Minden Hills has gotten an early jump on its 2022 budget, holding its first meeting Oct. 14 versus an historical December first round of deliberations.
As usual, the initial needs and wants of various departments is inflated – at a 14.47 per cent levy increase (or $1,333,065) – with a plan to whittle that number down over the coming months.
“It’s good to get the budget process going early,” Mayor Brent Devolin said.
CAO Trisha McKibbin said the game plan is to pass the budget in January to allow the township “to hit the ground running” with tender and procurement documents so work can start in the first financial quarter of 2022.
She acknowledged budget changes, including the continuing impact of COVID-19 on municipal services, such as several staff vacancies and service demands.
“The management team is aware of the challenges and pressures facing the municipality and the need to be fiscally responsible in our budget deliberations,” McKibbin said.
Referring to departmental needs and wants, she added, “We’re looking forward to working with council to prioritize these needs and to deliver a responsible budget. Staff is certainly aware this [14.47 per cent] is not an acceptable number.”
Last year, the township ended up with a 3.75 per cent tax levy increase.
McKibbin said the most significant increase is wages and benefits, showing a combined cost increase of $478,085. She attributed that to a 1.7 per cent Cost of Living Adjustment, progression of staff on the salary grid, the full cost of staff to operationalize the new community centre and additional staff in the building, bylaw and planning department.
Roads are traditionally a big-ticket item and that is no different this year. Acting director of public works, Tara Stephen, is seeking nearly $3.5 million to reconstruct sections of Scotch Line and Bobcaygeon roads and about $1.2 million for the Sedgewick Road bridge.
There was also preliminary discussion of converting hard top to gravel on parts of Henderson, Bobcaygeon, Swinson, and Queen’s Line roads.
Coun. Bob Carter expressed some concern about potentially borrowing for roadworks when the township has reserves. It’s like “going out and borrowing money and paying interest even though there’s a bunch of money in your savings accounts,” he said.
He also said he was “so disappointed” the municipality has still not produced a roads plan. “We’re looking at borrowing $5 million or something like that this year. We really should know what’s coming next. in 2023, do we have to borrow another $10 million? We need to have some kind of idea what’s going on here.”
The community services department is looking at an initial 14.7 per cent increase. Director Craig Belfry said that has to do with continuing to get the new recreation complex up and running, including paying off the loan and staff. He noted his budget now includes the cultural centre. They hope to fix up the boardwalk and village green as well.
The first draft of the building and bylaw department has a $242,565 jump, including more staff. The fire chief is looking for an additional $156,000, including new self-contained breathing apparatus and related equipment and fit training. Leasing or an internal loan were suggested by councillors.
Stephen, who also manages waste services, proposed a $183,000 increase for landfills.
She added one issue is the need for new trigger mechanisms to better alert the township of when contaminants move offsite. She said people are also dumping waste out of hours at Little Gull and they need to beef up security.
Deputy mayor Lisa Schell asked if it wasn’t a good time to consider weigh scales at Scotch Line. Stephen said ideally within the year they hope to have a scale up and running.
Coun. Pam Sayne repeated a theme she has discussed numerous times at council. She said they have to push the provincial government to increase the HST by one per cent and direct that money to Ontario’s 444 municipalities to help them with infrastructure costs. She said they can’t keep going to ratepayers.
“We need to take a stand on that.” McKibbin added it is her intention that the township work on a strategic plan for the 2023 budget.
The next meeting is Oct. 28.