By Chad Ingram
Published Jan. 18 2018
While it might be a move of political self-preservation to offer residents a low tax increase heading into an election year Minden Hills council has no such plans.
Councillors discussed the 2018 draft budget during a Jan. 11 meeting. In what was the second round of budget discussions draft documentation showed the total tax levy at just more than $8 million a jump of nearly $710000 from 2017. This would equate to a tax levy increase of 9.73 per cent.
“The big elephants in the room are obviously roads and environment” said Mayor Brent Devolin.
The roads department budget constitutes nearly half of the total tax levy at approximately $3.6 million. This represents a reduction of nearly $1 million from the first draft budget with roads superintendent Travis Wilson reducing expenditures for culvert replacements and materials as well as taking some projects off the table for the year.
Only engineering work will be done for a reconstruction of IGA Road for example. No construction will take place in 2018.
There was also a reduction in the amount budgeted for roadside brushing. Because some township roads have not been brushed in many years Wilson told councillors that currently there are substantial brushing costs since thick brush means it takes longer for the work to be completed. Years down the road when the township is caught up on its brushing these costs should decrease Wilson said.
$3.68 million for roads would represent an increase of more than $250000 up from approximately $3.43 million spent in the department in 2017.
An increase of more than $300000 in the property and environmental operations budget would see total expenditures in that department increase from less than $700000 in 2017 to more than $1 million.
Most of that increase is related to the Scotch Line landfill. In 2017 Minden Hills township received two clean-up orders from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. One concerned a high amount of leachate on the property the other the volume and improper storage of hazardous household waste.
The township has been asked to monitor leachate seeps on the property and $100000 had been budgeted to remediate two main seeps. That process involves excavating and refilling seep areas. Money was also budgeted for increased bulldozer and chipping work bin repairs driveway construction and the installation of video cameras at the site.
Provincially mandated wage increases also mean that wage costs at the township’s landfills will increase by approximately $65000 for the year.
Councillors decided to forego the installation of cameras. Councillor Jean Neville asked how much illegal dumping took place at the Scotch Line facility.
“How much stuff is left at the gate?” Neville asked.
“It’s very minimal” property and environmental operations manager Ivan Ingram said. “It’s very seldom it happens.”
Ingram said the worst site for illegal dumping was actually the Little Gull landfill during the summer months.
The camera installation would have cost about $15000. Councillors also decided to cut the $100000 allotted for dealing with the leachate seeps down to $50000. The more severe of two seeps will be dealt with in 2018 with remediation of the other still planned for 2019. Some reduction in monies allotted for bin repair and replacement resulted in a total of $71000 being carved from the department’s draft budget an amount representing one per cent of the tax levy thereby dropping the overall levy increase to 8.73 per cent.
“It’s still going to be a very high number but it does not come as a surprise” Devolin said. Since he was elected in 2014 Devolin has said repeatedly that with increasing demands on municipalities and with little help available from upper levels of government it would likely become a challenge to keep tax increases in Minden Hills in the single digits if the township is to adequately provide all the services it is expected to provide.
Devolin said that offering taxpayers a palatable increase in an election year might be a politically savvy move but that he didn’t believe council had that luxury.
“I think that’s been done in the past and I think we’re paying the price for it” he said.
Councillor Pam Sayne was concerned the increase was too large and would push marginalized residents of the township further toward a financial brink.
Since property taxes are based on assessed property value waterfront property taxes on the whole will go up in greater amounts than taxes on non-waterfront properties. Sayne said that while there is an assumption that those living on lakes are more affluent she said this is not always the case and that many year-round waterfront residents are seniors living on fixed incomes.
“I don’t feel sorry for people living on a lake and I’m one of them” said Neville adding that living on waterfront is a choice. “Some people’s cellphone and Bell bills are higher per month than their taxes.”
Haliburton County’s municipalities have some of the lowest property taxes in the province. According to a December report from auditing firm KPMG in 2017 57 per cent of Minden Hills residents paid less than $1000 in property taxes for the year.
“It’s just another year whether it be an election year or not” said Deputy Mayor Cheryl Murdoch. Murdoch said the days of funding from upper levels of government were largely gone and that she too lives on waterfront which is a choice.
“I don’t find this presentation today to be too upsetting” she said.
Councillor Lisa Schell said she’s received more calls regarding the state of the township’s roads in the past two years than she ever had previously.
Schell said she was not happy about the tax increase since she too is a taxpayer but felt it was required.
“To pass a small tax increase in an election year I feel is irresponsible” Schell said.
“At an emotional level do I have the same concerns as Councillor Sayne? I do” said Devolin. The mayor added it was about balance and that council had at least managed to shrink the increase by a percentage point.
Minden Hills’ OPP bill for 2018 is $1.9 million. This year marks the fourth year of a five-year phase-in of a new billing formula that weights seasonal residences as households. Therefore under the formula communities with large seasonal populations have seen their policing bills increase substantially.
Since 2012 Minden Hills’ OPP costs have increased by 63 per cent; its roads costs 64 per cent; and costs for property and environmental operations by 63 per cent.
There will be a net transfer of approximately $1.6 million out of reserves for the year most of that money going toward the new fire hall which is expected to be completed in March. The drawdown will take the municipality’s reserves from about $8.8 million at the end of 2017 to about $7.2 million by the end of 2018.
“We can’t keep relying on reserves to prop up budgets” said treasurer and chief administrative officer Lorrie Blanchard.
Township staff are scheduled for a 1.75 per cent wage increase. Water and sewer rates will not increase in 2018.
Council will discuss the budget for the third time at a Feb. 8 meeting. A public meeting on the budget is scheduled for Feb. 22 with councillors reviewing and discussing comments from that public meeting during a regular council meeting the same day. The budget is scheduled to be passed in March.