Puslinch council approves budget; taxes to increase by 4.1%

PUSLINCH – If Puslinch residents don’t like the 4.1 per cent tax increase for 2024 approved by council on Feb. 7, well, it could have been worse.

Council briefly toyed with increasing the tax rate to 4.67% at the meeting, to add another $30,000 to the asset management reserve after receiving a report indicating reserve contributions will fall behind by $123,000 in 2028 and continue in the red until 2031.

Councillor Sara Bailey voiced concern with the negative balance in the 10-year reserve fund forecast.

“I worry we may have a spike in need to contribute to it to meet those targets,” she said.

Treasurer Mary Hasan said the township needs to contribute $250,000 a year to maintain a balance of between $2 million and $4 million, which is the plan the township has been working toward.

Hasan said the forecasted deficit in reserves is due to the 2023 Roads Management Plan that council adopted in the fall.

It recommends certain road work over the years, which will draw on reserves to cover some of those costs. 

Mayor James Seeley said by his calculations, adding another $30,000 to reserves in 2024 would push out the forecasted deficit until 2030 and he proposed adding $30,000 to the tax levy.

“It buys us time,” Seeley reasoned.

But councillor John Sepulis thought adding to the proposed increase at the 11th hour – after the public had already lent its comments on the proposed 4.1% increase – “could feel like a bait and switch,” he said.

Sepulis said there’s $400,000 in unspent capital from 2023 that could go to reserves and the costs estimated in the Roads Management Plan are as yet untested.

“I think we should wait until 2025 and develop a strategy that makes sense,” he said.

“I don’t disagree. It could be perceived as a bait and switch,” Seeley said.

“What spurred my thought was the surplus is now a minimal estimate. If we’re not seeing a surplus, we need to get levy money in there (the reserve).”

Councillor Russel Hurst wondered if council could use the $30,000 figure as a placeholder for the 2025 budget.

“I like that idea,” Seeley agreed, and council voted to add $30,000 – approximately 0.5% – as the starting point for the asset management reserve contribution in 2025.

Council then approved the 2024 budget, with a 4.1% tax increase on the township portion of the property tax bill.

For the typical Puslinch residence assessed at $615,000, that adds another $46 to the township portion of the property tax bill.

Budget highlights include:

  • an increase in operating costs due to an increase in the Ontario minimum wage, mandatory employee benefits, contract services, fuel, calcium, winter road maintenance and insurance;
  • new staff positions including a junior planner, building services technician, full-time fire chief, and another facility operator;
  • a total $1.6 million to discretionary reserves;
  • improvements to Watson Road South, Gore Road and Maple Leaf Lane;
  • parking lot enhancements at the Puslinch Community Centre; and
  • upgrades to the municipal office.

“Puslinch council has passed a responsible budget that continues to focus on our key priorities during a very challenging period,” Seeley states in a press release.

“It is extraordinary that the annual increase to residents is only $46, taking into account the continued high inflation and escalating costs and the numerous improvements this budget provides including expanded services and significant investments in infrastructure.”