Saying he had a “fiduciary responsibility” to taxpayers, Coun. Bob Carter threw a curveball at a Minden Hills budget meeting Jan. 28 – suggesting council not hire additional staff in 2021 and cut roads borrowing in half.
The budget includes the hiring of a deputy chief building official, inspection and bylaw officer, a deputy treasurer, an economic development, destination and marketing officer and a number of positions for the new recreation complex, including a lead hand and casual and student help at a combined cost of $369,200.
In addition, the third-round draft budget contains borrowing of just over $5.8 million for roadworks with accompanying annual payments. Carter said he would like that number to be reduced by 50 per cent.
When third round budget talks began, taxpayers were facing a 2.94 per cent levy increase. The township was able to achieve that figure after borrowing $600,000 from reserves and delaying a number of hires.
However, Carter said he was worried about the 2021 budget’s impact on 2022 and 2023.
He said if they proceeded with the hires – even post-dated to Sept. 1, 2021, they would have to be annualized in 2022 and going forward, at an annual cost of $458,000. He wondered if other underutilized staff during COVID-19 could not be redeployed to the recreation complex.
CAO Trisha McKibbin said she would have to provide a follow-up report since that would have service implications for other departments. Deputy mayor Lisa Schell said there could be union issues.
Carter added he is worried about annual loan repayments for roads, too.
“So, if we just approve this 2.94 per cent, in 2022 we will have an additional $1.16 million dollars into our budget.” In 2023, he said it would be an additional $1.76 million.
“Those are pretty astronomical numbers … so I guess for consideration from my perspective is that we really have to review the personnel changes that we were going to make in 2021,” Carter said. He added that even with cutting the roads loan, they would have an additional $400,000 to cover in 2022.
“These are going to be really tough choices and I don’t want to be kicking infrastructure down the road to make it somebody else’s problem but we have to face the fact that the decisions we’re making today can really affect what will happen to us next year,” the first-time councillor said.
Carter added he is hopeful of future government infrastructure money “but being able to catch up on our own is probably going to be a very, very difficult situation and tall order.”
Coun. Pam Sayne, agreed with Carter, saying “I’m very concerned that we’re using that debenture as if it’s almost like a credit card you’ll never catch up with, with roads, so I’d like us to revisit our thinking about that debenture.”
Coun. Jean Neville and Schell, however, said the township should not be removing any of the suggested road works from the proposed budget.
Neville said, “We should be taking the opportunity of this low interest rate this year for debenture. The roads are just going to increase in cost to repair and get worse … as well as the interest rate is going to increase. We’re going to get further and further behind with our infrastructure and I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do. I think we should bite the bullet. Do the debenture as it stands and get those roads done.”
Budget talks are continuing.