By Chad Ingram
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a large surplus for the Township of Algonquin Highlands, one of more than $1 million.
Councillors received a report on the 2020 surplus, which totals $1,007,000, during their 2021 budget deliberations on Feb. 22.
“The COVID pandemic had a significant effect on the regular operations and completion of projects approved in the 2020 budget, and it also affected manpower, training and conferences and various expenditures overall,” read a report from treasurer Jean Hughes.
In the administration department, for example, there are basement renovations at the township office and other projects that were not completed last year for a surplus of more than $60,000. For fire services, there was a surplus of more than $135,000, due largely to cancellation of training and conferences in light of the pandemic, as well as a new furnace and other equipment not being purchased. The building department saw a surplus of more than $80,000, due in part to reduced wages and benefits as a result of medical leaves, as well as training and conference cancellations. Under environmental services, there was a surplus of more than $140,000, part of that stemming from the fact that during the initial stages of the pandemic, construction and demolition waste was not accepted at the township’s waste disposal sites, which meant the township didn’t have to pay for transportation of those materials.
The story was similar in each of the township’s departments, and surpluses were placed into departmental reserves for completion of future capital projects.
“The remaining surplus will be transferred to the working funds upon completion of the audit and represents mainly wages and benefits along with other regular operational costs within various departments that fall below the budgeted amounts due to closures, cancellations and staff vacancies,” Hughes’ report read.
Algonquin Highlands councillors held two days of 2021 draft budget discussions on Feb. 22 and 23, landing on a levy increase of 4.98 per cent over last year, which will equate to a 3.89 per cent tax rate increase at the lower-tier level for residents. This equates to a $12.50 increase for every $100,000 of assessment.
There was discussion about the budgetary pressures that would face the township in coming years, especially when it comes to its series of aging docks and landings.
“The other thing I think we need to keep in mind too, is that if we agree on the direction the community is taking through our decision-making … then we have to be prepared to fund it,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. “Anything greater than a zero per cent increase makes people angry, it’s always been that way. So we need to make sure that we’re confident we’re making the decisions we need to make for the community as opposed to how people will feel about it.”
New spending items include a one-year contract for a communications co-ordinator; seasonal operators in the public works and maintenance departments; an additional staffing position in the parks, rec and trails department; improvements to Elvin Johnson Park; and green space improvement and entrance maintenance at the Oxtongue Lake Community Centre. There will also be additional reserve contributions toward the Dorset tower and the township’s docks and landings.
The budget is scheduled to be passed during a March 18 meeting.