By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Deliberations on the 2021 draft budget for the Town of St. Marys continued at last Tuesday’s Town Council meeting with Town Treasurer Andre Morin leading the discussion and charting how a proposed net tax levy increase of 0.85% was derived.
There were three key pillars to Morin’s draft budget presentation; external transfers, additional provincial/federal funding, and assessment growth. Before getting into those three subjects, Morin gave a summary of the changes made by the Council at the most recent budget deliberation meetings. Those changes included: adding $3,000 to the fire hall capital budget which comes out of capital reserves; adding $10,000 to the fire transfer reserve to allow for a future fire vehicle purchase; deferment of a fire pumper truck purchase; and $57,000 added to the police capital budget from police reserves.
Morin began with the external transfers portion of the discussion. This compared 2020 transfers for municipal shared service partners, UTRCA contributions, and community grants to the 2021 projections. While it was noted that a decrease of $16,977 could be applied to the shared services budget, Town staff recommended to retain the amount in the budget to help mitigate cost increases coming in 2021 and 2022. Based on Provincial funding changes, Huron Perth Public Health is projecting a 52 percent cost increase, while Spruce Lodge is projecting a 7.5 percent increase and Emergency Medical Services is estimating a five percent increase.
A similar recommendation was made with regards to the UTRCA’s budget. The Town had budgeted $140,000 for the UTRCA, but their request came in at $126,593. It was recommended that the remaining funds previously earmarked for the UTRCA remain in the 2021 External Transfers budget to help address expected cost increases. With regards to the Community Grants budget, Town staff included an extra $15,000 as a proactive measure, as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic could hit hardest in 2021. For instance, the Town could run a second Community Grant program, similar to what they did with the Business Grant program, or they could simply accept requests for funding by local groups or organizations at any time.
Also touched on was COVID-19 relief funding coming from the Provincial and Federal governments and assessment growth. The Town applied in late 2020 for the COVID Investing in Community Infrastructure Plan (ICIP), as it qualified for up to $126,697. Decisions are set to come in the Spring and the Town would use the funds to upgrade the HVAC systems at the Pyramid Recreation Center.
Additionally, on December 16, 2020, the Town was awarded an additional $79,000 to assist with 2021 COVID-related operating pressures. The draft budget also included $66,570 in projected net growth in the building sector.
Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Marys Independent