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‘Daunting’: Tiny faces ‘tough decisions’ amid projected 6% tax hike

Day one of a three-day draft budget discussion took place in Tiny Township last night, with council looking to finance the year ahead for the municipality.

Haley Leblond, Deputy CAO and corporate services director, provided the majority of the information for council’s digestion over the five-hour meeting.

“The proposed starting point for the 2024 draft budget for council to consider is a 6.045 per cent tax rate increase over the 2023 municipal tax rate,” said Leblond in summary of the prologue. “At this increase, there’s an estimated taxation revenue of $16,654,000 not including (payment in lieu properties), and the revenue from this level of taxation would support the (presented draft) budget.”

The draft took several assumptions into consideration, as the provincial government had frozen Municipal Property Assessment Corporation growth for yet another year, and the provincial education component of the blended tax rate would be announced at a later date.

Based on the preliminary 6.045 per cent rate increase, the draft operating budget looked to have a 6.4 per cent ($860,000) increase over last year for a 2024 net operation calculation of roughly $14.1 million.

While roughly $135,000 was decreased in the public protection, environment and recreation categories, nearly $1 million had increased from 2023 through municipal taxation, general government, transportation, and planning and zoning categories.

Insurance increased across all categories, as municipalities across the continent struggle with joint and several liability, limited municipal providers, and the impact unrelated natural hazards elsewhere have on local insurance rates. The discussion prompted Coun. Steffen Walma to cheekily voice his dissent to the amusement of council.

Recommendations to use debt financing to fill and draw reserves were made by staff as per the 2023 asset management strategy, which Tiny had not taken advantage of in years prior.

Short-term rentals were discussed, including a look at purchasing a $50,000 vehicle for the self-funded program. Walma requested that quarterly payments of the $1,750 licensing fee be introduced at an upcoming council meeting, which sparked debate among council who sympathized with concerned STR owners while addressing errant participants of the 300 licenses issued.

An arena reserve was recommended through staff with a $56,500 amount at the same level Tiny had been paying to Midland, Penetanguishene and Springwater Township, with the intent that if council should choose approval of funds for a new facility, money would be available. Allocation of library reimbursements also prompted staff to propose a library reserve.

The night began with a presentation by Craig Jewell, manager of the Huronia Airport Commission, who put forward a budget request of zero dollars, explaining that the backing out of a purchase by the Ring of Fire organization and several managerial changes over the year caused the commission to rethink their upcoming strategy.

Coun. Kelly Helowka pressed Jewell for information on a costly snowplow purchase made by the HAC without consent by any of the joint municipal owners, which Jewell admitted was “not ideal” for the needs of the airport.

Later as the airport was discussed along with Midland’s possible exit from joint ownership, Evans quipped to the laughter of other members of council: “Far be it for me to comment on other municipality’s business.”

Following the operating budget overview, a presentation by township asset management coordinator Marley Mendel covered the first two years of the 20-year initiative to get the municipality back on track from its 2022 discovery of being underfunded by two-thirds of its $320 million in assets.

Of the 16 major recommendations set for 2023, Mendel stated that 13 had been implemented so far; an additional seven were on the slate for 2024. A backlog of $50 million was calculated, with staff recommending an additional $2.5 million per year for backlog on top of varying annual asset replacement amounts over 20 years loosely fluctuating between $5 million to $18 million.

Both Evans and Helowka called the information “daunting.” Coun. Dave Brunelle said: “It looks like council has a lot of tough decisions to make.”

CAO Robert Lamb referred to the asset management strategy and presentation as information being power.

“It’s a valuable tool politically for council to understand as we continue to argue with our fellow municipalities for a rearranged funding deal, provincially – and I think a big role federally – for them to step up,” said Lamb.

“We’ve been saying for a long time: municipalities receive basically 10 to 12 per cent of the taxation revenue, but own almost 80 per cent of the infrastructure in Canada," said Lamb.

“Our upper levels of government need to start putting the tools in place that allow lower-, single-, and upper-tier municipalities to maintain the infrastructure that everybody drives on a daily basis,” Lamb noted.

Council recessed with the intent to address the 2024 draft capital budget when it returned on Tuesday night.

The 2024 draft budget report can be viewed on the agenda page on the Township of Tiny website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on the Township’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca