Staff recommends 3.8-per-cent budget hike as talks begin

(Gazette file photo)

Service levels, infrastructure, affordable housing measures among considerations for councillors



As Prince Edward County council embarked on a week of tough discussions over the 2018 budget this week, staff handed them a draft budget with a 3.3-per-cent increase in spending and a 2.4 per cent increase in revenue.

During his high-level overview, chief administrative officer James Hepburn told councillors an increase of $1,272,116 (or 3.8 per cent) over last year was necessary as the budget process started, but since the County’s estimated growth in assessment is $604,0000 the tax levy requirement of $34,926,945 would fall in the neighbourhood of $668,000 more than last year.

“It’s an increase of two per cent, that’s what the real impact is to the taxpayer,” he said.

Among the reasons for the increasing levy, staff plans to increase the staffing component.

Five new positions (a civil engineering technologist/construction supervisor, a roads maintenance and winter control foreman, a building application co-ordinator, a planning secretary treasurer, a clerk’s assistant and a GIS technician) would be hired. Contract positions for a community development co-ordinator and a museum assistant co-ordinator would be changed to full-time positions and a previously frozen long-range planning co-ordinator position would be opened up. An Edward Building customer service representative from the building department would be removed.

According to Hepburn, the net cost associated with the staffing changes would be about $460,000.

There’s also increases in wages and benefits spending outside of those positions achieved as hourly rates were bumped up by 75 cents and scheduled increases came into effect. Some staff have seen stepped increases and there was a small increase in benefits.

Additional staffing hours were also proposed for community centres staff, roads staff, and at H.J. McFarland Memorial Home.

Hepburn said other pressures include increasing the transfer to the roads construction reserve by $150,000. The Quinte Conservation levy will rise by $56,600 to accommodate some additional capital projects and the proposed library budget has increased by $34,000 or three per cent.

Hepburn said the County’s capital budget will come in around $15.2 million. That figure includes about $8 million in committed roads projects for County Rd. 1, Wilson Road, and Talbot Street. It also includes a replacement ambulance and a new tanker truck for the fire department. The library board has submitted a $1.2-million expansion of its Picton branch of consideration.

While the $15.2 million may seem modest for capital improvements, it doesn’t cover all the municipality’s needs. In a capital forecast, staff identified about $44.5 million worth of projects for consideration this year, though some $28,448.300 of those projects would have relied on unfinanced capital, including a $21 million upgrade of County Rd. 49.

Hepburn said to keep up with infrastructure demand, the municipality estimated in 2014 it would have to spend $31 million per year over 10 years. As proposed, councillors were being asked to use $7.2 million from capital reserves to move forward.

According to Hepburn, staff plans for that impact to be short-term in nature as its projected capital projects moving forward in the next fie years will be “fairly light” if other sources of revenue are not identified.

Janice Maynard wondered if council may have to ask taxpayers for more to save the reserves.

“I’m looking for some figures that would tell me if we’re not going to do that and leave the next council and future generations with a huge funding gap, what would we be looking at?” she asked. “There’s got to be another answer and I know it’s not popular, but we may have to do what needs to be done to not get into a situation that’s even worse.”

Treat Hull considered the information staff prepared and felt the municipality is doing well on achieving its strategic plan objectives.

“Overall, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I stepped back and looked at how we’ve done on sustainability, business friendly, maintaining heritage assets and progress on health care. One area stood out for me as really important but where we haven’t gained a lot of ground,” he said. “The one I felt we haven’t really got the ball beyond the field was sustainable employment and affordable housing.”

That might change as the week progresses as later Monday, councillors agreed to a Bill Roberts motion that would see $250,000 put into the budget to address affordable housing projects.

That plan, along with other councillor requests and upward pressure on community grants will be among the factors debated around the table at Shire Hall as councillors are scheduled to budget deliberations until Friday.

Update: Council passed its budget on Wednesday. The bottom line is a levy increase of 5.3 per cent over the 2017 budget, requiring a tax increase of 3.5 per cent after factoring assessment growth.  That translates to $30.66 per every $100,000 in assessed MPAC value. Stay tuned for more details.