Levy hike now 2.69%
Council calls for further reductions in budget increase
Brockville’ s 2019 tax levy increase now sits at 2.69 per cent, with council sending the budget back to staff with instructions to mitigate that increase even further.
Brockville council on Thursday passed a series of measures, mostly suggested by staff, that reduced a levy increase of 4.19 per cent to the current level.
Members also backed a small spending measure, agreeing to give $4,000 to Communities in Bloom, which will have either a neglible impact on the property tax bill or none at all if, as some suggest, it can be funded out of the accommodations tax.
But a number of high-priced requests remain to be considered, which could put more upward pressure on the levy; these include a new position at the Brockville Arts Centre and a new fire truck.
“This has to be an exercise in priority-setting,” Mayor Jason Baker said before members passed Coun. Larry Journal’s motion calling for further cuts.
“Everything on here makes perfect sense, and yet we can’t afford to do everything on here.”
Baker further challenged colleagues to get the levy increase down to two per cent.
The budget package facing councillors Thursday called for a tax levy, the total amount of dollars needed from city property taxpayers, of $37,099,380, up $1,491,125 from 2018, or an increase of 4.19 per cent.
Councillors then backed a series of reductions.
They included Coun. Mike Kalivas’s suggestion to put the brakes on a $100,000 increase to the annual arena reserve contribution.
Rather than going up as planned, the contribution to the arena reserve will remain at $500,000, which would leave that reserve at $2 million this year, said Dick.
Councillors also agreed to use the federal gas tax to cover $74,000 in principal and interest on the Railway Tunnel deficit, and $60,000 for the washrooms at Hardy Park.
Council also gave the OK to the removal of $150,000 each from the building maintenance and parkland equipment line items.
These measures brought the levy increase to 2.69, but Journal later introduced another motion calling on council to cut a further $150,000 from the overall budget.
Journal’s motion also calls on staff to find up to $300,000 more in savings from capital maintenance items now paid for by the tax levy. That maintenance work can still be included in the budget if staff finds other ways to fund it.
Members approved that motion unanimously.
Journal also called on city officials to provide council with more details when they show up at budget meetings asking for new items.
He made the point when economic development director Rob Nolan pitched the need for a new staff member at the Brockville Arts Centre, a box office coordinator who would cost the city $71,900 in salary and benefits.
Arts centre officials argue the new hire is needed to keep up the volume of sales needed to grow the facility’s business, and without it they may have to cut back on the number of shows.
But the size of the salary startled many on council, prompting Journal to argue for the need for a “full business case.”
“I’m not against this position, potentially, but I have no information to make a decision,” added Journal.
He planned to make a motion referring that and other items back to staff for more information, but held off at the mayor’s urging.
Officials are expected to return with the arts centre item with more details, and perhaps a lower salary point, at a future budget meeting.
Council also must decide on the biggest of the incremental items, a $750,000 fire department vehicle. Members on Thursday suggested Fire Chief Ghislain Pigeon reduce that cost by looking for a used truck.
Another big-ticket item is a joint police and fire department boat, at a cost of $350,000, while the list also includes patrol carbines for the police force ($66,000), ramp and slope work at the Railway Tunnel ($40,000) and maintenance work at the Aquatarium ($20,000).
Council’s only spending motion of the night, the $4,000 for Communities in Bloom, will allow the volunteer group to pay the registration fee for the provincial competition, as well as cover the costs of hosting judges and maybe doing new projects. Rza[email protected]
Brockville Coun. Larry Journal, right, makes a point while Coun. Jeff Earle listens during council's budget meeting on Thursday evening.
Brockville Mayor Jason Baker speaks during Brockville council's budget meeting on Thursday night.