By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from a Minden Hills council meeting held virtually on April 28.
While members of the public did not attend a public meeting on the 2022 budget held April 28, one resident expressed written concerns after tuning in to the April 20 fourth draft budget meeting discussion.
“Early in the meeting it was apparent that the meeting was going to be rushed with very little thought given to the most important part of the budget deliberations,” wrote Tammy McKelvey in a letter received as written correspondence during the public meeting. “Given this lack of attention, I feel compelled to express my extreme disappointment.”
McKelvey questioned whether budget savings for wages and benefits due to vacancies in the township’s full-time staffing complement were being considered, if staff had considered selling fire department vehicles parked outside the fire hall to use proceeds for capital purchases, if a $50,000 grant contribution to the boardwalk would be enough to repair the surface, and wanted council’s assurance that cemeteries would be maintained properly.
“As proposed, the budget results in a 5.5 per cent increase to the taxpayers this year, but more of an issue is the long term borrowing and full cost staffing complement increase proposed which sets up the next council and the taxpayers with a nine per cent increase without leaving the gate in 2023,” wrote McKelvey.
She also questioned the amount of debenture and internal borrowing proposed, her primary concerns being the $300,000 debenture for the arena snack bar financed over a period of 25 years for an asset with a life expectancy of 15 years, and the $784,000 debenture for the conversion of surface treated roads to gravel.
“It is clear that the township is arena poor and the resulting lack of municipal levy going to capital projects is not sustainable,” she wrote. “While I hate to see a levy increase of 5.5 per cent, I believe you have operational savings that could bring that down. I would propose that those savings be put towards capital in order to save the long term borrowing costs.”
She questioned if councillors had information available on reserve balances at the end of 2021 and proposed year end in 2022, and information on the 2021 year-end surplus.
Councillor Bob Carter reiterated that he had concerns about putting into debenture things that were operational costs, but said the rebuilding of the well-travelled Scotch Line and Bobcaygeon Roads would be substantial rather than just patching and paving, so he could be “persuaded” on the debenture for that. He acknowledged that the director of finance had been with the township for just a few weeks, and that the prior budgeting process was “opaque,” with so much data, it was “virtually impossible” for anyone to understand it, and he appreciated that the township’s process would change moving forward.
He said there still needs to be discussion about reserves, that could result in changes to the 2023 budget.
“Given all of that and looking at our situation, I think that 5.5 per cent, although it’s probably higher than people would like, is probably a reasonable number and we have to just ensure we’re going to work hard to be able to get real clarity in a totally different budgeting process, which I know the CAO and director of finance fully support, so we have a lot of clarity going into next year and we can get things back under total control in a way that is easy to communicate to people,” said Carter.
He said he understood some of the comments that had been made but fully supported the numbers to go forward.
Councillor Pam Sayne reiterated that she was not comfortable with the $300,000 debenture for the arena snack bar and so did not support the budget “as it is,” but also acknowledged staff needed approval of the budget to get work done.
CAO/clerk Trisha McKibbin said the budget process had started in October 2021 with the goal of passing the budget early in 2022 but that the timing of the process had had to be adjusted.
“The management team is aware of the challenges and pressures that the municipality is facing, and the need for a fiscally responsible budget now and in the years to come,” she said.
The budget was passed with a 5.5 per cent levy increase representing a 1.5 per cent increase over the third draft budget. The total levy to be raised through taxation and lieu payments is $9,719,485. Sayne opposed, and Councillor Jennifer Hughey was absent.
Arena memorial seat plaques to be installed
Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell asked Craig Belfry, community services director, when memorial plaques purchased by community members as a fundraising initiative would be installed on seats in the arena.
“Lots of people are saying they purchased them, you know, close to a year ago and they’re still not … do you think that will be something come fall when we reopen for ice purposes that they will be in place or do you have any idea?,” asked Schell.
Belfry said it was his intention to have all the plaques purchased and in place for the fall season.
“We need to put them in over the summer when there’s no ice so the glue can adhere to the seats,” he said.
Devolin asked staff for an update on fundraising initiatives to be brought to council at a later time.
Minden Hills fire chief moves on
Minden Hills deputy fire chief Shain Duda reported the March 2022 fire summary information, in place of the township’s usual report from fire chief Nelson Johnson.
“Chief Johnson has taken a position with the City of Yellowknife and his last day with the township was April 14,” said Trisha McKibbin in response to a question last week from the Times about Johnson’s absence from recent council meetings.
In Jan. 2020, Johnson had replaced Mike Bekking, who had been in the chief’s chair since former fire chief Doug Schell resigned from the position in the fall of 2017.
New director of public works introduced
Mike Timmins was introduced as the township’s new director of public works.
Timmins replaces acting director of public works Tara Stephen, who announced her departure at a March 10 council meeting.