(continued)
2015 Budget one step closer
by Sandy Lindsay

February 6, 2015

Town Council

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The draft budget that was reviewed on December 9th was again brought forward on February 4th after Town staff reviewed departmental expenditures for further recommendations.

Without any changes, it would have meant a 7.6 per cent increase in the tax rate.

Staff however, came forward with several changes to the Capital budget reducing it from $8,901,808 to $7,482,158 which further reduced the tax funding from almost $2 million to slightly over one million at $1,233,121.

In order to reduce the tax funding, however, Council had to approve or remove several capital projects.

Treasurer Kate Allan

Fire Services:

Removed storage shed renovations at $7,000

Removed Pumper and Aerial trucks ($1,645,000) and add a replacement Quint ... this will reduce the tax levy funded transfer to the fleet reserve by more than one million dollars over the replacement cycle of the apparatus (20 years). If approved this reduction in Fleet contributions will maintain fleet transfer to 2014 contributions and save approximately $100,000.  annually. Project is partially DC fund eligible.

Police Services Bldg. Renovation:

 Due to lack of secure storage for police documents  and overcrowding, total capital funding required is $70,000 to bring the building up to standard for space.

"Why would we do this work and then in a year's time do something that will equal or better this plan.  If we do this work now, the decision may be deferred for a new police building," said Councilor Neil Menage.

"This is a interim that will give us some time to deal with the larger issue that is in the draft plan," said Deputy Mayor Charbonneau. "It will give the police a building that they can use while determining what's to be done."

"It is just a convenience," asked Councilor Cheryl Grace, "or in terms of storage, isn't it a duty to store evidence safely?  I think we have a responsibility to do that."

"In 2006, I became Chief," said Chief Dan Rivett, "and since 2008, we have been talking about doing something about the building.  Then it was 2013, then 2014 and now it's 2015 and we are looking at 2016.  Anything that will be done will better the building and buy us some time."

Funding approved.

Port Elgin Street Lighting:

Ten decorative street lights in the budget at some $31,000 for Port Elgin were debated.  "I think removing them at this time would not be appreciated and, if we are encouraging downtown revitalization, this is one of the areas that people will see the improvement," said Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber.

"I agree that this should go ahead," said Councilor Grace.  "Driving through towns with decorative lighting makes a very powerful difference.  We are committed  to downtown revitalization and we should take advantage that the BIA is going to match dollar for dollar on this project."

Councilor Neil Menage also agreed that it is tax dollars well spent.  "The BIA has a plan and it is working that plan and they raised that money. This is partnership mondey and I think this project is worth supporting."

 Funding approved.

While some projects were approved as necessary, several others  were either removed or deferred

 Public Works:

Approved:  Fuel management system/new tanks at Town shop $40,000

Deferred: Albert to Island St. paving $90,000

                 Concession #6 upgrades $1million

 Removed: Traffic Lights back-up $20,000

Deferred: McEwing Bridge: 

Removed: Rail Trail Lighting: 

Deferred:  Waterfront Signage

Southampton Town Hall:

"I find it very interesting that we have had community improvement and Streetscape plans and a background study for the Town Hall," said Vice Deputy Mayor Huber, "but we keep pushing projects further out and let new projects take over.  This is a unique heritage building for Southampton and is about more than just a little beautification and nothing is being done to improve the building.  Instead, of just getting plans and whittling away at them, why don't we do something?"

"I agree," added Councilor Menage.  "I would like to see the Town Hall plan completed.  If we approve the Waterfront, let's take some money of that and put it towards the Town Hall."

Mayor Mike Smith pointed out that an architect had been hired to look at the building and who had come up with options that Council considered to protect the integrity of the building.

"Of the 139,000 in the budget," said Councilor Grace, "how much is for protecting the integrity and is there some community partnering that can be realized?"

Jayne Jagelewski, Director of Community Services, pointed out that the steps of the Town Hall are in "... dire need of replacement at $45,000.  We have had conversations about the interior with the 150th Committee and the tenants in the building."

She also explained that the 'decorative' lighting is below standard and not grounded so that they must be removed.

"Well we have to do a proper job and put something (lights) back that is going to look decent," said Deputy Mayor Charbonneau.

