Wellington North budget hike is 6.7%

It looks like the era of 1% tax increases is over in Wellington North.
This year, council has pass­ed a budget which increases spending by 6.7%.
Because of a 1.31% in­crease in the township’s assessment base and a slightly different mix of tax classes, the impact is anticipated to be 5.45% to residential properties.
Treasurer John Jeffrey said that expectation is based on the assumption Wellington County does not change the tax ratios for 2008. The change amounts to an increase in the township portion of the tax bill by $44.41 on a home with an average assessment of $170,000.
Jeffrey said that increase is on just the municipal portion of the tax bill, and does not include the county or education portions of property taxes.
He said that while the local increase is $44.41, the county hike is $48.55 for that same $170,000 property – meaning a combined rate increase of about $93. He said the overall tax bill for the $170,000 property is about $2,627.
Mayor Mike Broomhead said he had hoped to be able to deal with the issue of development charges in Wellington North prior to the passage of the budget, but that did not happen.
General revenue
Revenue re­ceived by the township in­cludes a grant from the Ontario Municipal Part­nership Fund (OMPF) of $1,285,000.
That grant has not increased since 2003, despite cost in­creas­es experienced by all municipalities – which Jeffrey said “is disconcerting.”
In addition, it includes income from penalties and interest on unpaid property taxes. Jeffrey added part of that grant is supposed to deal with the issue of farm tax rebates.
Included in the administration expenditures for 2008 is $15,000 for a new township website, a transfer of $200,000 to a reserve fund for an administration facility, and $10,000 in assistance for the doctor recruitment program in Mount Forest.
When questioned about the reserve fund for a new facility, Jeffrey said there is now about $600,000 in reserves for that project. He explained the issue has come up in the past, but “at present there are no concrete plans.”
This year’s property budget includes the leasing of space from Wellington County for the provision of medical services in Arthur.
That space is part of the new library building being built by the county. The space will be sublet to the medical community and is expected to operate on a break-even basis.
The fire budget includes a transfer of $195,000 to a reserve fund for future fire equipment that will be replaced in the next year or so.
In addition, there is an increase in the pool of funds available to pay fire fighters in both departments because the increase in the number of ambulance assist calls has reduced the actual amount each fire fighter re­ceives for each call.
Conservation Authorities
Included in the levy are amounts to be paid to three conservation authorities whose watersheds include parts of Wellington North.
The Grand River Conserva­tion Authority levy is $43,382 (a 5% increase), the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority levy is $47,039 (up 14%), and the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority levy is $23,556 (up 10%).
Councillor Ross Chaulk said those levies have in­creased significantly in previous years as a result of reduced provincial funding. Council has suggested the authorities, along with the municipalities, lobby the province to increase their fund­ing.
Public Works
The budget for Public Works includes the purchase of a new grader at $261,000, paving in the urban areas on Durham Street West, Henry Street, King Street East, and London Road, and resurfacing of rural roads Concession 6 (Highway 6 to Sideroad 5), Concession 11 (Sideroad 4 to Sideroad 3), Line 12 (County Road 14 to County Road 16), the construction of an extension to Industrial Road to accommodate new industrial development, and the reconstruction of Princess Street in conjunction with the construction of the Sports complex in Mount Forest. The gas tax that the municipality receives annually from the federal government will be used to fund some of those projects.
Chaulk said, the reconstruction of Main Street in Mount Forest from Queen Street to Birmingham Street is not included this year. That work is conditional on receiving funding from the Ministry of Transportation as part of its connecting link program. News of that grant has not been received and probably will not be announced until early summer. Work cannot begin until that funding is confirmed. Should the project proceed this year, the bulk of the work would happen in the fall and would be financed as part of the 2009 budget.
Chaulk noted that last year, council was told the funding would be an MTO priority – but it did no happen. This year, councillors were told it was a priority as well; however any funding announcement would not be in until later this year which, at best, means work could not start until this fall.
Chaulk again stressed, “The work cannot proceed until the funding arrives.”
There is also an amount of $50,000 transferred to a reserve fund for a new Public Works shop.
There is a plan to pursue the construction of a new columbarium, for approximately $22,000, at the cemetery because the current one is approaching its capacity. That will be funded from a cemetery reserve.
The major project in the rec­reation department is the completion of the Mount For­est Sports complex. The budget includes the initial debenture payments of $381,477 on debt issued in late 2007 and amortized over 10 years. In addition, there is an amount budgeted to pay interest of $80,000 on short term funding needed to fund the contributions from South­gate Township and the fund­raising committee. That funding is anticipated to be received periodically over the next several years.
The planning budget in­cludes an amount to pay legal costs associated with the application for the Wilson Quarry.
Chaulk stated that as a re­sult, there are more funds set aside for that than there have been in the past number of years. Generally, council allocates about $5,000 for legal fees; this year that is set at $50,000.
The treasurer said that could be significantly higher if the Wilson Quarry case goes to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing.
Additional comments
Jeffrey said even though the overall $5.7-million operating budget is up 5%, the $1.9-million capital budget is down 4%.
Mayor Mike Broomhead said the increase was not really a surprise, but he contended council did a good job whittling down the final figures while still setting some money aside for reserves as well as paying down the debt load on various projects without creating “a humongous increase to ratepayers.”
He noted the original draft of the budget predicted an 18% spending increase.
“While some may see the in­crease as having a negative impact, I think [these costs] are needed to keep the municipality moving forward.”
Chaulk added that while this year council did not head into discussions with a specific number in mind for an in­crease, “When we saw the original 18%, our gut reaction was that it was unacceptable. In the past, councils had looked to 1% or 2% increases – that can’t happen anymore.”