Bayham councillors at a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4, approved a 2021 budget calling for a 2.7-percent increase in the municipality’s tax levy on local property owners.
(Property tax bills also include levies from Elgin County and local schools.)
The budget, at the start of the meeting, called for a 5.6 percent increase over 2021, or an additional $285,517 to be collected.
Treasurer Lorne James said that would cost a homeowner with an assessed residential property value of $250,000 an extra $80 a year.
A farm with an assessed value of $400,000 would pay an additional $29.48 a year, a commercial property estimated to be worth $250,000 would pay $131.16 more and a $250,000 industrial property would pay another $178.21.
Mr. James said the additional levy money would allow Bayham to continue to provide the same services to residents this year as it had in 2021.
Among the contributors to additional costs this year were inflation, higher insurance premiums and continuing COVID-19 expenses, he added.
The $6-million budget adopted by councillors for 2021 had resulted in a $1.1-million levy. Among the expenses was $330,686 as Bayham continued to pay off a $6-million loan it had guaranteed for the purchase of the Ojibwa submarine for a museum in Port Burwell.
Mr. James also pointed out that during the last year, the inflation rate had been 4.9 percent.
He was uncertain about how generous provincial and federal governments would be in grants to municipalities as those two levels of government eased themselves out of providing pandemic assistance.
The municipality was also facing a couple of property tax assessment appeals that could result in potential losses of $75,000 to $90,000 this year, he added. Those appeals wouldn’t be decided until spring.
After a discussion of public comments that were submitted on the proposed budget (see related story), Mr. James, other staff and councillors made minor changes to the budget to try to save money and reduce the levy increase.
Mr. James then offered the councillors the option of reducing the submarine loan repayment by $100,000 this year.
That would push repayment of the defaulted loan further into the future, he said, but doing so would also bring down the proposed levy increase to 3.6 percent.
Mayor Ed Ketchabaw said councillors had taken that same option for the 2021 budget because of pandemic worries, “and things haven’t changed. We should do it again.”
Mr. James said if Bayham enjoyed a good 2022 and had a surplus at the end of the year, that $100,000 of the total repayment could be restored.
Deputy Mayor Rainey Weisler supported the option, observing, “Anything we can do to take some of the financial pressure off our residents.”
She also believed, though, that the reduction of the submarine debt should be a priority, so she would support restoring the payment late in 2022 if the municipality had the money to do so.
Mr. James said that would reduce the previously mentioned residential tax increase to $47.99 a year, a farm to $17.66, a commercial enterprise to $78.58 and industrial to $106.76.
Councillors then weighed eliminating some or all of the $9,000 in the budget to support community festivals.
Last year and in 2020, Mr. James said, none of that money got spent because public health restrictions ended in festivals being cancelled.
Mayor Ketchabaw said, “Should we ever get to some form of normalcy this spring, and should there be some resumption of activity in our festivals, I’d hate to not have anything available for them.”
Mr. James said the same fund had been used to provide a grant to the Port Burwell-Bayham Legion in the past, but that had been dropped after the branch became exempt from property tax.
That could save $2,000, he suggested, and council members agreed.
However, after councillors agreed to a total of $29,000 in reductions, Mr. James said $8,000 had to be added back into the budget because of increased grass cutting contract cost for 2022, and $30,000 for an increase in Bayham’s insurance cost.
He then noted that Bayham had recently been informed that instead of receiving an expected $320,000 from the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund this year, it would get $640,000. That additional money was guaranteed for three years.
He wanted most of that money to go into a reserve fund for future projects should the municipality receive government grants to help pay for them, the biggest of which was an estimated $40-million to replace storm drains in Port Burwell.
Bayham has applied for a $12-million grant which, with the municipality’s share of $8-million added in, would allow about half of the total project to be done.
However, he could see using $50,000 from the OCIF grant to help pay for this year’s capital projects instead, allowing the levy increase to be further reduced to 2.7 percent.
If the municipality did get its storm drain grant, he noted, the municipality would have to be “very creative” in finding ways to support its own contribution to that while also carrying on other needed capital works projects.
Cr. Dan Froese said he was leaning toward using at least $50,000, and maybe even $100,000, “To cut people some slack this year.”
Mr. James said if councillors truly wanted to pursue their 10-year “aggressive” capital works plan, $50,000 was the most he could recommend, especially given that the tax assessment appeals had not yet been decided.
Councillors agreed to the $50,000 option, reducing the proposed levy to 2.7 percent.
Mayor Ketchabaw asked if money was still in the 2022 budget for expanding Bayham’s staff.
Mr. James confirmed that, adding the municipality’s water and sewage staff was running “razor thin.”
A bylaw formally adopting the budget will be the next step, and that’s expected to happen in April.
Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express