/AH budget talks underway

AH budget talks underway

By Nick Bernard

After a full workday of deliberations spaced out over two meetings, the dial has moved closer toward the Township of Algonquin Highlands approving its budget for 2022. Deliberations are set to continue on March 3.

The draft budget, prepared by treasurer Jean Hughes, reported a 3.13 per cent increase in the levy, with the municipal tax rate seeing an increase of 1.7 per cent. 

“This is kind of our biggest meeting of the year,” Mayor Carol Moffatt remarked at the outset of deliberations. “Every year we say budget will be a challenge … and every year we do a good job of it.”

Moffatt also noted the 2021 census results that observed a ten per cent increase in the township’s population, and that the work the township needs to do is complicated by rising prices throughout the world.

“But I think that the asset management plan, combined with our annual projects and priorities exercise in the fall, really lays the foundation for our budget work,” she said, referring back to a virtual projects and priorities meeting from November. “So we no longer spend days and days hammering through
every line and every option.”

The treasurer’s report highlighted the cost of a number of important projects over the next year, and offered solutions toward funding those projects, the approvals of which would cause a 31 per cent decrease in total reserves.

“I’m very concerned about the reserve activity,” Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said, expressing her protectiveness over the reserves. “Seeing a 31 per cent decrease in reserves is, to me, a huge error … I’m concerned about this amount of money coming out of reserves, even though we’re starting with a substantial reserve balance.”

According to the treasurer, there was an 11 per cent increase in the reserves at the end of 2021.

Among the projects highlighted was the Dorset Recreation Center’s mould remediation project, which was budgeted at $900,000. According to Hughes’ report, $400,000 of the project’s cost will come from shoreline road allowance revenues from 2021, the township’s new infrastructure reserve, and assigned funds from the working funds reserve. 

The remaining $500,000 was proposed to be temporarily transferred from other reserves, to be paid back to the reserves over a 10-year period. 

“A couple of comments about what you’re proposing,” Danielsen said, expressing concern over the 10-year timeframe. “In a 10-year period, we’re looking at several councils and an ability to change directions on this, and … I think that it’s a bit too risky to look at a 10-year repayment program.”

In response, Moffatt indicated that there was also an option for a five-year repayment plan, which was met with a warmer reception from Danielsen, and agreed upon by the rest of council.

Regardless of the repayment plan’s length, council would be able to reduce the size of the repayments annually by redirecting revenues at year end, when available. 

Other projects highlighted by Hughes include the continued reconfiguration of Maple Lake’s landfill, with an estimated cost of over one million dollars. Additionally, The closure of the landfill at Hawk Lake will cost a total cost of $250,000. 

A number of improvements have also been planned for the Stanhope Airport, including maintenance and repairs. One of the larger projects associated with this includes optimizing the airport terminal’s main floor, including the addition of accessible washrooms. 

In summary, the treasurer characterized the draft budget as a “good news” document, representing the commitment of chief administrative officer Angie Bird, township department heads, and staff have to “provide council with a fiscally responsible financial outlook for the coming year that includes projects and priorities as discussed with council in accordance with the Strategic Vision.”

In a Facebook post following the conclusion of this round of deliberations, Moffatt expressed her thoughts on the process.

“We made decisions that contribute to a broad range of commitments, from community health to climate change goals to long-range financial stability,” the post stated. “We didn’t agree on everything – we’re not supposed to, but true to AH form we each had an opportunity to pitch a case, support a cause and ultimately find consensus. Thanks to council for good discussion.”

A final budget is expected to be approved by March 17.