Minden Hills council held third draft budget talks March 24, decreasing the tax levy increase to about four per cent to date, down from 14.4 per cent in December’s second draft.
CAO and clerk, Trisha McKibbin, said “pressure points” included new staff positions, and increases in salaries and hours. The township is looking to add one staff member in administration and one in finance and two in the building, bylaw and planning department.
McKibbin said they had some special projects, some requiring consultants, such as a pay equity review, short-term rental review in conjunction with the County, recruitment, planning consultants and landfill consultants.
There are some capital costs: for information technology, the fire department, and property maintenance across the township. Council endorsed spending up to $300,000 to equip a canteen at the new arena, which the Haliburton County Huskies will operate and collect 100 per cent of the revenue.
There was also talk of borrowing money and utilizing reserves.
“This is a transitional budget for us,” McKibbin said. “This is to move us forward in 2022, recognizing that we have a lot of work to do in 2022, but we’re looking at using those reserve accounts and debentures for financing.”
She added cost pressures included making the new arena and community centre fully operational this year. There have been additional hires, the arena loan has to be paid off at $629,500 a year and there are added equipment and utility-related costs.
McKibbin advised council they need to focus on four key areas. One is the service delivery review at the County, with Minden Hills asking itself, “what are the services we’re offering? Are they the right services? Are we offering them in the right way? And are we meeting the needs of the public?” Another is recognizing that asset management planning is tied to budgeting. There needs to be talk about plans for reserves and a user fee analysis to see if the township is charging appropriate amounts with a view to cost recovery and meeting the township’s expenses.
Director of community services Craig Belfry said they are now at about 13 per cent cost recovery with the new arena and community centre while the industry standard is 40 to 60 per cent. However, it was noted the township is only now starting COVID recovery and beginning to sell rec centre memberships, for example.
At the start of the meeting, Coun. Bob Carter said the four per cent was an “artificial and arbitrary” number based on decisions that had not been made.
He added, “We don’t mention using borrowing to get to that number. Some things you have deemed capital and projects that should be debentured and there’s a debate on whether or not they should be debentured or handled out of our operating budgets,” he said.
“I’m not hung up on what the percentage should be. I think it should be as low as we can possibly get it but I don’t want to make it low this year, and we have to pay for it next year.”
Coun. Jennifer Hughey added, “good job on getting it down to four per cent. I think we’re all very impressed by that number… we just want to see how you got there … as well as what does that mean for next year, and potentially into 2025. That would make me feel more comfortable about our discussions today and decisions made.”
Council also endorsed looking into the FoodCycler counter top composter program that is now being used in Algonquin Highlands and Dysart et al. Staff will return with a fourth draft.