The Municipality of Hastings Highlands council heard the third and final presentation of their 2022 budget from Tanya Dickinson, the deputy treasurer, on April 6. At the March 16 meeting, council directed staff to find another 0.5 per cent or $38,000 in savings to bring the municipal tax levy below two per cent. They succeeded in doing so, with a 1.57 per cent tax increase proposed during this third reading of the 2022 budget, which council passed.
Dickinson had presented the 2022 budget to council at their March 16 meeting, a budget that would have seen a 2.07 per cent increase in the municipal tax levy for residents. Council instructed Dickinson and staff to find another 0.5 per cent savings in the budget to bring that levy down below two per cent and bring it back to council for a third reading.
The third reading of the 2022 budget proposes a total operating budget of $10,978,666, a total municipal tax levy of $7,794,886 with a municipal tax levy increase from 2021 of 1.57 per cent, with a municipal tax rate increase of 1.54 per cent over last year.
To achieve the 0.5 per cent municipal tax levy decrease that council has asked for at the March 16 meeting, staff made the following expense amendments; a $1,000 decrease in the Administration supplies budget, the removal of the snow plow for Fire Station #1 for $10,000, a $15,000 decrease to the Building department’s legal budget, a decrease of $10,000 to the Roads department miscellaneous equipment repair budget and a $2,000 decrease to the Planning department professional development and supplies budget. This comes to a grand total of $38,000, which equates to a 0.5 per cent decrease to the municipal tax levy.
At the meeting on April 6, Mayor Tracy Hagar introduced the resolution to discuss and pass the third reading of the 2022 budget and asked council for their thoughts on the revised budget with a now 1.57 per cent municipal tax levy versus the 2.07 per cent municipal tax levy it had at the second reading at the March 16 meeting.
Generally, all of council was quite appreciate to Dickinson, staff and the various department heads for the cuts that were made to make the 0.5 per cent reduction in the tax levy a reality.
Councillor Alex Walder thought that the tax levy decrease was admirable compared to other municipalities’ tax levy increases in the region.
“So, thanks to Tanya [Dickinson], staff and the department heads that gave up portions of their operating budgets to get this done,” he says.
Councillor Tony Fitzgerald said he had also noticed that all departments had to cut something from their budgets and he appreciated it as it couldn’t have been easy.
“While it wasn’t my preferred choice to cut these items, I feel that it’s important that this budget gets passed today so that the business of council can move forward,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Dorothy Gerrow, although thankful to staff and the department heads for their efforts, was still concerned, as she had been at the March 16 meeting, that the 1.57 per cent increase wouldn’t be enough to look after current municipal needs, prepare for the unexpected and prevent possible deficits by the end of 2022. She noted that this was especially likely due to the rising cost of fuel and how it would negatively impact the financials of the various municipal departments.
“I’m not going to support the budget at this level. I would prefer it be brought back to 2.07 per cent, as it was last time. I do have to support council’s overall motion, but seeing what the cuts are in this, I will not be supporting the budget in this manner,” she says.
Hagar agreed with Gerrow that the tax levy should be at 2.07 per cent to maintain the municipality’s infrastructure and services in an adequate manner going forward.
“I’m not happy where the cuts are, no offence to our deputy treasurer, staff or the department heads that stepped up to make these cuts happen. I don’t think that it’s going to help the municipality in the long run. My opinion is fiscal responsibility not only means keeping the taxes low but also maintaining your infrastructure and what you have in place, and unfortunately municipalities need to do that by raising taxes. I feel that the 2.07 per cent would have been very accommodating [to our residents],” she says.
However, in recognition of staff’s hard work and the need to pass the budget that day, Hagar said she would support it even though she wasn’t entirely happy with it.
Walder agreed with both Hagar and Gerrow’s point of view on the budget’s tax levy, but said that he trusted Dickinson, staff and the department heads who had made those $38,000 in cuts happen, to meet the 0.5 per cent decrease happen, and would therefore also support it.
The tax levy increase of 1.57 per cent means an annual estimated increase for 2022 of $22 for a residential ratepayer with an assessed property of around $188,000. A ratepayer with an assessed property of around $300,000 would see an estimated yearly increase of $35.
At that point, the vote was called by the municipality’s clerk Suzanne Huschilt, and most of council voted to pass the 2022 budget, with the exception of Gerrow, who voted against it.
Dickinson told The Bancroft Times on April 11 that while the budget process was challenging, it was a team effort.
“All departments worked together to find the required efficiencies so that no specific department was faced with an unfair task. Staff will report on the financial performance of the 2022 budget year to council via quarterly treasury reports,” she says. “A first quarter report, for the months of January to March, will be submitted to council at the upcoming May 18 regular meeting of council.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times