Huron East budget to include small levy increase - March 2, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
The first draft of Huron East’s budget includes a five per cent increase to the general municipal levy, but still leaves the municipality in a deficit position of nearly $700,000.
With the large shift in assessment from urban to farmland, however, that average may be spread wide from resident to resident, with those in Seaforth or Brussels potentially experiencing a decrease, while farmland properties may see sharp increases.
Treasurer Paula Michiels presented the first draft of the budget to council at its Feb. 21 meeting, saying that before the budget made its way to council the starting position of the budget included a shortfall of $2.5 million.
However, Michiels cut approximately $1.35 million from the budget before first presenting it to council. These cuts include two road reconstruction projects, two capital purchases by the Public Works Department and two planned repairs to the Seaforth and District Community Centre.
Michiels told council that the municipality expects to end 2016 with a surplus of over $450,000, which has already been factored into the budget.
The proposed five per cent tax levy increase, Michiels told councillors, essentially covers the municipality’s losses from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) and the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF).
Michiels also said that the municipality’s department heads have been advised that council may not want to raise the tax increase beyond five per cent. Therefore, she said, the heads have been advised that if they wish to raise their department’s requirements beyond 2016 levels, council may have to make cuts to other departments in order to compensate.
One exception, she said, is the municipality’s three recreation centres, which face continued budget challenges.
Under the proposed budget, each recreation centre will receive a levy, a special capital levy and a special deficit-reduction levy. The Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre, for example, in the 2017 budget will receive a levy of $148,527, a special capital levy of $72,000 and a special deficit-reduction levy of $23,071 from Huron East. Additional funds for each category will also be contributed by Morris-Turnberry for the Brussels centre.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan, however, felt that the capital levy for all three centres didn’t necessarily make sense. Spending money on all the centres because one or two need additional funding, he said, is just bad business.
Michiels said that with the proposed Huron County tax levy increase currently sitting at below five per cent and education tax rates expected at between two and 2.5 per cent, the average Huron East resident will likely see an overall tax rate increase of under seven per cent.
With the shift in assessment from urban to farmland, however, Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight said that residents of Brussels and Seaforth will likely see a decrease in tax rate under the current budget.
While some councillors were happy to see the proposed increase as low as it was, others felt that because the municipality expects to end 2016 in a surplus position, council should attempt to reduce the tax rate even lower and pass savings onto ratepayers.
Michiels told councillors that the projected surplus has already been factored into the budget and will do just that after years of sizable tax rate increases due to large decreases in provincial funding.
Councillor David Blaney, however, said he came at the municipality’s 2017 budget position from a different angle, saying that perhaps in a year when a large tax increase isn’t necessary, council should attempt to catch up on purchases that have been delayed in recent years.
He compared some of the projects that have been delayed like road resurfacing and equipment purchases for the Public Works Department to kicking a can further and further down the road, simply delaying the inevitable cost for another year. He cautioned that council should be “very careful” taking that approach and that it could come back to bite them in the future.
Council then debated a handful of individual expenses in the budget, including the purchase of a new backhoe for the Public Works Department, a new tanker for the Brussels station of the Huron East Fire Department and the expansion of the Grey station of the fire department in Ethel.
Councillor John Lowe said he couldn’t support the expansion of the Grey fire hall, which was removed from the 2016 budget as a cost-cutting measure. With the Ethel Community Centre, which he said is seldom used, right next door to the centre, it would only make sense that the department would use the hall for its needs, rather than building a brand new addition to the existing building, he said.
Several projects will be paid for by way of community betterment funds from three wind turbine companies and reserves from solar projects.
The installation of a new floating pressure head and variable frequency drive at the Seaforth and District Community Centre will be paid for through solar reserves, while $80,000 to help replace an ice resurfacer will come from the Northland Vibrancy Fund over the next two years.
The replacement of the condenser at the Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre will be funded from the St. Columban Vibrancy Fund and lighting improvements will be funded through the municipality’s solar project reserves.
In addition, approved renovations to the Seaforth Library will also be funded from the St. Columban Vibrancy Fund.
Michiels also presented another suggested addition to the budget in the form of a one-time special levy of $108,000 for the International Plowing Match, which will be hosted in the Huron East community of Walton this September. The funds, she said, would be spread across multiple departments.
The special levy, Michiels said, would increase the proposed tax levy by 2.8 per cent. That, however, has not yet been approved.
Council didn’t make any final decisions regarding the budget at the Feb. 21 meeting and will continue deliberations at a future meeting when the second draft of the budget is presented.