Funding was reduced from $139,000 to $50,000.

 

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When it came to discussing the proposed Waterfront plan for Port Elgin beach, not everyone was  in agreement.

"I think we should have a mid-year conversation about this," said Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber.  "By saying yes to the $1.3M plan, we are saying we are ok with  taxpayers funding improvements at the waterfront.  I don't think we have agreement.  I think this is premature but I know we have to do something.  If anything, let's look at operations and improvements or repairs.  We should look at our own customization of the plan phase-in."

"We spent two and a half years on a Waterfront Master Plan, ask a consultant then we put on the brakes. We are setting ourselves up for failure and we do it repeatedly." said Menage. "There is the $250,000 for the Doll side road from the gas tax.  Why can't that be applied to the Waterfront washrooms? Interest rates are also at a really good level that encourages borrowing and there are opportunities for exploring a diversified package for receiving interest on our reserve accounts."

"I know it's been raised a few times about investing our reserve funds."  Mayor Smith explained that the Municipal Act is very specific on what municipalities can do.  "It is very specific and very regulated," he said.  "We are struggling here with consensus.  I will never support a $500,000 washroom on the beach ... when there are so many other needs in this community.  I think that's what happens when you get consultants involved.  It raises expectations but the reality is we will get up to our debt level at some point and we will have to go to the tax levy and that's very painful.  You quickly lose control of your entire budget and you don't get to make choices then."

                                               


             Mayor Mike Smith

"So, I think we need to make those hard choices now," he added. "We have had several multi-million dollar projects proposed for this community, all in isolation.  To be honest,  we cannot fund them all.  We have to come to a compromise and  I am struggling with this.  I don't mind leaving it (Waterfront) in there because it is a 'place holder' and I know there will be further discussions.  There will be debt financing and I do not support taking the gas tax - it is just moving money around.  As the year progresses, I think you will find there are some huge needs in the existing Capital projects and we are significantly underfunding those."  To ensure they are preserved in the long term, we have to be very careful about a whole bunch of new capital projects when we don't even have enough for the ones we have now and are not funding them adequately."

"I don't want to set the expectation that we are going to approve the $1.3Million in the very near future.  I have no doubt we need to approve part of it for the Waterfront.  Perhaps, we will have to go to staff again."

Deputy Mayor Charbonneau said that the Waterfront is his number one priority for which he would "... sacrifice other priorities.  We have invested very little in that very important asset over the last decade compared to how we invested in our other assets and we are under-investing in all of our assets and that's a big problem.  This is a critical asset to the success of the community and it's one we have to invest in and I am prepared to borrow money to do it.  I don't support spending $1.3M this year either but some aspect should move forward this year and, in the meantime, we could leave it in the budget and after seeing final costs we can decide if we will move forward with some aspect.  I will be supporting borrowing against our debt level to get it done."

"The amount when left in the budget has no affect on the tax rate this year," said the Mayor. "This is going to take more discussion and, I know we have to do something at the Waterfront, but we don't have the money for it."

"I don't think it should be part of this budget but should be a future agenda item where we could have a very detailed discussion," said Huber.  "At that point, we can come up with a suggestion as to the amount.  I think it is premature to have an amount attached to it when we can isolate it and then get public feedback and, in a meaningful way, move forward with the support of the community."

Menage wants the gas tax that was to be used for the Doll Side Road paving ($250,000) to go toward the waterfront washroom.

"Projects need to be based on merit," said Councilor John Rich.

"I think it would be wise that we should not assume where money like this should go.  Maybe we could take a look and decide on areas that normally don't have a chance at that funding," said Huber.

"This council has not had a real chance to discuss this Waterfront plan and we need to do that," said Huber.

"I think we need to have a Capital project list in front of us as a whole and how we can fund them," said Councilor Don Matheson.

"If not all the gas tax money, I would like to see at least part of it, the $250,000 Doll Side Rd. funding, go toward the beach front," said Menage in a motion put before Council.

Council defeated the motion

After a four-hour meeting and more deferrals and removals from the budget, the tax amount was reduced to 3.87 per cent, not yet finalized.


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Monday, February 09, 2015