Municipal budget deliberations for 2021 have finally concluded after 10 contentious meetings held on Zoom between March 1 and April 26, with the final budget approved at the May 4th council meeting. The end result is a 2% increase to the general tax levy, but it was a rough road to get there.
Throughout the proceedings, the obvious four/four council split saw the mayor and 3 councillors on one side and the other four councillors on the other side pitting opposing views in a series of confrontations, ultimatums, points-of-order, yelling, accusations of bad faith negotiating, snide comments and personal barbs, sometimes to the point that it seemed that the municipality might not even reach its goal of achieving a budget. Administration was openly struggling with some of those behaviours, and often appeared demoralized. On the close of negotiating the general levy, Coun. Léo Malette, who is the longest continuously serving member of council and the former mayor of Cache Bay, said that this was the worst budget negotiation he had ever been involved with, which promptly set off another spate of infighting.
Nevertheless, a revised budget with a general tax increase at 2% and a Water and Waste Water rate hike of 1.9% was ratified at last. It was explained that they managed to keep the tax rate increase at 2% without decreasing services while also maintaining most projected capital expenditures, by drawing both on the 2020 surplus and thanks to windfall of $875,878 in Gas Tax transfer to the municipality at the end of March.
At the opening session on March 1, the starting point increase for 2021 was set at 6.84%, with a memo from CAO Jay Barbeau highlighting the unusual circumstances and impact of COVID-19, including special events and planned hires being cancelled, unforeseen expenditures, government relief funding, and a desire to position the municipality for a post-COVID economy. The opening deficit was presented at $1.2M, a lower point than in previous years. In his preface, Barbeau indicated that things would likely not return to “normal” in 2021, and the municipality would have to draft a budget based on “business continuity and business retention.”