Renfrew council recommends an 11.22 percent levy increase

Renfrew – It appears Renfrew taxpayers will be hit with a bigger tax hike than first anticipated, following the unveiling of a revised draft budget with an 11.22 per cent levy increase.

When council met last Tuesday (February 20) for a public meeting, the intent was to unveil a revised draft budget, including a reduction of the 9.62 percent levy increase. Instead, the much-anticipated revised budget contained some last-minute additional items resulting in an 11.22 percent levy increase, resulting in an increase higher than the original estimate of $234.79 municipal tax for the average household. The new increase, with 11.22 percent, would fall at $272.35 for a home assessed at $200,000. The levy is the amount charged to taxpayers in the municipality.

Speaking before a crowd inside the packed council chambers, Mayor Tom Sidney explained council members met several times in February in both their assigned committees and working groups with the goal of lowering the projected 9.62 percent levy increase first presented on January 30. He introduced Acting/Treasurer Charlene Jackson to explain the budget process for the residents, some of whom raised concerns during an open forum later in the meeting.

She outlined some of the major factors that resulted in the overall increase to the budget and they included the repayment of the $17 million overage of the Ma-te-Way expansion project and a reduction in the amount transferred to reserves.

“We originally cut $686,000 from the transfer to reserves that you would normally make,” she said. “Just going back to normal contributions to reserves you would be looking at a 6.86 percent increase just to start.”

She said a number of changes to the budget were deemed necessary at the committee level over the past month, such as the reintroduction of $400,000 to be transferred into the town’s road reserves. Normally council would invest a much larger amount to reserves to fund future projects, however the financial impact of the Ma-te-Way overage with a debenture of $1 million per year over the next 30 years limits council’s ability to put more money into reserves.

The Ma-te-Way overage and debt repayment represents just under 10 percent of the overall budget, which leaves 90 percent allocated not only for current expenses, but also current and future debt repayments.

Among the current long-term debt repayments are the water treatment plant ($215,518/year until 2027) and wastewater treatment plant ($571,400/year until 2051). Future debts in addition to Ma-te-Way are the Argyle/Lochiel road construction projects with an estimate of $6.3 million and the O’Brien Road project at $3 million.

The current and future debts are calculated based upon the town’s Annual Repayment Limit (ARL) and it is defined as the maximum amount of principal and interest that a municipality can repay each year. In 2024, Renfrew has $3,230,436 remaining in their ARL.

Many of the original budgetary items in the January 30 draft budget remained in place, but with the addition of a $400,000 transfer to reserves, as well as the purchase of new financial software at $15,000 and roof replacement for the public works garage estimated at $185,000. As a result, the further levy increase was inevitable.

However, when each committee brought forward their revised budgets, there were some notable reductions which lessened the impact of the levy. Although the third-party review of the Ma-te-Way project called for the creation of a Project Specialist ($94,700/per year) this position will not be funded this year.

Prior to January 1, by-law enforcement was contracted to an external agency but in late 2023, council voted in favour of enforcing by-law standards using town staff and resources. Council authorized the hiring of two new positions to perform the duties. However, during its February budget meeting, the Fire, Emergency and Protective Services Committee recommended the elimination of one of the new positions for a saving of $80,000 per year.

During the meeting CAO Robert Tremblay explained there were enough qualified people on staff with either engineering degrees or specialized engineering training to fulfill the requirements identified in the Ma-te-Way external audit for the Project Specialist position. He added the lone by-law officer would assume a 40-hour work week amounting to an increase of $12,244 annually.

Before calling for a recorded vote on recommending $400,000 be transferred to reserves and increasing the levy to 11.22 percent as part of the draft budget for the next regular council meeting, Mayor Sidney spoke about the long-term financial restrictions facing the current and future councils. Although he did not refer to it directly, he was making reference to the $17 million Ma-te-Way debt and its impact on the town’s reserves for current and future projects.

“The part that I have the hard time with (budget cuts) is the fact we are also trying to make Renfrew attractive,” he said. “We are trying to make it attractive so that people will move here and people talk about our taxes already. The roads are terrible and I get it…we have to figure out how we get back to where we need to be so that we can have roads and do the infrastructure we need to do.

“It’s a tough decision but overall we have to do what we think is best for our community. Do we do roads or invest in infrastructure? It’s a hard decision.”

When the clerk called for a recorded vote to include the additional $400,000 transferred to the roads reserve within the revised budget, Councillors Jason Legris, John McDonald, Kyle Cybulski and Andrew Dick voted in favour while Mayor Tom Sidney and Reeve Peter Emon joined Councillor Clint McWhirter to vote against.

The motion passed and the budget with the 11.22 percent levy increase was brought forward at the February 27 council meeting. The vote for adoption of the 2024 Operational Budget was taken after the Leader went to press but full details will be in the March 5 edition of the Leader.

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader