It’s hard to work on a puzzle that’s missing key pieces.
Tiny council spent a day with staff recently to discuss the first 2022 draft budget for the township, with many asterisks being attributed to items needing further information for the next round.
Heading into the budget talks, council first received a thorough overview of the executive summary and highlights of each department's allocation within the operating budget and capital budget from finance director Haley Leblond.
“(The public budget engagement survey) attracted 275 respondents who provided feedback to council and staff to consider while building the plans for 2022,” said Leblond, who added that since many costs hadn’t been completed as of mid-October, assumptions were included and noted in the calculations for the first draft.
During the "significant assumptions" portion of the presentation, Leblond introduced a new element to the budget: Unspent surplus funds estimated at roughly $330,000.
The blended tax rate of municipal, county, and provincial tax rates was also estimated at 2.5% for draft discussion purposes.
Mayor George Cornell, who is also the warden for Simcoe County, informed council and staff that a county-level 2% increase for taxpayers was agreed upon earlier in the week and awaiting approval earlier.
Discussion moved further along with CAO Robert Lamb clarifying for council the importance of understanding the numbers from the start.
“If other areas of Simcoe County have increased their assessed value of a rate much higher than ours,” Lamb explained, “people’s taxes actually could be potentially going down on the county portion and the (provincial) school board portion. That’s why the blended rate is very important to understand.
“We only get to set our portion of the tax rate up, absolutely, but it is quite feasible with the amount of growth in south Simcoe that a 2% county increase may actually have a decrease on our tax rate of our part for the county rate funding model,” Lamb added.
One noteworthy pressure upon Tiny included the expectation of corporate insurance premiums estimated as low as 10% but budgeted for a high of 20%, which Lamb said was driven higher due to natural disasters and the times that many municipalities spend fighting frivolous claims in court, adding that neighbouring municipalities could face increases as high as 40%.
Once the summary and overview were complete, council set to work deciding on operations.
The largest approval in the first draft was to COLA (cost of living allowance) for Tiny council and staff, at a proposed increase of 1.5% for a total of $97,236 for the whole corporation.
Council chose to forego its own pay raise last year, with Coun. Gibb Wishart explaining he wasn’t “willing to do that this year” as a result of time spent in virtual committee meetings and through increased email communications due to the pandemic.
A new full-time bylaw enforcement position was draft approved for $45,709, argued successfully by chief municipal law enforcement officer Steve Harvey as a cost-saving measure overall.
Wishart remarked that with short-term rental bylaws, licensing and enforcement looming in Tiny’s future, “the sky’s the limit; I think he’d be cheap at twice the price.”
Several costly items were deferred to the second draft after further information could be obtained. These included a new roads supervisor position at approximately $120,000 as well as an apprentice mechanic for roughly $75,000.
The Jackson Park boat launch user fees estimated at roughly $42,000 were deferred after council discussed a pay-per-play use for the ramp, and the possible discrepancy where a residential vehicle permit could be used at the public facility.
With only the operations budget looked at after a full day of examination, and requiring many further pieces of information, Tiny council adjourned budget talks, scheduled to follow the December 15 regular meeting of council.
Information on the first draft of the 2022 budget can be found on the agenda page of the Tiny Township website.
Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca