Dysart continues 2021 budget process, tax increase sits at 1.2 per cent

By Mike Baker

Dysart et al residents are looking at an increase of at least 1.2 per cent to the municipal portion of their 2021 property tax bill.

Gathering virtually earlier this month to discuss the second draft of the township’s 2021 budget, Dysart councillors opted to add $26,250 to provide additional support to four community organizations, create a $10,000 economic development reserve fund, invest $5,000 to construct a resting place for individuals along County Road 10, and allocate at least $50,000 towards much-needed brushing and ditching work – with Kennisis Lake Road likely to be at, or near, the front of the queue.

At present, the municipality expects to spend a shade under $17.2 million over the next year. A big chunk of that will come from taxation – residential, commercial and industrial, amounting to just over $10 million. Around $3 million will come from various provincial and federal grants, with close to $4.2 million coming from other revenues.

When looking at the total pie and how the funds break down across Dysart’s eight municipal departments, the biggest chunk of the funds, around 34 per cent ($5.8 million), are allocated for transportation services – largely covering road maintenance and reconstruction. Next in line are protective services, coming in at 21 per cent ($3.6 million), with environmental services close behind at a shade over 20 per cent ($3.5 million). Recreation and culture amounts to just under 12 per cent ($2 million), general government just over 8 per cent ($1.45 million), and planning and development around 3 per cent ($550,000). Health services comes in at .9 per cent ($155,000), with social and family services rounding things out at .7 per cent ($120,000).

In order to determine how much a landowner will pay in taxes, a municipality multiplies the assessed value of a property, as determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), by the annual tax rate. MPAC last carried out property assessments in Haliburton County in 2016. The organization was due to update local assessments in 2020, but the process was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using figures presented by Dysart treasurer Barbara Swannell, using a tax increase of 1.2 per cent, the impact per $100,000 of MPAC assessment to residents’ tax bills in 2021 will be $3.60. According to MPAC, the typical residential property in Dysart was assessed at approximately $193,000 in 2016. Using these totals, the typical ratepayer will see an increase of at least $6.95 on their 2021 tax bills.

It should be noted that these numbers are not final, and will likely change before Dysart officially ratifies the coming year’s budget. Councillors will meet for a third time to discuss the budget on Feb. 12.

Initially, local councillors were hopeful they could push through a budget that would see the municipality hold firm on spending in 2021, and freeze taxes in light of the pandemic. Swannell tabled a first draft of the budget back in December that included a zero per cent increase, but that grew slightly as council started making decisions over different projects.
Mayor Andrea Roberts, in particular, seemed to appreciate the work Swannell and municipal staff had done to present an “extremely prudent and reasonable” budget.

“There’s a lot of pressures for people to pay property taxes, what with COVID-19. So we weren’t going to come in with a high budget,” Roberts said.

The areas where council did increase spending were seen to be important, especially relating to brushing, ditching and road resurfacing. The township plans to spend $1.5 million on 64 projects this year.

As explained by Rob Camelon, Dysart’s director of public works, the municipality completes dozens of road restorations every year. Staff uses software to rank municipal roads and determine the order in which work is completed, and to what scale. A full report outlining the township’s plans for the next two years is available online at dysartetal.civicweb.net/document/384817.

The big talking point during the second draft meeting centred around how much money council wanted to set aside for brushing and ditching. Camelon noted the township currently had an extensive backlog of roads that require some attention. Ward 4 Coun. John Smith suggested adding $100,000 to the budget to help Camelon chip away at that backlog.

“To get the backlog cleared, $100,000 could do a lot of good. I’m talking prep work only here, so drainage, clean up… $100,000, I’d definitely take it if you were offering it up,” Camelon said.

The township staffer says, when he budgets for this kind of prep work, he estimates it costs $20,000 per kilometre for crews to go in and complete the clean-up.

In the end, council agreed to add $50,000 to the budget, with the potential to add more following further discussion with Camelon ahead of that third meeting in February.

Speed study
Council nixed plans to contract an outside engineering firm to carry out a complete assessment of the municipality’s road network, at a cost of $47,000.

Prior to the decision, Camelon indicated this would be a worthwhile project to fund. Over the years, the township has received many complaints from area residents who feel speed limits should be reduced in different areas of town. Having a professional firm come in, study the area and provide recommendations would be a positive thing, Camelon says.

“Every section of road would be assessed, and that would give us guidance moving forward to deal with concerns of ratepayers on vehicles speeding and what signage may be appropriate,” Camelon said. “… If we go through and 75 per cent of roads are fine the way they are and don’t require any further investigation, then so be it, we’ve checked that box and we can move on. Down the road, we can say we’ve looked into it.”

While most councillors supported the study in theory, they felt the money could be better used elsewhere, and were hesitant to make any decisions that could lead to further increases to the tax rate in 2021.

Camelon clarified that this speed study was not a must-have, but would make things easier for staff, and council, in the future.

“If we don’t want to do this, that’s fine. But this problem is not going away. We’re going to keep getting the same requests from the same roads, so we better have a policy on [this], and soon,” Camelon said.

Community grants
Volunteers with the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, Haliburton Curling Club, Haliburton Lake Cottage Association and the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre will have had smiles on their faces after council ratified their individual funding requests, to the tune of $26,250.

Rails End Gallery received $6,250 to help cover escalating heat and hydro bills at the downtown site. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has been limited in what it can do, with many regular annual fundraisers, such as the Haliburton Arts and Craft Festival, the Haliburton Drum Festival and Trash and Treasures, all cancelled in 2020.

Laurie Jones, the facility’s executive director and curator, estimated expenses for the year would reach $181,000, and she appealed to Dysart’s elected officials back in December to increase the municipality’s annual contribution to the gallery. In 2021, Dysart will provide $56,250 to the Rails End Gallery.

A further $2,500 was presented to the Haliburton Lake Cottage Association to help cover costs associated with maintaining beaches in Dysart – most notably at Head Lake Park. $1,500 will go towards funding a project designed to deter geese from gathering at the downtown site, with a further $1,000 to support the hiring of a summer student to help out with other maintenance.

The Haliburton Curling Club will receive $5,000 to help pay for eavestroughing work at their Mountain Street facility.

Elsewhere, the Haliburton Sculpture Forest received $12,500 – $7,500 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind work, to help cover escalating costs at the site.