Wool­wich coun­cil­lors at odds over tax-rate tar­get as 2018 bud­get talks get un­der­way

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE KANNON

SPLIT ON A TEN­TA­TIVE 2018 tax-rate in­crease of 1.8 per cent, Wool­wich coun­cil­lors want more op­tions be­fore set­ting a tar­get when bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions get un­der­way later this year.

They were agreed, how­ever, on slap­ping an ad­di­tional 1.5 per cent hike on next year’s prop­erty taxes to boost a spe­cial in­fra­struc­ture re­serve fund, in keep­ing with re­cent prac­tice. Also on the ta­ble is a plan to ded­i­cate half of next year’s as­sess­ment growth – ad­di­tional money from new homes and other de­vel­op­ment – to that same re­serve fund.

Tues­day night’s ini­tial de­bate on a bud­get time­line pro­posed by staff cen­tered on the pro­posed base­line tax in­crease of 1.8 per cent, in line with in­fla­tion fig­ures ex­pected for next year. That jump would bring in an ad­di­tional $175,500 in rev­enue, while the in­fra­struc­ture in­crease would net about $146,000, ex­plained di­rec­tor of fi­nance Richard Peth­er­ick.

Coun. Larry Shantz balked at the com­bined 3.3 per cent in­crease. His reser­va­tions were shared by Coun. Pa­trick Mer­li­han, who pro­posed scal­ing back

the gen­eral tax in­crease to start with. He chal­lenged staff to jus­tify in­creases rather than sim­ply going with an in­fla­tion­ary in­crease right off the bat.

“Is this a fruit­less con­ver­sa­tion?” asked Mer­li­han. “Why go through the bud­get process if it’s 1.8?”

Both Mayor Sandy Shantz and Coun. Mark Bau­man ap­peared in­clined to go with staff’s rec­om­men­da­tion as a start­ing point.

Dead­locked, coun­cil­lors opted to leave the tar­get out of the mix un­til later in the process, with Bau­man sug­gest­ing staff put to­gether a list out­lin­ing dis­cre­tionary spend­ing ver­sus costs the town­ship has no choice about, in­clud­ing a long list of reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments. Know­ing where cuts are pos­si­ble would make it eas­ier to de­cide on a tar­get less than in­fla­tion, he said.

One new cost that can’t be es­caped in­volves the prov­ince’s plan to raise the min­i­mum wage to $14 an hour as Jan­uary 1 and then to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019, said Peth­er­ick, not­ing the in­creases would be felt in the re­cre­ation depart­ment among part-time work­ers.

He es­ti­mated the changes would cost the town­ship an ad­di­tional $110,000 to $140,000 next year, plus an­other $15,000 in 2019. As well, it would have to look at po­ten­tial bumps to those al­ready mak­ing a bit more than $14 an hour in light of the min­i­mum wage in­creases.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the is­sue is what, if any im­pact there would be on call-in and standby fees paid to vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers, he added, not­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are tak­ing a “wait-and­see ap­proach” pend­ing in­for­ma­tion from Queen’s Park.

Bau­man noted the pro­jected im­pacts on the min­i­mum wage would take up most of the pro­posed 1.8 per cent tax in­crease it­self, prompt­ing a dis­cus­sion about ar­eas where cuts might be needed.

Di­rec­tor of re­cre­ation and fa­cil­i­ties Ann McArthur noted her depart­ment will be re­view­ing its fees and charges with an eye on in­creases to cover the ex­tra costs due to the min­i­mum wage hike. Coun­cil­lors ap­peared open to that, sug­gest­ing users, not gen­eral ratepay­ers, should be re­spon­si­ble for a chunk of the in­creased costs.

Coun. Shantz sug­gested that ap­proach per­haps ex­tend to the new splash pad in Elmira, point­ing to the pro­jected $30,000 a year in op­er­at­ing costs.

“Each of those $30,000 adds up in a hurry.”

While the bud­get process is un­der­way at the staff level, more de­tailed doc­u­ments won’t be ready for coun­cil and the pub­lic un­til De­cem­ber, with spe­cial pub­lic meet­ings slated for Jan­uary.

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