Capital budget talks begin Dec. 5
Saugeen Shores councillors added approximately $115,000 to the draft operating budget for projects not recommended by staff during Nov. 20 talks, and, if approved as is, the “average” homeowner with a property assessed at $284,000 would pay approximately $25 more to support the operating budget next year, not the $4.61 staff proposed at the beginning of the six-hour meeting.
The draft operating budget requires $11.6 million in taxes and is “fair, reasonable and affordable” according to CAO David Smith, who introduced Sue Murray, the Town’s new Director of Finance/Treasurer, on the job for her second day.
Smith said the draft offers some enhancements and noted the town is “fortunate” to have “incredible growth” expected to generate $300,000 in assessment next year, and that, with the slow shift to user-fees, will require less revenue from taxpayers.
He said the budget is “good value for taxpayers” and pointed to charts showing Saugeen Shores ranked in the “low” category of taxation levels in comparison with other similar communities.
“We’re anticipating a $60 million growth in Saugeen Shores this year, which is incredible growth ..... ” Smith said.
Almost half of the draft operating budget is “invested” in staff costs, he said, noting the budget includes $90,000, a “significant” impact on the town, to prepare for the increase in the Ontario minimum wage to $14 per hour in January, from $11.60.
The draft operating budget also anticipates a nine per cent increase in utility costs.
Department-by-department review of the draft budget raised a number of questions and comments from councillors.
Anticipating $160,000 in tourism revenue, the Chamber of Commerce budget includes $10,000 in revenue to the town, prompting Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau to question the dependability of that money when just months ago Pumpkinfest officials had the Town back a $25,000 line of credit which was not drawn on.
“We need to engage with the Chamber ASAP on this point, one - so we’re not in this situation next September, where we are up against it and have to offer a line [of credit]. We need clarity and more certainty ” Charbonneau said.
Pumpkinfest council rep. Coun. Dave Myette said the event was “one of the most successful ever ” with a $40,000 profit. S.S. Trolley With $32,000 in Town money - including a $15,000 grant for operations and $5,000 for maintenance - in the draft operating budget, Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber suggested it is time to develop a trolley business plan because the town has limited resources and did not anticipate additional costs.
Chief Phil Eagleson identified firefighter wellness “physical, emotional and environmental” as the budget focus. As proposed, salaries and benefits for 2.5 full-time and 54 volunteer firefighters makes up most of the $798,121 draft fire budget.
Councillors approved $68,000, not recommended by staff, for a new full-time fire training officer who will also have corporate training responsibilities.
Retiring Police Chief Dan Rivett presented a $3.7 million police budget — his 14th — that represents a zero per cent change from last year. He joked he thought about creating a “fake budget’”with a 19 per cent increase for the oncoming chief to deal with.
On a personal note, Rivett thanked the town for its support over the years and for providing “really terrific opportunities” to his family. He and his wife are leaving Saugeen Shores to move closer to their grandchildren.
The town created 132 new residential units this year, an “exceptional” year and expects to issue 400 building permits this year. When asked about affordability staff acknowledged “very few” of the new units would be considered “average” and face the proposed $25 town tax increase for the operating budget.
Staff expect the greatest area of growth this year will be in semi-detached units. The draft operating budget includes $9,500 to expand a permanent part-time bylaw enforcement officer to 35 hours a week from 32, to allow a lower-paid staff to handle some of the nuisance complaints now handled by police.
The Town expects to spend $599,777 next year for winter control - most of it for salaries for six fulltime staff.
Deputy Mayor Diane Huber suggested contracting out services is costing taxpayers more, and not operating at a break-even level, as planned. Staff said garbage, plus recycling plus landfill do come out to a revenue-neutral zero with revenues from bag tag fees, tipping fees, the fixed levy for landfill.
Aging infrastructures, two new splash pads, expansion of the Dr. Earl Medical Centre, redevelopment of the waterfront and “scope creep” - added responsibilities and costs - are pressures facing the department’s seven full-time staff. The hours for a part-time staff member approved last year would be increased to full-time.
With a proposed $255,528 operating budget, staff said repairs to date keep the aging Centennial Pool open and operating as the town searches for partners to help build a new aquatics centre, but the challenge is that the facility is not accessible.
Among funding for 10 new or increased service levels approved by councillors were: a $15,000 grant to the volunteer Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary in Saugeen Shores; $65,00 for a “rigorous” road crack and seal program; $15,000 for “environmental control management” - proposed planting of trees and shrubs to try to force geese, and their “excessive droppings” away from the Port Elgin harbour and Fairy Lake in Southampton.
Coun. Neil Menage suggested the problem will take more than $15,000 to deal with geese in the next two years. CAO Smith said it is a start, and anticipated a “significant” budget increase next year. Vice Deputy Mayor Huber suggested they need more solutions as discouraging geese from town hot spots just shifts the problem elsewhere.
Coun. Dave Myette said money for plantings would not be well-spent as when geese lose their fear of humans there is just one “cruel” solution, which he did not specify.
- Coun. John Rich asked for a staff report on the cost to extend ice hours at the Plex from May 15 to August 5..
- Deputy Mayor Charbonneau asked for a report on cost savings to contract out services like grass cutting and building management
- Coun. Cheryl Grace suggested the Town would have to make “significant capital investments ” in its tourists camps including improving sub-parâwashrooms for her to support a proposed five per cent increase in camp fees, which help generate $500,000 annually in profits annually.
Staff said the $100,000 approved last year and $65,000 proposed in the capital budget this year will cover a new washroom/ shower facility by the tourist camp at the Lakeview ball diamond.
- Coun. Don Matheson asked for a report on a proposal to decrease the ice rental rate for high school students to $40 from $96, and drop the the rate for elementary school ice use to zero.
Staff said next steps include making the budget changes suggested by councillors and build the numbers into a work plan.
After the meeting Mayor Mike Smith said the proposed draft is a “responsible one”.
“We’ve got lots of demands on our community because we’re a growing community. We’re getting all kinds of demands for additional services,” Smith said, adding demands for more beach maintenance and increased ice time, need more staff and that drives up costs.
Councillors tackle the draft capital budget Dec. 5, and final approval of the consolidated operating and capital budgets is slated for January.