/MH council aims for 5.3 per cent levy increase 

MH council aims for 5.3 per cent levy increase 

Minden Hills councillors are aiming for a 5.3 per cent increase in the township’s tax levy over the 2019 budget as they head into their third round of 2020 draft budget discussions later this month.

Council held a second round of budget talks during a special meeting on Jan. 9 where department heads had trimmed their departmental budgets since initial budget discussions in December. The second draft of the 2020 draft budget showed total expenses of some $26.4 million and included $10.6 million for parks recreation and cultural services which includes costs associated with the arena project; $6.1 million for transportation which includes the roads department; approximately $3.5 million for the protection of persons and property which includes the township’s OPP bill; more than $3 million for environmental services which includes the operation of the township’s landfills; $2.3 million for general government which includes administration; $560000 for the operation of the township’s planning department; and $165000 for health and welfare.

The draft budget contains a 7.47 per cent increase in wages due in part to the addition of new positions and an 11.18 per cent increase in the cost of employee benefits. Wages constitute approximately $3.5 million of the budget benefits approximately $1.1 million.

The second draft of the budget presented to councillors by CAO/treasurer Lorrie Blanchard during the Jan. 9 meeting contained a 7.3 per cent increase over the 2019 tax levy which would amount to some $9 million coming from property taxation.

Department heads had each made reductions to their departmental budgets. “Staff have regrettably reduced several items” read a report from Travis Wilson director of public works showing numerous roads projects that had been deferred. These included a number of road brushing projects the application of slurry seal along Wigamog Road and $650000 worth of work along Bobycaygeon Road. Wilson’s report also recommended the township undertake debenture funding for projects including the rehabilitation of Sedgwick Road bridge the rehabilitation of the Sunnybrook bridge in downtown Minden and the construction of IGA Road.

The IGA Road project valued at $390000 has been on the township’s books for a number of years deferred by council during the budgeting process each year.

“I can guarantee it’s the first road we start getting calls about in the spring” Wilson told councillors stressing he wanted to see the project completed this year. The Sunnybrook bridge project has an estimated cost of nearly $420000.

While councillors seemed comfortable proceeding with a debenture for these projects that was less true of the Sedgwick bridge rehabilitation which would cost approximately $1 million.

“This is a million dollars” said Councillor Bob Carter adding he thought the township should hold out for funding from upper levels of government for the project. “It’s a huge ticket item for a lightly used bridge.”

Wilson said that if the township was not going to proceed with the rehabilitation of the nearly century-old bridge that it would likely require inspections be performed by an engineering consultant every four to six months. He also noted that with inflation each year council chooses to delay a project it ultimately means the project will be more expensive to complete.

Mayor Brent Devolin was in agreement with Carter that the township should remove the Sedgwick bridge project from the list until it could receive grant funding from upper levels of government to assist with the cost.

“This is the most gut-wrenching budget that we’ve had in the five years that I’ve been here” said Devolin adding council was going to have to make some very difficult decisions. “So that we don’t get shot in the street I would propose for the 2020 budget that has to come out.”

Councillor Pam Sayne was adamant that money to fix drainage issues on Shetland Road be included in any debenture. The cost of that work is estimated at $220000.

“The first time Shetland Road came to council was in 2010” said Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell.

Wilson’s report also included a number of projects that had not been included even in the first draft of the 2020 budget and said the township basically needed about $4 million a year in the roads budget just to keep its existing assets up to par.

“It would keep us stabilized” Wilson said. Wilson also cautioned council that more reserves needed to be accrued for the Scotch Line landfill.

Ultimately councillors decided to dip into the township’s reserves in order to bring the 7.3 per cent levy increase down to 5.3 per cent. The exact details of how that will work are to be determined and will come back to the council table in a staff report when council sees the third draft of the budget on Jan. 30.

The tax levy increase in Minden Hills for 2019 was 6.4 per cent equating to a residential tax rate increase of just more than three per cent.