Levy hike at 4.16%

Brockville coun­cil gets first look at 2019 bud­get

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - RON­ALD ZA­JAC

Brockville’s tax levy for 2019 will go up by 4.16 per cent un­less city coun­cil­lors find ways to rein in pro­posed spend­ing, ac­cord­ing to an ini­tial bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion by city hall staff.

Re­duc­ing the levy – the to­tal amount of dol­lars needed from city prop­erty tax­pay­ers – to an in­crease of two per cent (tra­di­tion­ally a tar­get for which pre­vi­ous coun­cils have shot) would re­quire $767,791 in re­duc­tions to the spend­ing plan, adds the re­port by city cor­po­rate ser­vices di­rec­tor David Dick. Bring­ing that in­crease down to three per cent would re­quire slash­ing $411,708 from the plan.

Some cut­ting will take place, Mayor-elect Ja­son Baker as­sured on Wed­nes­day, the day af­ter the bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion to coun­cil.

“I think it’s fair to say 4.16 is not in any­body’s com­fort level,” said Baker.

The pro­posed 2019 bud­get projects ex­pen­di­tures of $50,659,079.

When other sources of rev­enue are fac­tored in, the city’s net re­quire­ment from tax­pay­ers is pegged at $37,088,211, or an in­crease of 4.16 per cent.

The bud­get pack­age city coun­cil­lors ap­proved for 2018 had a levy in­crease of 2.86 per cent.

Among the fac­tors driv­ing up ex­penses this year are wages and salaries, which are up by $500,000, Dick’s re­port noted.

Dick said labour set­tle­ments reached ear­lier this year with the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees in­cluded pro­vi­sions of Bill 148, a sweep­ing labour law in­tro­duced by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, which in­cluded en­hance­ments to salaries and ben­e­fits to em­ploy­ees.

That bar­gain­ing was done be­fore the June pro­vin­cial elec­tion, which swept into power Premier Doug Ford’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, which has since re­pealed some of those pro­vi­sions – too late to ben­e­fit this year’s bud­get.

Also built into the bud­get is an an­nual con­tri­bu­tion of $350,000 to the Aquatar­ium, noted Dick.

And the bud­get con­tin­ues the prac­tice of an­nual in­creases of $100,000 each in con­tri­bu­tions to the city’s fis­cal pol­icy and arena re­serves.

Baker said Wed­nes­day slow­ing down those in­creases to re­serve con­tri­bu­tions would be one way to re­duce the levy in­crease, but coun­cil shouldn’t jump to that op­tion right away.

“It’s the eas­i­est place to start, so let’s not start there,” said Baker. “Let’s start in the hard­est place.”

See LEVY |A2

The arena re­serve in par­tic­u­lar is de­signed to col­lect money for a project in the near fu­ture, so slow­ing down con­tri­bu­tions to it would mean “all you’ve done is de­fer when the to­tal amount is go­ing to be needed,” said Baker.

“Let’s make that the last de­ci­sion.”

Although wages are often con­sid­ered un­touch­able in bud­get talks, that is one harder area where coun­cil­lors could start, the in­com­ing mayor sug­gested.

It’s the most del­i­cate area, he said, “but it’s not im­pos­si­ble and it’s worth look­ing at.”

Coun­cil­lor-elect Larry Jour­nal, who is re­turn­ing to city coun­cil af­ter a seven-year hia­tus, is fa­mil­iar with the bud­get process but is await­ing more de­tails be­fore de­cid­ing which cost-re­duc­tion strat­egy is best.

He said Wed­nes­day a two per cent levy in­crease is “a bit of a stretch ob­jec­tive,” but an in­crease some­where be­tween two and three per cent would be palat­able.

An in­crease of 4.16 per cent is “a non-starter,” said Jour­nal.

“It’s all of our jobs, staff and coun­cil­lors, to look at those costs and gain ef­fi­cien­cies where we can,” he added.

Coun­cil’s long­est-serv­ing mem­ber, Jeff Earle, said 4.16 per cent might not be the ceil­ing on this bud­get.

“What you haven’t re­ally seen yet is the sup­ple­men­tary list.”

Those sup­ple­men­tals, or in­cre­men­tal items, rep­re­sent “the stuff that peo­ple need,” mak­ing it even more chal­leng­ing to rein in costs, said Earle.

The vet­eran coun­cil­lor has an even fur­ther stretch goal, although he ac­knowl­edges it likely won’t be ap­proached this year.

“Maybe we should look at ac­tu­ally re­duc­ing a bud­get one year,” he said.

“We’ve sort of come to ac­cept two per cent ev­ery year as a given.”

Tues­day’s meet­ing was coun­cil­lors’ first look at the new bud­get. Mem­bers ex­pect to get down to the busi­ness of draft­ing next year’s bud­get with weekly meet­ings, over­lap­ping into the start of the new coun­cil’s term Dec. 3.

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