It was a difficult night of hard choices and creative solutions.
Penetanguishene council held a special committee of the whole following a public budget consultation meeting, and while the second 2022 draft budget wasn’t the only focus of the session, its presence overshadowed the entire night.
Earlier this year, staff were instructed to bring forward 2022 budget estimates with aim for a maximum tax impact of 1.5% in alignment with the calculated municipal price index (MPI).
The loss of the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) cost of policing recovery amounted to a 3.1% tax impact, or roughly $346,000 increase. Combined with a negative 1% or $109,000 town operating decrease calculation, the result was an overall total of 2.1% tax impact at the first 2022 draft budget.
Staff looked at ways to bring that 2.1% down further toward the 1.5% goal in the second draft, presenting to council a net budget change of $3,097 or 0.1% to result in a 2.0% tax impact; these changes were calculated by a $3,352 total OPP tax levy decrease, as well as a total $255 tax levy increase from the Huronia Airport Commission (HAC).
For the OPP billing estimate, a reduction of roughly $44,000 was verified earlier this month, which was offset by increases to: Police Service Board (PSB) expenses for $1,750; the end of a 2022 community safety grant next March totalling approximately $13,400; and the 2020 OPP year-end adjustment of over $25,500. Overall, only a $3,352 net change to the 2022 policing taxation budget was totalled.
The HAC saw a $255 increase net change to the council/community taxation budget, while the 2022 capital budget had funding sources shifted around to offset an increase from $10,000 last year to $11,800 for 2022, effectively rendering its change as even.
Carrie Robillard, director of finance/treasurer, provided nearly all of the information for the budget discussion throughout the hours.
With explanations and the prior public consultation meeting out of the way, council got out the red pens.
Coun. Brian Cummings asked for a financial statement from the Cultural Alliance and the Southern Georgian Bay Physician Recruitment prior to including operating budget requests of $10,000 each, to be provided for the next budget meeting in November.
He also reiterated his personal belief that he wouldn’t vote in favour of any requests for donations from organizations serving under a higher branch of government as it seemed like “double dipping into the taxpayer’s money”.
Council turned down a $1,000 2022 funding request from the Sistema Huronia Music Academy through the Council Contingency (Good Idea Fund) budget, citing it was a one-off allowance last year.
A delegation from Shelter Now earlier in the meeting requested $100,000 from council, prompting questions of paying it in installments across years if approved.
Coun. Dan LaRose cautioned the inclusion of community budget requests by staff instead of from individuals and organizations themselves, as their legacies can become overextended.
“I understand that we can use reserves this year, and some juggling of money to get through,” said LaRose. “But we have to be careful with a staff request; that’s money that goes on forever. The OPP billing of (roughly $340,000) goes on forever.
“So to go through the budget and say ‘it’s alright this year, we can live somewhere between 1.5% and 2.0% and deplete our reserves’, that’s a very dangerous path to go down,” LaRose warned, requesting staff find a means to source funding in a sustainable manner.
Coun. George Vadeboncoeur reasoned a tax increase for the residents of Penetanguishene.
“With the province not moving on this policing increase, if there was an opportunity of passing some of that on to our residents -- as much as I don’t like to do that -- this is the time.
“I think for me in talking to the residents, I could say ‘look, we were faced with a $342,000 policing increase and we can’t absorb it all -- we can’t be expected to absorb it all -- and we need to pass some of that along,” Vadeboncoeur shared.
LaRose reminded council that Penetanguishene is “one of the highest taxed communities in the county.”
Council decided to include the Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA) budget request for roughly $114,000 into the next draft, while keeping the Economic Development Corporation of North Simcoe (EDCNS) request at its 2021 amount of just under $82,000.
Increased road preventative maintenance program was included into the budget draft, as were increased contract staffing costs and approval of a junior planner position.
Council directed staff to return to a special committee of the whole budget meeting on November 24 with the third 2022 draft where it is expected to be further discussed prior to adoption.
A link to the budget draft #2 report as well as the public consultation presentation can be found on the Town of Penetanguishene budget webpage.
Archives of the public budget consultation meeting as well as the special committee of the whole meeting are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca