Renfrew – Taxpayers should know soon how much their property taxes will increase. Renfrew Town council met April 7 to review the final draft budget numbers and, even though there was a proposed addition at the end of the budget that surprised them, the municipal increase should not be more than 2.75 per cent, or $28.13 per $100,000 assessment.
Treasurer Keray O’Reilly reviewed the budget during an in-person Committee of the Whole meeting held in the Ma-te-way Arena with most of council present along with the senior management team. Councillor Arlene Jamieson was not in attendance.
This was the final draft budget review, as several meetings had already been held by the finance committee as well as council for other portions of the budget.
When questioned an hour into the meeting why this meeting had to be held since the finance committee had already reviewed it, Mr. O’Reilly said it was an opportunity for non-members of the finance committee to ask questions.
He noted six months ago, the treasury department was told no more than a 2.25 per cent increase, and a few days ago the Finance Committee provided direction to keep the increase to just under 3 per cent.
“We need council’s direction with respect to the final number,” he said.
Expenditures Versus Revenue
The 2021 draft budget presented included capital expenditures of $30,033,400 and operating expenditures totalling $14,734,580.
The capital equipment expenditures -- $514,400 and the capital rolling stock -- $807,500 -- had been approved by council in November.
The capital facilities - $21,633,100; capital roads/infrastructure - $7,078,400; wages and benefits - $5,892,360 and other operating expenses of $8,842,220, were on review this night.
Mr. O’Reilly noted there was a total of $226,100 new or incremental expenditures for 2021, which were not part of the 2020 budget. These included $25,000 for the town hall, downtown horticulture to maintain the new flower beds, reduction in the Renfrew Hydro promissory note interest, human resources, reduction in tipping fees, provision for fees for geo-technical surveys in advance of capital works and accessibility training and contracted services.
The horticulture expenditure was committed four years ago when the downtown reconstruction project was being discussed, he said. This includes $20,000 for plants, flowers and replacing trees, most at $1,000, that are destroyed on purpose or by accident and another $15,000 to pay someone to take care of the downtown flowers.
The human resources expenditure has not been fully agreed to, as it’s a new position that could be created in three different ways, as proposed by the senior management team. This will be discussed at final budget talks, tentatively scheduled for the second council meeting this month.
There is also a $45,000 reduction in tipping fees, which has been occurring the past three years, Mr. O’Reilly said. Michel Asselin, Director of Public Works, said this is an optimistic reduction, and it could be more.
The geo-technical surveys is already being paid, but was never budgeted for, Mr. Asselin said.
“We are formally putting this in the budget … it helps us to be more accurate with projects,” he explained.
Clerk Kim Bulmer said the accessibility training is due to legislative changes that came into effect January 1. The town’s website is now fully accessible, he said. While Renfrew is in the forefront of most municipalities in regards to accessibility, he said there is an opportunity to share some of the expenses, and that is still being reviewed.
Financing of the capital expenditures portion of the budget includes federal and provincial grants, County of Renfrew, taxation, reserves, donations, fundraising and borrowing.
Importance of the Caboose At Haramis Park
The $30,000 expenditure over two years for the caboose at Haramis Park was one of the major discussions.
Councillor Mike Coulas advised he was not in favour of the expenditure and felt the caboose should be sold.
He felt he was being “ambushed” as this item had not come up for discussion prior to this meeting.
Mr. O’Reilly explained this was a project that has been under discussion for a few years and it was decided by the Finance Committee to put it into this part of the budget. He said regardless of how council feels about the item, the $30,000 has been budgeted, but the work will not proceed until council has an opportunity to review a staff report on the actual costs and determine the future of the caboose at that time.
Reeve Peter Emon questioned the benefit of the caboose, noting it cannot be opened to the public.
“What do we do, paint it and lock it up or remove it and put something else there?” he questioned. “We can recognize the heritage, but I don’t know that the value exceeds the liability.”
Councillor Sandi Heins said she asked this item be included because it is an important piece of Renfrew’s history. Past councils have not looked after it and this is what happens, she said.
“It’s a part of our heritage,” she said. “I’d like to see estimates come forward. It’s not a huge building. When this comes back to council, that’s when council has the opportunity to comment.”
Mr. Asselin explained if it’s included as a line item, staff will be taking the time to prepare a report.
“If you don’t want it, say so now,” he said.
Kevin Hill, Director of Recreation, said it was costed in 2016 at $9,200 to do sandblasting, and with costs escalating, he decided $15,000 in 2021 for sandblasting and painting and a further $15,000 in 2022 to rehabilitate the interior of the caboose.
Coun. Coulas said when Haramis Park is revamped, the items at the park will be moved around and the caboose isn’t worth moving around.
“There’s a market for that caboose,” he said.
While there was some discussion regarding the second ice pad, he noted it is revenue generated, while the caboose is not.
“Now you just drive by it and not pay attention to it,” Coun. Coulas said. “Why spend taxpayers’ dollars on that?”
