By Stephen Petrick
Minden Hills residents may see a municipal tax hike this year, but staff say this year’s budget process is a building block for future years.
Council discussed a fourth draft of its 2022 budget during a special meeting on Wednesday, April 20. The new draft calls for 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.
The motion that passed also called for staff to hold a public meeting on April 28, so the public can comment on the operating and capital budget, ahead of the April 28 council meeting.
The proposed hike and the state of the municipality’s finances meant for a somewhat tense meeting on April 20.
The vote passed with Councillors Ron Nesbitt, Lisa Schell, Pam Sayne and Jean Neville accepting. Councillor Bob Carter opposed. Councillor Jennifer Hughey was absent.
Typically, municipalities have to offer small tax hikes each year to keep up with inflation; a 5.5 per cent increase is slightly above Canada’s inflation rate, which hit a 30-year high of 5.1 per cent in February, according to Canada’s Consumer Price Index.
Finance Director Greg Bedard said that the new increases were due to salary-related costs discovered in the human resources, information technology and public works departments, that were not accounted for in the third draft.
These new hires are projected to lead to a 1.9 per cent tax levy increase in 2023; another $578,630 of debt on capital projects is, as of now, expected to contribute to an additional six per cent tax levy increase in 2023. This raised the ire of Carter, who questioned city staff on whether a “double-digit” increase is possible next year and if council should find a way to trim those costs now.
“Certainly our intent is not to have a double digit number each year,” said chief administrative officer Trisha McKibbon. “The plan Greg and I have in place is to completely review and spend 2022 looking at how we do budgeting and what changes we need to make to be – or continue to be – fiscally responsible.”
Bedard, who only began the role as finance director in March, said he hasn’t had the time to do a thorough review of how the municipality finances projects, including how it uses reserves, how it manages assets or uses debenture programs.
“This budget is a building block,” he said. “The goal over the summer, once this budget is passed, is to look at that wholesome picture and how we fund municipal operations moving forward.”
Although Carter questioned the town’s financial management through the meeting, he agreed that changes are needed. “To say, it’s less than transparent is an understatement,” he said.
Other councillors say they fully trust town staff.
“I have confidence in our CAO and our director … that this is the right plan with this budget,” said Neville. “We have to get on it. They’ve done the numbers, we have to trust those.”
The meeting led down a tense path, however, when Sayne, just before council was about to vote on the budget, said she wouldn’t support the town budgeting $300,000 run a snack bar at the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena, arguing there should be a fundraising drive to build and maintain it.
Councillors Neville and Schell argued against Sayne, saying that a tender to build the snack bar went out several times, but no company picked it up, yet the town sees the project as a good investment, given how well the facility is used.
After several minutes of debate, Mayor Brent Devolin urged councillors to stop bringing up issues that have already been debated and get on with the vote.
“It’s time to vote on it and move forward,” he said, alluding to the fact that the budget is in its fourth draft. “Not making a decision is a decision. And with most organizations, the more you delay it, it’s the worst possible decision.”
Council passed the resolution to hold a public meeting and to prepare the necessary by-laws for approving the budget at the April 28 meeting.