By Chad Ingram
Minden Hills council has set the goal of a tax levy increase in the township’s 2021 budget of 3.65 per cent.
Councillors made that decision during a budget meeting on Jan. 14, the second of what will likely be four meetings dedicated to the budget.
Mayor Brent Devolin asked councillors what sort of tax levy increase they were comfortable with for the 2021 budget. Councillor Bob Carter noted with the ongoing pandemic it is a difficult year for a lot of people and said council should be trying to keep tax increases as low as possible.
“I would like to hold it somewhere around two per cent,” said Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell, noting the township could tap into surpluses from 2019 and 2020 to mitigate the tax increase. The township accrued a surplus of more than $900,000 for 2019, which has been sitting in reserve. The surplus for 2020 is expected to exceed $1 million, although a sizeable portion of that is to be used to pay for infrastructure projects. The township will also be borrowing money to complete some projects, and will be finalizing the amount of the debenture that will pay for the majority of the $13-million arena project.
Most councillors said they were comfortable somewhere between two and four per cent, and the goal was eventually set at a 3.65 tax levy increase, with .65 of that expected to come from growth, or new taxation. Carter voted against the figure.
Councillors spent several hours hearing from department heads and trimming away at budgets. For example, $257,000 for engineering work on Blairhampton Road was removed as a line item.
“That looks like low-hanging fruit to pull out of 2021,” said Devolin. Public works director Travis Wilson said with that change, it would leave a $160,000 increase in the roads budget over that last year, and that he could bring that increase down to zero if council so wished.
Schell was opposed to that idea.
“This is the department I get the most calls and complaints about,” she said. “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul in this department for too long … I don’t think we should be cutting any more in the roads department.”
Councillor Pam Sayne said she thought it was important that the township get its asset management plan completed, which is not scheduled to be done until mid-year, and that it needed to avoid “deficit funding through debenture.”
Devolin estimated there would be at least two more meetings before the 2021 budget is finalized.
“We’re going to be into four rounds of this, I think that’s evident,” he said.