By Pauline Kerr
Although no major decisions were made, other than to have another budget meeting, Kincardine councillors are coming to terms with the ramifications of a difficult 2022 budget.
A combination of increased costs – some driven by COVID, reduced revenues, projects that can’t be delayed any longer, and property assessments frozen at 2016 levels mean that council is looking at a budget increase of 7.11 per cent.
Options that were discussed include using reserves to smooth out the increase to something in the area of five per cent, asking staff to take another look at budget items to see what could be eliminated or postponed, or “selling” a 7 per cent increase to the ratepayers.
Councillors are well aware of this year’s municipal election. Budget decisions that fail to garner public support will cost votes, and decisions made now may commit the next council to actions they do not support.
With Deputy Mayor Randy Roppel in the chair in the absence of Mayor Gerry Glover, council discussed a number of items including a works budget request for $40,000 for mechanic’s tools.
“I can’t see a need for this – mechanics have their own tools,” said Coun. Dave Cuyler.
Coun. Andrea Clarke raised the point that mechanics having their own tools wasn’t part of their contract.
Coun. Dorne Fitzsimmons described the request as “a $40,000 solution looking for a problem,” since the request had come from management, not the mechanics. He raised the possibility of a tool allowance.
The general consensus was there were too many questions attached to the request, including insurance. It was removed from the list.
A recreation item that was looked at was North Huron’s request for $17,054, for Kincardine users of the community centres in Wingham and Blyth.
Kincardine wasn’t the only municipality that got such a request.
Coun. Maureen Couture said she couldn’t support it, especially since there’s no information on how many North Huron people use the Davidson Centre pool.
There were no details provided on what the $17,054 was for, and the request was voted down.
“Our main joint user is Huron-Kinloss and they do pay their share,” said Cuyler.
The largest item on the list was a commitment to support the ambitious Kincardine hospital update, at $600,000 per year for four years.
In response to a question from Couture, council was told there are sufficient funds in health care reserves for almost two full years – over $1 million.
While all councillors stated their support for the hospital project, some approached the funding request with caution.
Coun. Bill Stewart said he’d prefer to “park this for a year,” due to the coming election. There is the possibility of committing $300,000 per year over eight years, since it’s unlikely the money will be spent for “10 or 20 years.”
Coun. Laura Haight drew a distinction between committing $600,000 per year, and writing the cheque.
Coun. Doug Kennedy said it was “important to make the commitment, and let a future council decide how to do it.” He’d prefer to see the full $600,000 committed for this year.
Council decided to commit to $600,000 for 2022.
The mayor was to have presented a report on a matter involving another municipality – $2,500 for a third-party review of the nursing shortage at South Bruce Grey Health Centre, being spearheaded by Brockton. The study is being conducted by consultant Carol De Rosie.
Council supported the item unanimously, but opted to wait until full council, including the mayor, was present before making a firm commitment.
“We use the Walkerton hospital for certain things,” said Stewart. “It’s amazing and shocking that Walkerton had to close their ER (during overnight hours).”
Council members had been asked to provide items for consideration. Among them were Kennedy’s suggestion for playground equipment in Riggin Park, and Fitzsimmons’ proposal for painting and exterior work on the Tiverton works shed, and replacing the roof on the Tiverton ball diamond snackbar and washrooms.
Several items were given pre-budget approval – SCADA (supervisory control and dada acquisition) wiring, well upgrades, the waste management trailer, and phase two Cityworks software implementation, as well as purchase of a tractor, truck, chipper and mower.
During discussion, the matter of properly maintaining the roofs of municipal building was raised, with the recommendation from Jayne Jagelewski, director of community services, to bring in a consultant to look at all the roofs and make recommendations about which roofs need work.
Fitzsimmons said, “You don’t need a consultant to tell you the shingles are curling up and need replacement.
However, other councillors said they could see the benefits. “Jayne’s convinced me,” said Haight, who commented on the consultant approach being logical. “There’s merit in looking at all the square footage of our roofs.”
She suggested an item be placed in the 2023 budget about assessing roofs.
One key item that wasn’t on the list of items submitted for pre-budget approval was the Community Improvement Plan.
“We need to get that thing done as soon as possible, with all the development that’s going on,” said Couture.
As for the overall 7.11 per cent increase in the 2022 budget, Stewart said, “Not everyone can afford a tax increase … we need to put past surpluses (that are put into reserves) to reduce the rate.”
Roppel, too, objected to the 7.11 rate increase.
“We can’t go to the taxpayers with 7.11 per cent,” agreed Clarke.
Haight noted operational spending hadn’t been addressed the previous year. “If we take some funds from reserves to make it (tax rate increase) more palatable, we’ll be in the same position next year … we’ll always be playing catch-up.”
However, Couture said she could justify 7.11 per cent, referring to it as “the cost of operating this municipality. I wish there was another way but I can’t see it.”
Stewart continued to say that it “would be irresponsible” not to take some money from reserves.
The discussion included the impact of the municipal reorganization that’s still underway.
The final decision was to give staff direction to look at the operating budget, with a five per cent increase in mind, and hold another budget meeting. Stewart commented that would give the public a chance to speak with municipal representatives.