Tay council wrangled with budget-item options in an attempt to bring down the proposed tax levy as much as possible, eventually settling on a 2% increase.
The number is expected to go down to at least 1.4% or 1.2% once the blended tax rate from the county is shared with the municipality, said treasurer Joanne Sanders, who presented a detailed budget to council at its recent special meeting.
She told councillors about items that had been taken off the list to help bring the tax rate down to 2%, including major expenses like repairs to bridges.
"Granny White bridge, Rumney Road culvert and the Rosemount Road north bridge have all been removed from the capital budget," she said. "We did some more research there and no safety issues came up. The most recent bridge report still had those repairs in the one- to five-year category."
These projects will be re-assessed during the 2020 bridge report, added Sanders.
And with growth, comes surplus
And it is this surplus, said Sanders, which is helping keep the tax rate down.
"We are projecting a healthy surplus for the close of 2020," she said. "The greatest contributors are salaries and the supplementary assessments, which created additional income. There is a surplus of $349,500 left in the 2020 projected surplus. We do have funds to work with."
Most of that money, Sanders said, has come from growth in the area.
"Rather than $93,000 being covered by growth, we're looking at $128,000," she said. "That reduces our reliance on the reserve from $66,500 to $31,500."
And with the additional bylaw summer student and administrative summer student positions also taken out of the budget, the reliance on surplus fell further to $19,600.
Deputy Mayor Gerard LaChapelle warned about relying too much on growth.
"Moving forward, we need to remember the future may not be so kind to us," he said. "We're running out of inventory. Do we require that growth to balance our budget? What impact does that have year-in and year-out?"
Sanders said money from supplementary assessments as a result of growth in the area doesn't show up immediately on a budget, but trickles in over a few years. But with great growth comes higher liability, and that means higher insurance costs, she said.
According to the budget Sanders shared, insurance costs are estimated to increase by 20% or $84,000 for next year, adding she doesn't see a light at the end of that tunnel.
"They're not saying the landscape is going to change," said Sanders. "Last year, we looked at increasing our deductible to decrease our rate, but I don't see a huge light at the end of the tunnel."
Coun. Jeff Bumstead wasn't sure if that move would end up saving the township any money in the long run.
"If we're pushing these replacements to the end of that one- to five-year suggested range, are we looking at further cost or replacement?" he asked.
Rick Bingham, interim operational service general manager, agreed with the councillor's assumption.
"You need to do some rehabilitation before it gets to the point you have to do a reconstruction," said Bingham. "I think there are quite a few of them that will need to be reconstructed because they haven't had any rehabilitation done over the years.
"I understand the former director had engaged the consultants to do a feasibility review and they will be providing a report over the next couple weeks on how money is best spent on bridges so we can stay ahead of the game," he added.
Seeing the trend of removing projects from the capital budget, Coun. Barry Norris came up with another 'money-saving' suggestion.
"The dry hydrants for the rural areas; I don't support it," he said talking about the emergency preparedness list. "The fact that we have tankers and mutual aid, I still can't support that at this point in time. Council may want to weight in to defer that expenditure."
Fire Chief Brian Thomas made the case for fire safety.
"The dry hydrants are a water source for the fire department to use while they're fighting fires out in the rural areas," he said. "We have $10,000 down for the next three years to find locations and get agreements with property owners so that we can enter their property to access the water sources. We do have mutual-aid agreements, but we still need the water source for all those tankers. The closer the water source is the more readily available; then the firefighters will have the amounts of water they will need."
Then Norris focused on the planned sidewalk for Seventh Avenue and wondered about $127,000 expenditure.
"I find it tough to increase that. The next thing we're going to have to do is clear it through the winter," said Norris, who instead suggested staff should consider putting in a base and a screen top over the pathway.
"If it's substantially used, I have no problems putting a top coat on," he said. "To allow $30,000 to do that, let's see how it pans out. We can deviate that to another part of the capital."
That suggestion did not sit well with Coun. Sandy Talbot, who said she wasn't sure why Norris had a problem with a project she considered a 'no brainer.'
"This has been on the books for two years," she said, noting the safety of children who catch a bus there is a paramount concern. "I'm not sure if you're aware there's an incline on that road on Seventh Avenue, which is like a speedway and people are going down the road at unbelievable speeds. We need this. People walk this road on a daily basis. We need to ensure the safety of our residents."
And she had support from councillors Paul Raymond and Mary Warnock.
"I agree with Coun. Talbot," said the latter. "They've waited long enough. Sidewalks are important in our community to make them walkable. As we're going to see in official plans that come out, making our communities age-friendly, sidewalks are going to be a priority. I don't think there's any reason to delay this any further."
With that, Norris' bid to remove those two items from the list was defeated.
Expenses and overtime
Talbot had her own concerns over some of the items contained within the budget.
"Under expenditures, there's a cost for a rental car for $7,000. What did we need that car for?" she said.
Sanders said that was thanks to COVID-19 restrictions.
"It was for bylaw due to physical distancing requirements," she added. "It's on the COVID-related expenses list."
Talbot then said she was concerned about the amount of overtime recorded.
"It's $55,000," she said. "Can you give me an explanation of that? It's a lot of money. It's almost another position."
Sanders said that wasn't just in one department, but spread across various township sections.
"In a lot of cases, overtime was worked due to COVID-19, additional research and setting stuff up," she said. "There was also additional time that we felt was worked because we didn't necessarily fill positions as quickly as we would have because filling positions wasn't feasible during the height of COVID-19. So you have staff doing double-duty and that's why you see a fair bit of overtime."
Talbot said she would like to see overtime kept in check moving forward.
"Our aim should be reducing the overtime hours," she said. "I understand (the need) with our snowplow drivers or a public works emergency. But we need to be adherent to the lowest overtime we can allow. We're responsible for the monies of this township. In turn, we need to adhere to some kind of reduction in the overtime as possible."
Grants and funding requests
This section will be discussed in further detail at an upcoming December meeting, still council directed staff around two moves.
"We can take the YMCA out," said Mayor Ted Walker. "They're not going to take us up on the loan offer."
He took a bit of a hard line around the funding request made by the Severn Sound Environmental Association.
"They had a huge increase last year and this year, the increase looks rather substantial as well," he said, talking about their request of $76,070 from 2019, that increased to $108,462 for this year and has gone up further to $122,042 for next year. "I'm wondering if we've heard anything back from them about this huge increase.
"I think we should wait for their response and if we don't get any, we should budget what we did last year," added Walker.
Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com