North Huron spending to rise 18 per cent in newest budget - April 26, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Some last-minute changes have drastically increased spending in the North Huron budget, set to be presented at North Huron’s May 7 meeting. The proposed changes will result in approximately 18 per cent more spending in 2018 than 2017, most of which will be borne by the Wingham ward.
Senior staff, at council’s direction had prepared a budget with a 4.95 per cent increase in spending, (equal to $242,373.93) over 2017’s numbers. Spending was significantly decreased from the original draft budget presented by staff which included 14.49 per cent ($708,715.88) increase in spending.
Since council’s last budget meeting in February, several changes were made to reach that 4.95 per cent increase in the budget. However, subsequent to those changes, significant increases to municipal services’ costs have been unveiled that will drastically increase spending in the municipality drastically. Most of which will be in Wingham due to increases to the town’s police force.
Between the new Wingham policing budget, which includes four new officers and a sergeant, a change many ratepayers supported during public meetings earlier this year, a re-evaluation of the Emergency Services Training Centre (ESTC) budget and changes made to salaries as part of a pay equity study, the budget that will be presented will include an increase in spending of approximately 18 per cent ($900,000).
Exact numbers weren’t provided because $26,000 of capital costs for the Wingham Police Service were added to the budget after it was prepared. Those expenses include outfitting and arming the new officers and rearming existing officers.
The increased police costs, ESTC costs and pay equity changes will result in a $655,000 increase to overall spending. Approximately $450,000 of that came from the Wingham Police Service’s revised budget, most of which was salaries for the department.
Aside from the five new officers, Seip said that a 4.5 per cent increase in pay was implemented for the current officers. An additional four per cent increase is scheduled for next year, Seip said. Those changes will bring Wingham officers on par with their contemporaries after negotiations had resulted in lower-than-average wages for the officers over the past several years.
After much discussion on the issue, Seip warned that this was just the tip of the iceberg. The increase only represented the salaries of the five new police officers for six months, plus the $26,000 in capital costs and the 4.5 per cent increase, retroactively applied as of Jan. 1, 2018 for current officers. A full year of salaries will result in even higher taxes for Wingham ratepayers next year.
Seip said he voted against keeping the Wingham Police Service because of the cost, not because of the police service, the OPP or any other issue. He said, knowing these increases were coming, he felt it wasn’t feasible or sustainable.
Part of the remainder of the $655,000 increase in the budget, resulting in slightly less than $1 million in increased expenditures, came from the ESTC’s new budget, which was “more realistic” than the first one presented according to Director of Finance Donna White.
She explained that Deputy-Chief Chad Kregar had originally presented a balanced budget based on expected income at the centre. However, after a deficit last year, Kregar adjusted his numbers to reflect only guaranteed income, showing an operational deficit of $125,096. The cost for the ESTC is spread across the entire municipality.
Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans explained that a pay equity study the municipality had participated in would see wages altered throughout the municipality, resulting in approximately $80,000 of new staff expenses.
Council wasn’t happy with the numbers being presented. The ESTC and pay equity study costs would result in 2.56 per cent and 1.64 per cent in increased spending, respectively, while the Wingham Police budget represented an 8.76 per cent increase in the municipal budget.
These increases are independent of Huron County and school board taxations, which will have a further impact on taxes.
White presented several different examples to explain exactly what these additional costs meant for ratepayers.
The pay rate increase and ESTC expenses will be assessed against the entire municipality, while the police services increase is only paid for by Wingham ratepayers.
In Blyth, a residential property assessed at $123,000 would have seen an increase of $62.29 in its taxes with the budget set at a 4.95 per cent increase. With the addition of the ESTC and pay equity expenses, that same property will see an increase of $117.49 over the year.
In East Wawanosh, the residential portion of a property valued at $69,800 would have seen a $43.82 increase. Factoring in the ESTC budget and pay equity increases, the property will now face a $75.15 increase. The agricultural portion of that property, assessed at $663,200 after an approximate 15 per cent increase in assessment, would have seen a $291.51 increase with the 4.95 per cent increased budget. With the ESTC and pay equity, that property will now being paying $365.92 more in annual taxes.
While Blyth and East Wawanosh were affected, Wingham ratepayers will be the hardest hit by the new budget.
A residential property assessed at $178,500, under the budget with 4.95 per cent increase in spending, would have seen an increase of $80.77. With the addition of the ESTC expenses, the pay equity and the increased Wingham Police Services, that same property will see its taxes increase $478.05, a 14 per cent increase in taxes.
A commercial property in Wingham assessed at $825,000, under the budget with a 4.95 per cent increase in spending, would have saw a tax increase of $97.63. With the new expenses, that property would see a an increase of $2,123.10, an eight per cent increase in total taxes paid. The policing costs alone account for $1,618.17 of that increase.
Seip said that, if this budget is passed, all of council needs to take responsibility for it. He said it wasn’t fair to let the Wingham representatives bear the brunt of angry phone calls from ratepayers who will see their taxes increase significantly. He pointed out that council voted to keep the police and ratepayers said the police were to be given what they need to do the job right.
Council discussed different ways to reduce the impact of the increased costs, however, as Reeve Neil Vincent pointed out at the end of the meeting, the numbers just couldn’t be manipulated.
“The numbers are in front of us,” he said. “Doing little things isn’t going to change the overall effect that much.”
The budget is set to be presented at council’s May 7 regular council meeting.