Levy hike at 4.16%
Brockville council gets first look at 2019 budget
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the June provincial election, which swept into power Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, which has since repealed some of those provisions – too late to benefit this year’s budget.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.”
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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.