WN council meetings may not be proceeding according to plan, but the 2022 budget deliberations have been moving forward, with the April 13 meeting seeing full participation by council and the municipal CAO. The meeting opened with a recapitulation of the proposed 2.37% tax increase, and closing with a directive to reduce the hike to 1.5% or lower. Council has already approved capital expenditures of $3.5M for roads, allowing staff to conduct business.
The fiscal year 2021 ended with a budget surplus of $1.466M, and the proposed budget starting point saw a shortfall of $431K, accounting for the 2.37% proposed increase. In his opening remarks of April 13th, CAO Jay Barbeau acknowledged how difficult it has been to meet with council in the previous 7 months, which engendered the objective of administration to “whittle down” the budget discussion points, providing summaries of budget categories. “We are in the process of going into key budget changes in operations …We’re now in mid April. We still have a Sewer & Water and Environmental budget… Staff is asking can I do this, do that?… The clock is ticking – in order to get certain things done.”
Barbeau indicated he hoped to come to an acceptable levy, that his staff would be responsive to all requests by council for specific reports, but “a lot of reports won’t impact budget” and would be for information purposes only. He also spoke to the issue of funding capital works projects by contribution into reserve to “provide better flexibility for long term planning”; keeping any fiscal carryover for capital projects in dedicated reserves “guarantees that project will be carried over”.
In brief, 2022 will see payroll increases in all departments reflecting collective agreement negotiations. Insurance impacted all departments with an 18% increase in 2022, an issue faced by municipalities throughout Ontario, and there is a decrease of $140K in COVID funding over the previous year. Other uncontrollable increases include boards such as the Health Unit and District of Nipissing Social Services. Barbeau also told council that the municipal surplus allows an opportunity to increase the reserve for Au Chateau’s future planned redevelopment, a $548K increase. “I know it’s going to be higher but we’ve got to a place now that the increase to the taxpayer will not be an issue.”
Coun. Yvon Duhaime noted of the $175,400 insurance increase, “That’s only the increase; it’s now in the range of $600K a year. We have a lot of assets to insure.” Coun. Fisher responded that municipalities need to put pressure on the province to deal with the situation. “We can’t let the insurance people come back every year with a 20% increase; there must be something we can do other than just accept.” Coun. Rolly Larabie suggested looking into group insurance through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
Coun. Dan Roveda synopsized Barbeau’s presentation, “Basically we’re in a good state… even with the present budget we have $280K going into reserve. If we wanted to be aggressive, we could bring [the tax increase] down to 1%, which the taxpayers would be interested in.” Barbeau responded that his staff had put together a budget “reflecting what the community needs to progress” and that there was “no fat here”. He added that he also had no problem with the reserves going down $250K, “We always manage to pull them back up. If you want to get a lower tax rate yes, take it out of reserve.” Coun. Denis Senecal countered, “I don’t think the reserve is the only option – I think there is room to cut some fat.”