By Chad Ingram
The potentially costly future of Algonquin Highlands’ multiple docks and landings came up during budget conversations last week.
Township councillors held 2020 budget talks on Feb. 19 and 20 and were scheduled to continue those deliberations this week. With some $5.5 million to be levied through taxation the first draft budget included a tax levy increase of 5.83 per cent equating to a residential tax rate increase of 3.39 per cent. This would mean an increase in property taxes of $10.70 for every $100000 of assessment over 2019 levels for the lower-tier portion of residents’ tax bills. However council is attempting to reduce that figure during their budget discussions.
“Staff brought us a terrific budget however there are still more projects that need doing than there is money with which to do them” Mayor Carol Moffatt told the Times . “I’ve asked council to find roughly $150000 in the budget but it’s tough going.”
There was significant conversation regarding the township’s docks and landings during council’s Feb. 20 meeting. Algonquin Highlands owns 27 docks and landings which range from systems including multiple docks to ramps made from gravel and sand.
“They all need assistance they all need continued work” Moffatt said. “This is one of those tough-time conversations about service levels.”
One major project that will proceed in 2020 is the replacement of a retaining wall at the township’s Hardwood Lake landing. It’s the recommendation of parks rec and trails director Chris Card that the lumber structure be replaced with a stone one that will last 75 years as opposed to the 15 or 20 years provided by another wooden structure. However that project would drain the nearly $110000 in the township’s docks and landings reserve as well as require an additional $32000.
“And that leaves zero to go ahead with the other 26 [docks and landings]” Moffatt said.
It was the suggestion of interim treasurer Tammy McKelvey that the reserve not be depleted and for at least a portion of the project’s cost to come from the township’s 2019 surplus. The township accrued a surplus of approximately $265000 for 2019 which a report from McKelvey indicated came largely from staffing vacancies within the township last year. While the surplus is scheduled to be transferred to the township’s working funds reserve McKelvey told councillors last week the surplus could be a helpful source of funding for one-time expenditures during the budgeting process.
Card told councillors that many of the township’s docks and landings are in need of serious repair.
“A lot of them should have been replaced 15 or 20 years ago” he said. Card also indicated that many of the boat ramps in the township had been constructed to accommodate fishing boats not the larger power boats many residents have today. Not all boat launches have the grade required to accommodate larger boats and Card suggested that a broader review of Algonquin Highlands’ docks and landings may be required at some point and also suggested the possible idea of signage indicating maximum boat lengths for certain launches.
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux said she thought it was important for the township to continue to maintain its docks and landings.
“We are a cottage community we are a lakefront waterfront community these are the needs of our people” Dailloux said. She suggested the possibility of cost-sharing arrangements with property owners’ associations as a means of dealing with the issue.
Other highlights of the draft budget include a geotechnical study to address slumping sections of North Shore Road; potential reconstruction projects along Buckslide and Braeloch Roads; the expansion of the parking lot along Little Hawk Lake Road; and the completion of a new municipal asset management plan.
“We’re taking a hard look at what’s necessary and what could be considered discretionary although discretionary certainly is subjective” Moffatt told the Times . “We’re looking at service levels programming and future capital needs such as fire trucks the replacement schedule of which is out of our hands.”
The replacement schedules for emergency vehicles is governed by provincially-mandated asset management plans.
“We have a public works garage that has a bathroom in the office and hardly enough room for staff to turn around in let alone work safely and effectively in” Moffatt told the paper. “There are 27 public docks and landings that all need attention landfills that need expanding and roads that need desperate repair. This is the usual stuff of municipal budgeting and we’ve always done a good job of balancing it all. However we’ve seen a frustrating uptick in tender prices legislative changes that could further affect us and an increase in user needs as more people move here permanently.”
Algonquin Highlands councillors were scheduled to continue their budget deliberations on Feb. 25.