Draft budget has HE residents face 2.05% tax increase

By James Matthews

Highlands East’s first-draft budget has ratepayers paying an extra 2.05 per cent on their tax bill this year.

That equated to $525.40 in 2023 over last year’s tax rate. That means an extra $10.54 for the average home assessed at $100,000.

The 2.05 per cent represents an overall municipal increase of $183,932 in capital and operating costs over those in 2022. The purse for 2023 at this early stage in the budget process would be $6.9 million.

Brittany McCaw, the township’s deputy CAO/treasurer, presented the financial blueprint when town council met during a special meeting Jan. 31.

McCaw said it was anticipated that this would be a difficult year for setting a budget. Costs have risen incredibly across the board. Given that, she said, municipal staff have managed to find ways to trim costs without hindering services.

“We are on target to come in under budget for the 2022 year,” she said.

Money from reserves in the current budget is funds that had been earmarked for uncompleted projects in previous years.

Some of the money being brought forward in 2023 was for such projects as $25,000 to engage an architect to design the municipal office; $25,000 from digitizing files to the Records Management SDR project; $10,000 to engage the services of the integrity commissioner, should the need arise.

The corporate strategic plan in 2023 will require $25,000 from the Working Fund Reserve.

Public Works has asked for $100,000 for maintenance and repairs of bridges and culverts. Specifically, the department asked for $55,000 for Gooderham Dam, $20,000 for Hadlington Bridge, and $25,000 for Donroy culverts.

Just some of the capital projects on the horizon in 2023 include work on McColls Bridge ($400,000), Inlet Bay Road ($40,000), Gem Road ($40,000), Upper Paudash Road ($50,000), Buxton Road ($76,000), Pioneer Road ($240,000), Earles Road culvert ($270,000).

A business case has been prepared for council for an addition or new build of a roads garage as opposed to operating two separate garages and renovating.

Some of this year’s other initiatives include $100,000 for the design build of the new municipal office, $50,000 for the strategic plan, $25,000 for records management SDR, and climate change initiatives will cost $25,000.

McCaw said a business case has been prepared for council for a single municipal office as opposed to operating three separate offices. She said there are inefficiencies in maintaining three buildings.

“We also have the function of the managers working out of three buildings,” she said. “It’s really difficult as staff to manage when you’re not all together.”

A single building will save on energy costs, maintenance, and will reduce the number of municipal assets. Reducing assets means less money that needs to sit in reserve funds to cover the future replacement of those assets.

Everybody under one roof allows for cross-training which will prove beneficial to meeting future staffing needs, she said.

“It will also be a benefit to the public,” McCaw said.

The current three buildings could then be turned into future housing.

The draft budget includes an increase for municipal staff and council to attend conferences now that such sessions have returned after the global COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

Speaking of travel costs, Deputy Mayor Cecil Ryall said the reimbursement per kilometre increased from 45 cents a kilometre to 61 cents per kilometre. He asked if the treasury had taken that rise into account.

“We looked at last year’s budget and it was quite low and we did increase the mileage account for 2023, understanding that there would be more travel and in-person meetings,” McCaw said.