Midland residents pulled no punches in raising their voices around budget issues of concern.
Main matters brought up at Wednesday's meeting included changes to the budget of the CAO's office and proposed 4.65% tax increase.
Blain Dusome, who has lived in Midland for 52 years, kicked off the discussion around the CAO's office budget.
"I want to look specifically at the salaries and benefits," he said. "What I'm seeing on this document is that there's a 38% increase totalling $81,156 to the salary from 2020 as well as the training, travel, meetings and conferences budget request of $10,484.
"I think that during this pandemic, everybody has been asked to sacrifice and go the extra distance, how can you look at a raise like that?" asked Dusome. "I think the residents of Midland deserve some clarification on a 38% increase in salaries and benefits and a 322% increase in training, travel, meetings, and conferences budget."
David Denault, chief administrative officer, provided some clarification.
"It has nothing to do with the salary increase for myself," he said. "I have declined an increase. I make sure I don't claim any overtime I have put in. What you're seeing in that budget is the planned salary of the entire office of the CAO (which includes another full-time employee). If that change is approved through the budget process, we will be anxious to make some adjustments for customer services. It has nothing to do with a salary increase for me."
As for money budgeted for training, travel, meetings, and conferences, Denault said COVID will impact that, seeing as how most conferences have been moved to online platforms.
"But one thing that's been asked of myself and the senior leadership team is to make sure that Midland is represented across the map when we're dealing with other forms of government," he said. "Any increase is not a good thing to do if you can avoid it. This one would be well worth it if we're able to do it."
Denault stressed though that there is no salary change for the current employees in the CAO's office.
"I have not accepted any increase from the salary that was given to me," he said. "Any change that would be considered there is to offer enhanced customer service with existing staff we have."
Another Midland resident, Yvonne Tietz, asked if the $10.5 million in funding taken out of the Midland Power Utility Reserve (MPUC) had been placed back after the new funding of $14.5 million was acquired.
"The $10.5 million from the community-wide initiatives reserves was tagged as potential for short-term bridge financing we were going to do internally," said chief financial officer Michael Jermey.
"During the process, we did draw $2 million from that. When we ultimately issued the $12 million debenture last year, those funds were paid in full to the internal source."
Jermey added that would not be shown in the budget, since it's an internal movement of funds.
Mayor Stewart Strathearn, however, added that all numbers are part of the town's accounting and auditors make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Tietz then asked about the town's share in the Hwy 93 construction.
"The town's portion is $1.8 million and that would be considered by council," said Andy Campbell, executive director of environment & infrastructure. "We have no formal request at this date."
He was then put on the spot by another resident, Robert Garraway, who called in to ask why the water and sewer rates were going up by 9%.
"The rates are going up by 4% and 5%," said Campbell. "Those costs are around our asset renewal. To replace one of our water towers, it will be $1 million. We have huge costs. The water master plan was approved in December and the wastewater master plan is coming to council soon. It shows what the needs are and what the town's growth are."
Howie Major also had questions for the public works official.
"Why is the town thinking of buying a machine to get rid of asphalt and stump removal, when we have taxpayers in town that can do the job?" asked Major, adding, "How come there's only three people laid off in the town, the hydrants aren't cleaned out around town? And the banks haven't been cut down to make it safer for us to drive."
Campbell said the asphalt and stump removal equipment is part of the town's inventory and needs to be replaced.
As for contracting services out, he said, "If council wishes us to contract out more work to change our cost allocation structure, we can certainly look at that."
Another resident had concerns around the proposed 4.65% municipal tax increase.
"In the budget I see an additional four head count for $468,000 and nine capital projects," said Kirk Binns. "How can we justify such a budget and a tax increase of 4.65% during a pandemic?"
Denault said nothing is set in stone yet.
"What will eventually be approved will be something council will spend some time deliberating next week," he added. "There are certain avenues that other municipalities may have to provide relief to their residents. They may have reserves to use. We don't have much flexibility from that perspective."
The town invites comments from residents to be sent in via email at: email@example.com. All comments and responses will be tabulated and made available on the town's website.
Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com