Ratepayers in Algonquin Highlands are looking at a 3.7 per cent hike to the municipal portion of their tax bill in 2023 – an increase of $12.63 per $100,000 of MPAC assessment.

Council ran through its budget deliberations Feb. 15 and 16, with discussions on the Dorset Recreation Centre, Stanhope Municipal Airport, the township’s docks and landing sites, and parking taking centre stage.

Treasurer Jean Hughes said the township is projecting to spend around $6.26 million this year – a 4.38 per cent increase to the levy. The total dollar increase from last year’s budget is, so far, $262,885.

Breaking down expenditures by department, transportation costs are the biggest line item coming in at just under $2.5 million – approximately 40 per cent of the budget. Protective services, including the Algonquin Highlands Fire Department and contributions to the Haliburton Highlands OPP, are pegged at $2 million (32 per cent). Administration costs come in at just over $1.3 million (21 per cent), parks and recreation are projecting to spend $1.14 million (18 per cent), waste management around $853,000 (13 per cent), planning and development $116,000 (two per cent) and health services $53,000 (one per cent).

Council costs are estimated at $181,000 (three per cent) for the year.

Waste management costs are up 16 per cent from last year, with health services up 14 per cent, parks and recreation up 12 per cent, transportation up three per cent, and planning up two per cent. Spending on general government, including administration and council, is down almost eight per cent, with protective services costs down by approximately four per cent.

The municipality’s operating and capital reserves are expected to drop to $6.9 million this year, down from $8.5 million – with the bulk of that money funding several big-ticket items in 2023.

Top of the list is the rehabilitation of the Dorset Recreation Centre. The facility has been closed since March 2020 after staff found extensive mold and moisture damage in a downstairs bathroom. Further investigation showed the issue was prevalent throughout the building. The township has set aside just over $366,000 this year for repairs, which public works manager, Adam Thorn, has pegged at north of $1 million.

Road resurfacing and reconstruction is coming in at $2.1 million, with repairs to McPhail Road a key focus this year. Money has also been set aside for a new design plan for North Shore Road.

A new design plan for the terminal building at Stanhope Municipal Airport is in the works, with council allocating $147,000 to future upgrades at the site. Fifty thousand dollars has also been set aside in a new reserve fund that council says will be used to address parking issues across the municipality.

Other projects supported this year include: the development of a new strategic plan; commissioning of a fire master plan and community risk assessment; new uniforms and equipment for firefighters; upgrades to the library, community centre and museum in Stanhope; the purchase of a new tandem truck with plow and sanding equipment; the installation of a weigh scale at the Maple Lake landfill; completion of the Skin Lake landing project, with property surveys commissioned for sites at Fletcher Lake and Russell Landings; and the installation of a lightning strike protection system at Dorset Tower.

After a first draft of the budget called for a 14 per cent increase to the levy, mayor Liz Danielsen commended staff and council for delivering a budget she believes is “more than reasonable.

“We should be pretty darn happy with where we’ve landed. Given how much everything is costing, the cost of living increase [we’ve given to staff], money added to everything we have to buy, I think this budget is in a good place,” she said.

A bylaw to approve the budget will be brought back to council in March.