy of using the Consumer Price Index figure at the end of August as the COLA raise for the following year.

Other anticipated inflationary impacts on the budget include:

  • insurance up 33%;
  • operational materials and supplies up 16.8%;
  • fuel up 5.7%
  • telecommunications up 5.1;
  • contractual services up 24%; and
  • IT services up 18.3%.

“We’ve got significant inflationary pressures,” said Morrison in his presentation at the workshop.

“We’ve got a Bill 23 (the province’s More Homes Built Faster Act), which is anticipating massive building projects in the next three years … the Government of Canada has announced that we’re going to get a million and a half immigrants in the next three years, with housing to be built, nearly building a city a year,” said Morrision.

He added Bill 23 in particular is creating “funding and financing uncertainty about how we proceed in that area.”

Morrison pointed out provincial requirements mandating the creation of asset management plans puts pressure on municipalities to plan ahead for maintenance and replacement.

“Asset management, in my opinion, is probably one of the most significant changes in terms of its … long-term impact, on the budget,” he said

Although the draft 2023 budget proposes a tax increase, Mayor Gregg Davidson pointed out local taxes averaged over the past four years have actually decreased by 0.15%.

Such fiscal restraint will be difficult to maintain going forward, he suggested.

“Current estimates put Mapleton in a shortfall of approximately $10 million per year in our capital funding. And that’s our bridges and roads, culverts. That is water, wastewater. It does not include our buildings yet,” said Davidson.

“That’s why I say it’s an approximation and … something we must all be aware of as council strives to deliver a budget which plans for the long-term financial health and well-being of our township here.”

He added, “We have to be aware of that $10-million shortfall so we can plan for the future.

“This process can result in disagreement around the council table and healthy discussion and I anticipate that we’ll have some good discussion again this year.”

Local resident Bill Sipes questioned the need for a 7% cost of living increase for staff.

“Do you think that’s a reasonable approach going forward? Because that’s certainly not what happens in the private sector,” said Sipes.

“I can pretty well guarantee you if you don’t work for the government you’re not getting a 7% raise this year. You’re probably getting a zero to 2% raise.”

“I worked over 10 years in the private sector and I want to tell you, if we have to pay money for staff for retention we pay it. We don’t think about it,” said Morrison.

Mayor Gregg Davidson noted council did deviate from the policy last year, in an attempt to control costs during the COVID-19 pandemic and staff received a zero increase in 2022.

However, he noted, “if you’re going to continue to go against policy, whether giving zero or not giving the seven or whatever, then we have to change policy.

“That’s one of the discussions we need to have,” he said.

The mayor also pointed out the township has to remain competitive in order to attract and retain employees.

“Mapleton pays their staff well, but other municipalities pay their staff a lot more,” Davidson stated.

“We have lost a number of staff members to municipalities close by. In fact, we just lost another one, just last month … and they’re doing the same job for $20,000 more a year.”

He added, “So, you know, you’re talking about the cost of living at 7%, that’s not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is having a wage that is competitive with the other municipalities around that we don’t keep losing staff.

“Right now, we have no building inspectors, because we lost them to other municipalities.

“So we’re going to have to contract that out, which costs us a heck of a lot more to have a contract service than it does to have our own in-house people.”

“Your optics are very bad,” replied Sipes.

“You would be better off to have people with better starting salaries and manage your annual increases … because anybody who sees that is going to go, ‘Well, I certainly didn’t get that.'”

“That’s one of the discussions that we’ve had and will continue to have,” Davidson responded.

Another resident asked if money could be saved in waste collection by picking up recyclables and compost every other week, rather than weekly.

While waste collection is a County of Wellington responsibility, Davidson explained that resident surveys have indicated, “most people did not want to go to every other week. They want us to do it weekly.”

“This is a very tough budget,” the mayor explained.

“There are very tough questions here. As (Morrison) pointed out, coming through COVID we kept things down to help people out and now we’re getting possibly a recession this year. It’s a very tough time.

“And of course, our infrastructure is not getting any better.”