Coun. Heins advised council that Smiths Falls has a similar caboose, but has looked after it over the years. She suggested Mr. Hill contact the town and see about getting contacts for the jobs that need to be done at the caboose.
Councillor Tom Sydney said while he recognizes the historical significance of the caboose, “$15,000 is more significant. I cannot figure out how to justify spending dollars to paint a caboose when people are losing their jobs and homes. If everyone cannot access it, we shouldn’t spend the money.
“There are no railway tracks in town, so why should we have a caboose? We have beautiful trails now,” he said.
It was agreed to leave the caboose in the budget and review it when Mr. Hill returns with a report, including all expenditures, whether it’s to repair it or remove it.
Public Works Garage
A $6 million public works garage was a hard swallow for Coun. Sydney.
“I was never in favour of that,” he said. “Can’t we build it for $4 million? Why do 8,000 people need a $6 million garage? The new fire hall in Pembroke was no where near $6 million.”
He also questioned what is happening with the old garage and if it could be repaired and renovated.
Mr. O’Reilly said there has been no provision for the disposal of the current garage.
Mr. Asselin said a feasibility report had been completed on the current garage.
“There is no value in repairing the current garage,” he said.
It was built in the 1950s and has served its purpose, he said.
“We are now putting machines in various buildings we own throughout the town,” Mr. Asselin said.
He said it may be possible to construct a $4 million garage, but he’s looking to construct a garage that will satisfy the needs of the town now and in 50 years.
“It’s irresponsible of you to say $4 million is all you get when professionals have said the cost is $6 million,” Mr. Asselin said.
He assured council that over the next few months, more information will come forward about the facility, and that’s when council can refine the options for the garage.
“I have no interest in building a bigger garage than what we need,” he said.
Reeve Emon said in 2016, it was determined the garage, built in 1954, had been stretched beyond its capacity and was beyond repairing.
Roads/Infrastructure Capital Expenditures
A total of $6.6 million is slated for roads construction/reconstruction in 2021, with a further $431,000 allocated for shave and pave road projects.
Projects approved and in progress include: minor works and final releases for Highway 60 downtown and Arnprior/Ross streets; the reconstruction of Stewart Street; Raglan St. S./ Burnstown Road, which will occur from June to October, and Reeve Smith Road, which will service the industrial park.
The proposed new construction projects for 2021 include Ma-te-way Park/Opeongo connector road; O’Brien Road between Gillan to Mask (but only if there is a commitment from the province) and one large project of Joffre Avenue, Haig Avenue and Dufferin Street.
Shave and pave roads included the final releases for McAndrew from Aberdeen to the dead end and Airth Boulevard, from Raglan to Coleraine streets.
Other infrastructure capital projects include creation of lots at the visitor information centre; a master transportation plan; stage 5 expansion of the landfill site and the Millennium Trail.
Wages and Benefits
There are 13 divisions in wages and benefits costs, including council, clerk, treasury, fire, police services board, crossing guards, landfill, parks, recreation and facilities and library. The total is $5,892,360, a 3.2 per cent increase over 2020 which was $5,711,210. Mr. O’Reilly explained the increase is comprised of a 2.6 per cent increase in wages, including cost of living adjustments and the impact of new positions, and a 5.1 per cent increase in the cost of employee benefits.
The biggest impact is the increase in the premium for long-term disability benefits for firefighters, along with $17,000 for the new horticultural expenditure for parks, Mr. O’Reilly said, adding, also in the parks, recreation and facilities that four part-time staff will be replaced by two full-time positions with benefits.
The non-wage expenditures total $8,842,220. These figures include almost 50 categories, including council, accessibility, treasurer, fire, OPP contract policing, by-law enforcement, municipal activity, sidewalks, street lighting, collections, library, arena operations, economic development, tourism and marketing and community events.
Mr. O’Reilly then brought forward discussion on the municipal structure review report staffing recommendations which were to transition to the full Chief Administrative Officer model, add a human resource position and add a council/committee meeting secretary/recorder position.
The senior management team felt there should be additional budgeting for incremental costs associated with these positions, he said.
“We felt this was a responsible time to raise it,” he said.
There is currently $30,000 proposed in the budget, Mr. O’Reilly said. A half percentage increase generates $45,000, which would increase the proposed levy from 2.25 to 2.75.
“It would cost every taxpayer an extra $5 for every $100,000 assessment,” he said.
Mayor Don Eady suggested this could be discussed when the final draft is discussed in May.
“I’d like to think more about this,” he said. “I like the 2.25 per cent increase.”
He suggested reserve funds could be used if needed.
Operating revenues of $14,734,580 include Ontario Municipal Partnership funding (OMPF), investment income, interest charges, tipping fees, user fees, program registration fees, facility and ice rental fees, and taxation.
It’s expected the budget will be brought back to council for approval at the second meeting in April, and the 2021 tax rates will be considered by council at its first meeting in May, since the county will not be passing the necessary taxation by-laws and approving its tax rates until the end of April.
Mr. O’Reilly noted there is no increase in the school board residential tax rate for 2021.
Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader