Aylmer councillors approved the 2021 budget at a 2.46% increase, with a total net levy requirement of $5,987,984, at a virtual council meeting on Monday, April 12.
The average homeowner in Aylmer ($213,345 on detached home, based on Current Value Assessment) will pay an additional $20.40 annually.
“That’s a very affordable budget and it was because of the exceptional cases that we see our community going through,” said Chief Administrative Officer Andy Grozelle.
The percentage increase would have been lower, he added, if not for the provincial freeze on the Current Value Assessment (CVA). The estimated assessment in Aylmer has shrunk by $1,275,000 as a result. Last year saw a CVA increase of 5.9%, which offset levy requirements.
This marks the fourth Aylmer budget presentation. A 4.4% increase was called for at the most recent budget presentation on Feb. 1, and the current levy amount of 2.46% was reached mainly through reductions in labour and benefit costs.
Those refinements to the estimated labour and benefit costs reduced the budget by $130,000. Staff also recommended a one-time reduction of transfer to reserves, which reduced spending by $50,000.
Mr. Grozelle noted a critical gap in capital requirements for future sustainability, which creates a looming infrastructure deficit. However, reducing the reserve transfer from $650,000 to $600,000 would provide one-time rate relief to the community during the pandemic.
Other cost-cutting measures since then included a $20,000 reduction of transfer to the Parks Capital Reserve, a $10,000 reduction in travel due to COVID-19, and the postponement of a water filling station, which saved another $10,000 for this year.
“COVID-19 has created challenges on how accurately the town can develop predictable budgets,” said Mr. Grozelle. “Although staff have undertaken to do our best, I believe both 2020 and 2021 will always have an asterisk next to them for all municipalities, because the variances we are seeing are not normal in the circumstances.”
Some key pressures on the 2021 budget this year include substantially increased insurance rates, a reduction in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF), and multiple priorities combined with limited resources and time.
Main deliverables for the emergency services department this year include new fire chief and director of emergency services Todd McKone, a return to community involvement and education as COVID-19 restrictions lessen, and the resale of a pumper truck.
Corporate services projects planned for 2021 include a communications and social media plan, as well as the planned renovations to Aylmer Town Hall, which will combine it with the attached building at 25 Centre Street.
Other projects include a planning and development process review, an electronics records management system, modernized council chambers, and continued improvement of customer service processes for all departmental functions.
A key budget pressure in this department is the salary increase for the new Deputy Clerk role.
“There have been some moderate salary increases as a result of restructuring positions in the department,” said Legislative Services Director/Clerk Josh Brick.
Other pressures include computer and software costs associated with modernization, as well as limited revenues from 2020 due to office closures and service reductions (for example, marriage licenses).
The financial department plans to conduct a review of accounts, implement new business processes and modernization, and update the budgeting process for general clarity.
Operations department projects include sand replacement for wastewater lagoons, advance for the next phase of water planning, and a review of the ERTH Power Corporation agreement.
Some challenges associated with this department include difficulty filling Operator positions, increased costs for the new waste contract, and costs associated with future planning for water infrastructure.
Councillor Pete Barbour mentioned there was a possibility of enhanced provincial support for various projects, and asked Operations Director Rob Johnson if he had a list of projects that can be or will be “shovel-ready.”
“Staff are always looking at the guidelines when the province announces that there is funding available,” responded Mr. Johnson, adding the SCADA control upgrade and replacement project and water tower projects as priorities.
Planned parks and recreation activities include working with community groups to bring usership back as soon as possible, working with Southwestern Public Health to prepare for vaccine distribution, and a review of user fees and opportunities for cost recovery in 2022.
Cr. Tom Charlton commented that there was $20,000 set aside for park and trails expansion in the draft project list, and asked for further details on the project. Mr. Grozelle said he was not sure at this time, but he would follow up and email council with those details.
Cr. Barbour said the project list showed the total cost, but that it does not say where these funds are coming from. He asked if these projects would be funded through taxation, reserves, or a combination of both.
“Everything is going to be funded out of reserves for 2021,” responded Treasurer Heather Sachs. Cr. Barbour again clarified that everything would be paid through reserves, and Ms. Sachs confirmed that it would be in 2021.
Staff will bring forward a final bylaw next week for ratification, said Mr. Grozelle.
Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express