Tiny Township residents can expect a 1% blended tax rate increase for this year.
The decision was forwarded to the next meeting after hours of deliberation at Monday's budget meeting. Where a majority easily agreed on the option, one council member expressed some concerns. A blended tax rate is achieved after incorporating the county and education tax rates.
"I’m not comfortable with 1%," said Coun. Tony Mintoff, adding he also wasn't comfortable sacrificing important projects to find the $400,000 to keep the township's tax rate increase at zero per cent. "Based on that, I will reluctantly agree to a 1% blended rate increase."
Council approved $70,000 in salary for a full-time human resource person. Staff pointed out that there may yet be savings in this line item once recommendations from the North Simcoe services operations review comes forward in March. Further, even if the township hires an independent HR staff member, the $70,000 annual salary will not be realized in full for this year.
Then council found $30,000 in savings by directing staff to take out the extra ask for arena use from the Town of Penetanguishene.
"It’s my understanding the recreation master plan had created the recommendation that fulsome discussion be held with all three municipalities that provide arena facilities to us," said Mintoff. "Given the fact that hasn’t happened yet, my recommendation would be to remove the $30,000 that was asked by Penetang, subject to the discussions to take place in 2021."
Agreeing with staff, council decided to delay the purchase of a vehicle for the parks department, instead moving the $70,000 to reserve funds.
At the end of the day, staff was sent back to find efficiencies in departments or seek out projects that could be delayed to make up for the $8,500 in funding gap that still remains if the tax rate is to be set at 1%.
Other budget approvals include a 6% increase in funds to be moved to the municipal infrastructure reserves. As well, council approved a 1% cost of living increase for staff wages, despite Mintoff's suggestion to the contrary so the township could show solidarity with residents who had suffered through the pandemic.
"This has been a very difficult year financially for a lot of our residents," he said. "The majority that live in the private sector world and those who live on retirement income. I’m pleased we were able to maintain full employment for our staff, so I think it would be inappropriate and insensitive of us to consider any kind of increase in wages. My recommendation would be to remove this salary increase from the budget."
Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma disagreed with his peer.
"I can 100% justify the cost," he said. "When you look at municipal employees as a whole, there’s very little you can do in terms of incentives. There are no bonuses and there’s no additional time off you can get. I know there’s been a CPP increase this year. If we’re going to take a look at our retirees being affected, we have to back it up with quantitative evidence as well.
"If a statement needs to be made in terms of leadership, then I’d be in favour of council taking no increase," added Walma. "The savings can be donated to a local charity. Or the council could take the 1% increase and donate it back to the municipality into the bursary program."
Other council members agreed with his suggestion.
And so did Mintoff.
"I have no issue with council taking zero per cent increase," he said. "Speaking about council’s initiative to raise our rate of pay for staff from 50th percentile to the 55th percentile, how much did that bumping up of salaries cost?
"I believe it was several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t want my comments to be misconstrued that we don’t value our staff, but I believe we pay them above a comparative group. I don’t want staff watching to think they don’t deserve fair recognition and compensation for what they do."
Staff will now bring back a third and possibly final draft of the 2021 budget at a meeting next month.
Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com