Town projecting $29 increase in local taxes on average residence

MINTO – “The beginning of change” is the theme for the town’s 2020 budget.

Fire Chief Chris Harrow, who was acting CAO prior to new CAO Derrick Thomson joining the staff on Jan. 22, worked with treasurer Gordon Duff to present the draft 2020 operating budget to council at a special meeting on Jan. 23.

“On day two we didn’t want to throw him to the wolves,” said Harrow. “Derrick has been briefed on it and will comment as necessary.”

Harrow noted the “change” theme is appropriate given the arrival of a new CAO more than a year after former CAO Bill White retired from his position. Harrow also noted plans for more sharing of services between municipalities in Wellington County also fit in with the theme.

Referencing a quote from the late John F. Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future,” Harrow said, “I think that’s very appropriate with the shared services and the stuff that we’re talking about … we don’t know what the future holds and we’re going to keep going and looking ahead.”

The municipality is experiencing rapid growth, which affects priorities and budgeting, Harrow pointed out.

“The significant growth we’ve seen in Minto, that is unprecedented in the 20-year history of Minto. That adds costs and it adds staff and it adds time and work … but we are growing and we’re growing extremely fast,” said Harrow.

“We’re trying to keep up with the growth and trying to work with it. Staff is really excited about how we are growing but there are certain ramifications that come with that.”

Harrow noted the area’s low unemployment rate, at three per cent, puts pressure on the local housing situation and employment attraction and retention efforts.

“Anything under four per cent is considered full employment,” Harrow pointed out. “We’re working hard to attract more jobs, more factories, more things to come to Minto. But we are worried because we have nothing to staff them with.”

Despite the growth, Harrow said the staff complement of the town has remained fairly stable, rising from 40 full-time permanent employees to 44 since 2010.

“So with the significant growth that we’ve had over the past decade we’ve added the equivalent of four full-time positions. So I think that’s good that a lot of staff have taken on extra work,” he stated.

“I think in the business world if you had a business that’s expanded and grown as much as our municipality has, you would see that probably a lot more. So, again, kudos to the staff because they’ve taken on the extra work, they’ve dealt with it.”

The full-time employee figure does not include the town’s 85 volunteer firefighters or summer students, and other part-time and casual employees.

Duff stated overall wages appear higher this year partly because a calendar quirk means there will be an additional pay period in 2020.

The budget for the CAO/Clerk department increased $141,000 due to the completion of hiring a new CAO and finalizing other restructuring.

Harrow noted most of his salary was assessed to the fire department while he was acting CAO and the CAO/Clerk department increase accounts for “most of the change that you’ll see in this budget.”

The budget indicates the average assessed value of a house in Minto is $242,000 and while that’s up from about $233,000 in 2019, Harrow said assessed values don’t really reflect the current market.

“We know that there is some catching up with that. Everybody that’s in the housing market knows that if you can find a house for $242,000 in Minto right now you’re doing pretty good,” he said.

“So we know that’s got some catching up to do and the assessments are going to keep going up, up, up – which has its own problems.”

The draft budget projects a 2020 levy requirement (the amount to be raised through taxes) of $5,558,780, an increase of $271,803, or just over five per cent from the budgeted 2019 levy of $5,286,977. Total spending in the draft budget is estimated at  $10,048,000.

Additional spending of $4,038,000 for water and wastewater, supported by user fees, is also anticipated.

The levy includes about $900,000 in tax-supported capital expenditures.

The draft budget notes the 5% local levy increase, when combined with county and education levies would likely project to less than a 3% increase for the average residential ratepayer.

Duff said the estimated Minto tax increase on an average house assessed at $242,000 is $29. That a figure does not include any potential county or school board increase.

The town will receive about  $64,000 less than last year from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. A staff report notes that funding loss is equivalent to a 1.2% tax increase.

“This has been offset by using some of our modernization grant money we have placed in reserves,” the report states.

Other draft operating budget highlights include:

– the $900,000 capital funding, which has been increased from the $520,000 allocated in the 2019 budget, results partly from moving more paving, storm sewer, sidewalk and flood mitigation from the operating to the capital budget;

– the council budget is up by $7,300 primarily to reflect the increased benefits expense due to the loss of the councillors’ one-third tax exemption implemented by the federal government in 2018 and included the 2018 remuneration increase;

– the general administration budget is decreased by $93,000 due to reductions in reserve transfers, lower solar revenue and higher write-offs;

– the overall people and property budget is lower by $103,000 primarily due to the wind-down of the National Disaster Mitigation Program flood plain modelling program. MVCA levies are lower by $6,000. Flood mitigation measures have been moved to the capital budget;

– the health and social services budget is up by $17,425 due to expansion of the town-operated after-school program and the addition of youth hub and mental health programs;

– the Minto Fire budget will rise by about 2.2% to accommodate some fire hall repairs;

– the cemeteries budget is increasing by $8,000 to reflect council’s direction to increase maintenance standards;

– building and bylaw department budget is up by $86,000 to reflect current staffing levels and better reflect actual results of previous years. “Fee increases have partially offset the larger staff resources which are needed as the large increase in the number and complexity of building applications which has occurred over the last three years,” the budget report notes;

– the facilities budget has increased about $48,000 as a result of wage increases partially offset by increased fees. The hours and activities at the Palmerston Railway Museum have also been enhanced;

– parks and trails costs are up by $10,000, mostly due to wage increases and ball and soccer budgets are up by about $12,000 due to wage increases, new transfers to lifecycle reserves and improved ground maintenance;

– the Norgan Theatre continues to enjoy record attendance levels and will be able to contribute $17,500 to reserves for future capital upgrades; and

– the economic development budget is up only slightly as staffing costs and increased activity among downtown groups have been offset by expected revenue from shared services initiatives and increased business sponsorships. The tourism budget is set at the same overall amount as in the previous year.

Major projects included in the draft capital budget for 2020 include:

– Arthur Street East Connecting Link project in Harriston at $1.2 million;

– replacement of the Brunswick Street bridge in Palmerston for $820,000 (pending final approval of grant funding);

– Ann Street reconstruction in Clifford, $515,000;

– Lawrence Avenue reconstruction in Harriston at $410,000;

– $250,000 for design work on a 12th Line culvert reconstruction  project; and

– more than $80,000 in flood mitigation work in Harriston.

Major projects looming further into the five-year capital plan include:

– reconstruction of Main Street in Palmerston;

– a lift station for the Palmerston Industrial Park;

– Whites Road reconstruction;

– Palmerston wastewater facility upgrades; and

– reconstruction of John Street in Harriston.

The 2020 draft budget includes about $15,000 for engineering work on the Main Street project in Palmerston.

Councillor Judy Dirksen said because staff keep council up to date with regular reports “there really was very little in this that was any surprise to me.

“It’s just great the way that all of the staff brings things forward to us on an ongoing basis, so that we’re not just hit with this big surprise thing that is our budget.”

Dirksen continued, “Really, because you are doing your job and bringing all of this stuff to us ahead of time, it makes our job easier.”

The draft budget will be presented at a public open house on March 17 from 5 to 6:30pm in the council chamber.

North Wellington Community News