Highlands East taxpayers, and council, got a look at the township’s draft budget at a Feb. 6 special council meeting.

CAO and treasurer, Brittany McCaw, said they are looking for a $569,154 increase in 2024. That equates to a first round 6.83 per cent municipal tax rate increase. It would mean an extra $35.91 per $100,000 of assessment on the municipal tax. That is in addition to County and school board rates.

“This was not an easy budget to prepare. Our departments needed to take a hard look at what’s a want, what’s a need, and the priorities for the municipality,” McCaw told council.

She acknowledged the first draft is higher than normal, citing inflation. “The cost of doing business is just seeming to increase.” She noted rises in calcium and surface treatments, building products and insurance fees, “so these are just drivers of our operating and capital expenses.”

McCaw noted capital projects and transfers to reserves are necessary to avoid large expenditures in future.

On the revenue side, Highlands East is seeing a decrease of $24,600 in OMPF funding, down to $1,950,500. McCaw noted they are getting more than $120,000 in former gas tax funding.

The township is applying for $90,000 in grants for EV charging stations. If they are successful, they will top the grant money up. They’ll go to reserves, including $250,000 for a municipal office design and engineering, and $30,000 to complete the corporate strategic plan.

McCaw said insurance is going up 12 per cent, and benefits three per cent. They’ll spend $5,000 on municipal surveillance projects. Another bigger ticket capital project is $55,000 for an asset management plan.

The fire department would see fire hall upgrades, a fire master plan, and hydrant maintenance. The service will get some new bunker gear. The cost of policing is going down. The township will pay $1,137,660 in 2024, a decrease of nearly $95,000 from last year. Highlands East will pay seven per cent more in conservation authority costs.

Councillors will need to discuss upping some user fees, such as for building permits.

McCaw has factored in some costs if the township goes ahead with a short-term rental bylaw. They are looking at more than $32,000 in expenses, in addition to $25,000 for compliance software.

As for roads and bridges, they’ll take $300,000 of OCIF funding to put towards the McColls bridge project.

Under public works, McCaw said the focus will be on Gooderham Dam ($55,000), Hadlington Bridge ($20,000) and Donroy culverts ($25,000).

Capital projects for 2024 include: $90,000 for repairs to the works garage, $10,000 to conduct a needs assessment for the salt tent, $50,000 for a float trailer, $22,000 for a new CSA-approved steamer, $50,000 for a Hybrid SUV, $1,167,575 for the McColls bridge replacement, $162,225 for Clement Lake Road, $355,000 for Irondale Road, $50,000 for Upper Paudash, $15,000 for a generator for the roads garage, $30,000 for a poly water tank, and $10,000 for a roads’ needs study.

Staff are recommending a four per cent user fee increase for water, and another four per cent increase for wastewater.

They’ll spend north of $285,000 on Herlihey Park and more than $15,000 on two new dog parks in Gooderham and Cardiff. Money is going to Essonville Church ($30,000) and $50,000 for a trails master plan.

Budget talks are continuing.