Pembroke – The County of Renfrew 2022 budget workshop may still be three-and-a-half months away, but preliminary guidance show the mayors and reeves of the county are looking for a smaller increase than previously forecasted – with a few exceptions.
“I can’t support reducing this at this time,” Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet said during a ZOOM session of Renfrew County council last Wednesday. “I can’t see this as a viable way for the County of Renfrew.”
The resolution, brought forward by the Finance and Administration Committee, called for a guideline for an annual levy increase of 2.5 percent as staff prepare the preliminary budget. The levy is the amount collected through property taxes from county taxpayers and the county levy only applies to the county portion of the taxes. Several years ago the decision was made to raise the levy by 3 percent annually, so this is a slight reduction.
The resolution also stated the county budget would use the Current Valley Assessment (CVA) growth of 1.48 percent toward capital reserves. As well, the resolution noted other parameters, including provincial funding of at least $500,000 and annual Federal Gas Tax funding of at least $2.6 million would be factored into the budget. As well, the minimum capital reserve balance must remain at a minimum of $2 million.
Lowering the levy from an earlier projection of three percent has been an ongoing discussion for the last several years as the reserves for the county have increased dramatically. Parameters for an annual levy increase of three percent were set in place several years ago to deal with the Asset Management Plan and ensure funding was in place to deal with all needs including replacing aging infrastructure.
Mayor Sweet said he felt decreasing the levy target by .5 percent would make such a small difference to ratepayers it was not necessary. He added the county needed to have funding in place for unexpected issues.
“I’ve been here 21 years,” he said. “I remember when we had some very bad winter days. We took care of $500,000 in a heartbeat.”
The difference in the levy would not be of tremendous benefit for ratepayers, he said.
“I have a hard time seeing why we would look at this,” he said.
As well, since there is no set date for a reassessment of property values by MPAC, he said the county should have the flexibility of having the three percent levy, he said. The levy change is not very significant to most homeowners, he stressed.
“The average house would go up $3.15,” he said. “That is hardly breaking the bank.”
He also questioned if there is funding in place for the proposed traffic circle in his municipality to deal with some of the congestion on Petawawa Boulevard.
“I have no idea where that will come from,” he said.
Other pressures on the county include finishing the stone dusting of the Algonquin Trail, he added.
“This is false economy,” he said of the proposed decrease.
Decreasing the levy from a three percent increase to a 2.5 percent increase would mean $250,000 less into county coffers, he noted.
County Meeting Targets
Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue, who has long proposed decreasing the county levy increase to a figure lower than three percent, said he is in favour of lowering the levy increase.
“I’ve been titling at this windmill for six years, I guess,” he said.
He pointed out there have been additional sources of revenue coming into the county in recent years which have impacted the budget in a positive nature. He said the county received more gas tax in 2019 and more federal money in 2021. These two factored in together were an increase of about $5 million, he said.
The long-term financial plan has different categories which keep the county solid. However, since then the county is receiving more money than the plan forecast. There are more grants coming in each year, he said.
“It continues to confound me given that each of these categories in the long-term plan comprise the cohesive whole, that we are so substantially outperforming on some (categories) that there continues to be this hesitation to provide relief to the ratepayer of the County of Renfrew,” he said.
While he would have hoped for a smaller levy, he said this did not appear to be supported.
“I know what kind of struggle it has been to get this at all,” he said.
The first levy target for the long-term plan was 2.28 and he said that would have worked. However, the levy target was set at three percent several years ago and Mayor Donohue has fought to have it lowered.
“I’ve had a struggle since 2016 to try to break the enthrallment to the three percent notwithstanding that our capital reserve has grown exponentially,” he said, pointing out the county budgets for the annual surpluses.
There were budget pressures in the last two years and also a diminished levy but there were still surpluses, he said.
“If I thought there was an appetite I would knock another half point or quarter off (of the levy),” he added.
In a recorded vote requested by Mayor Sweet, all members of council except for Mayor Sweet and Deep River Reeve Glen Doncaster voted for the 2.5 percent levy target for 2022.
The budget workshop is scheduled for mid-January 2022. The guidelines are in place for staff to prepare the budgets for council to approve.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader