By Darren Lum
Ratepayers in Dysart et al will see a tax increase of 3.84 per cent on their next municipal tax bill after council voted at the special meeting on Friday, Feb. 11, held virtually.
It’s nearly half of the proposed 7.5 per cent proposed in December and less than the 4.22 per cent increase reached after the second draft for the budget.
The decrease in the tax levy from 4.22 to 3.84 per cent was reached after Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy presented the idea to draw $40,000 from the Canada Community Build grant, which will partially fund the $80,000 sidewalk project on Maple Avenue, starting at Park Street and ending at the Gardens of Haliburton retirement home. It now takes the Community Build Fund from the $290,000 to $250,000.
Kennedy said this action is in the best interests of ratepayers and was done with the knowledge of an expected “substantial surplus” in 2021, which has yet to be finalized.
“So, I still feel we’re contributing a lot to our reserves and we do have a plan in asset management supplement of $170,000 a year plus the increase to infrastructures. So, I think we’re on the right track,” Kennedy said. Whether this will be seen as a positive seen with an auditing lens within a year or two, he wasn’t sure.
“But I think we’re on the right track to introducing increasing our reserves. I do this with the full knowledge that this is an impediment to reserve building, but I think at this time it’s a benefit to our taxpayers to try to reduce our impact as much as possible this year,” Kennedy said.
With a 3.84 per cent increase, this means ratepayers will pay $11.41 more per $100,000 assessment for residential properties, $16.92 per $100,000 for commercial and $19.60 per $100,000 for industrial. A one per cent levy increase is equal to about $101,000 in revenue.
The tax base is composed of 95 per cent being residential with the balance of five per cent for commercial and industrial rate payers.
At the start of the meeting and before council voted for the 3.84 per cent increase, treasurer Barbara Swannell noted Dysart et al ratepayers paid the lowest in the county in 2021. It means Dysart ratepayers get a strong return of services from money that is used “very frugally” with 38.4 per cent of the assessment for the county. Mayor Andrea Roberts said for context Haliburton County will see a 3.22 per cent levy increase and education taxy levy will not see an increase or a decrease.
The vote for the 3.84 per cent tax levy wasn’t unanimous. At 5-2, Councillors Walt McKechnie and John Smith were both looking for an increase lower than three per cent.
They asked about taking $100,000 from reserves for a $140,000 reduction for a 2.86 per cent tax increase. Smith wanted this $100,000 to be applied to 2022 instead of putting it into a working fund reserve he said was worth $1.7 million. His rationale for the lower increase was how he sympathized with residents, who have endured pandemic-related hardships and how some residents were seeing nominal wage increases, which are less than the tax increase.
He acknowledged the surplus total isn’t known, but assumed it could be close to previous year’s $300,000 and taking $200,000 could help bring down the tax levy increase to under three per cent.
Smith made this assertion when Kennedy had tabled a motion to approve the budget. He clarified that the new positions in 2023 will be reflected in the budget then and that reserves may be needed to meet this greater expense.
Swannell said the surplus will need to be added to reserves with the current situation.
There is an issue with how the township has a rental rate model for vehicles, which is set where the township pays itself for operation she said.
“It’s not working for us anymore because the basis is that as long as the vehicle is rolling down the road and providing services to us it’s generating revenue of which the expenses are net against and that surplus – we anticipate a surplus – gets put into the development reserve,” she said.
In 2021, the township has drawn $130,000 on the development reserve to fund its vehicles. Swannell said this is not a good position.
“Historically, going back two or three years ago we were putting in $150,000 based on the rental rate model. That’s not working today. I would recommend that staff be given the opportunity to review the reserve policy. Rethink how we put money into reserve for replacement and asset management and that way there we get a policy in place. We all have rules to play with and that will help to better manage our operating budget and take away the uncertainty of a light winter where our vehicles are not running down the road and generating revenues … It is a discussion item on its own,” she said.
She adds there will be an operating surplus in 2021, but staff are reviewing the numbers.
Swannell added the municipality is now drawing from reserves to fund the vehicles in 2021, which “is not practical at this time, so we will definitely be putting some of that surplus money into reserves for a vehicle replacement and our equipment replacement.”
Council will be discussing this issue at a later date.
The sources of funding for Dysart et al is 58 per cent of its total revenue comes from property tax, 16.8 per cent is through grants and other non-tax revenue, which is drawn from municipal reserves and user fees is 25.3 per cent.
The greatest expenditures by department are transportation, environment and protection. From a graph titled Expenditures by Department, Swannell said the “blip” in transportation in 2022 is in part due to money being transferred to the reserves for the asset management plan worth $140,000.
Some of the amendments made from the second draft included a reduction in general government, a reduction of $8,250 from phasing in the wage increase for the volunteer firefighters over the year; a reduction within the roads department from staffing changes; a total reduction of $24,942 with the museum, who won’t be hiring a summer student; and reduction to floor replacement reserve at the West Guilford Community Centre, and planning and development saw a reduction of $25,325 because of increased revenue and a reduction of $11,993 from less wages and benefits. The one area among amendments that grew with this third draft was in landfills where there was an increase of $4,434 in staffing costs with wages and benefits related to landfill winter hours at Harcourt, Kennisis Lake and West Bay. The total net levy reduction amounted to 1.28 per cent or $130,842.
The Royal Canadian Legion of Haliburton Branch 129 will receive $2,000 for its lift (for accessibility to its building) campaign after consideration was given to the non-profit, which was recognized as worthwhile recipient of support by council for its community contributions. Kennedy asked about using part of the $8,000 budgeted for events, which was available because of municipal event cancellations such as the Frost Festival and New Year’s Levy due to the pandemic. Swannell said $2,000 is set aside for grant requests for organizations to hold events and council (with McKechnie asking for $5,000) voted for the transfer. This transfer won’t affect the tax levy.
Roberts complimented everyone involved in the budget process.
“Very good conversation council. Really, I think we can all see that we’re working hard and trying to respect each other. We all have a difference of opinion, but once we land on a budget and once we land on that discussion we support our staff going forward and I think it’s great that we’re able to pass a budget in February,” she said. “That is quite an accomplishment considering staff have been working on this since September/October, but it is great to be passing it at this time of year. So, thank you everybody.”