By Chris Drost
Residents of Highlands East will have to dig a little deeper as property taxes are expected to increase by 3.8 per cent in 2022, largely because of higher insurance costs.
This translates to $19.50 per $100,000 of assessment , or about $80 for a $400,000 residential property.
A one per cent increase in residential taxes is equal to $65,990 in taxation.
The rise in insurance costs across all departments was cited as the major reason for the tax hike. “Insurance has gone up eight per cent overall,” CAO/treasurer, Shannon Hunter said.
During the special meeting of council on Jan. 18, each of the department heads or their representatives, had an opportunity to present their budgets to council.
Fire chief Chris Baughman explained the need for an increase to the fire services budget because of higher insurance costs and higher costs of benefits for volunteers. Efforts are being made to bring wages for firefighters up to at least minimum wage.
“Supplies have not had much change and everything else is relatively unchanged from previous years,” he said.
Laurie Devolin, CBO and bylaw enforcement officer, explained that there has not been much change in the building department budget from last year other than some small increases in the fuel and insurance costs. She has increased the mileage for students this year. The GMC Terrain will be replaced for the bylaw department.
Under Bylaw and Enforcement, Hunter said that 2021 was a very busy year.
“COVID-19 has added a lot of extra workloads on this department,” she said. The budget will be similar to previous years but they will be putting emphasis on building bylaw clean-up. Anything going through the court system will probably be lagged due to backlog but non-compliance is growing.
Brett Charboneau, operations supervisor, reported that Public Works will be carrying over some road work that was not completed in 2021. This includes adding surface treatment on West Eels Rd., work on the Earls Bridge and adding a second layer of surface treatment on the Dyno Road.
Charboneau has increased the budget for training as they have not had much in the past. This will allow training through Good Roads. There will also be funds set aside for road patrol software that will help bring them into compliance. A budget line has also been added for PPE for staff for such things as safety hats, boot, chainsaw pants etc.
Capital projects planned for 2022 include: Upper Paudash; Labrador to Hwy 28; Gem Rd and Inlet Bay Rd. In addition, the South Wilberforce bridge will be completed and various repairs completed on automatic doors and roofs.
“I really support additional training. Maybe overdo it a bit,” Councillor Cam McKenzie said.
Under the Waste Management budget, Charboneau said that things will remain pretty much the same as the previous year. “I have added in a bit extra for staff training,” he said. The land fill and equipment budgets remain the same.
Megan Lockwood, environmental supervisor, reported that there have been some increases in the Environmental budget, largely because the cost of the environmental supervisor and technician being moved under their budget. As seen in other departments, insurance costs have gone up along with the cost of filters needed for Ward One. A new truck will be purchased using reserves from 2021.
While not a great deal has changed in the Parks/Recreation Programs and Facilities budget, Jim Alden, property supervisor explained that the biggest thing has been the increase in insurance. “I have also added a line for fuel,” he said. There are also line items for staff training. Supply costs have remained about the same.
The cost of trail upgrades has increased a bit, according to Alden.
Capital projects for the year include: Cardiff pool change room; Herlihey Park; the Highland Grove Community Centre fridge, new windows and refurbishing of the basketball court and the electrical panel at the Cardiff Community Centre. The library costs remain about the same as last year other than increased insurance costs.
Hunter reported that the planning department has experienced a great deal of activity in the past year. The township hired a junior planner in 2021 and this has prompted the need to increase the budget to include funds for further training for this person, as well as some office furniture and equipment.
Because the planning department is expecting another busy year this year, Hunter said that an extra $30,000 has been brought in from 2021 reserves to help cover the added costs. They need to do an Official Plan review and a Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw review in 2022, which will increase costs.
Economic development coordinator Joanne Vanier, explained that $6,000 has been set aside in the economic development department budget for mineral claims. They are looking to obtain a lease on two claims. They also need to work on the railway claim.
The economic development budget includes 1,040 hours for the economic development coordinator as well as having a student for 36 hours per week for 16 weeks.
Under the advertising budget, Vanier noted that a number of things were not printed last year due to COVID-19. She has included funds in this year’s budget for the Highlander Handbook, GeoWoodstock event in B.C., the Welcome to Haliburton ad, Explore map ad and registration and mileage for participating in the Bancroft Gemboree.
“I don’t see the value [of the GeoWoodstock event] in these times,” said Mayor Dave Burton. He suggested putting it towards a start-up fund for non-profits to apply for funding.
“The GeoWoodstock event in B.C. was approved in 2020,” said Councillor Suzanne Partridge to which Mayor Burton replied, “I believe we cancelled it. I am not even sure if we will be travelling by then.”
Hunter suggested that the $3,000 that was for the GeoWoodstock, could instead be earmarked for start-up funding for non-profit groups. “I support that,” Councillor McKenzie said. He noted that some groups have been “in limbo for two years.”
The geocaching budget includes funds for registration for Groundspeak GeoTour, cache maintenance and mileage, information centre and supplies. The Trails Committee has more members than any other municipal committee and so the per diem amount has been increased.
Under recreation and culture, funds have been set aside for beautification and for Canada Day celebrations.
The administration budget showed that there has been an increase in OMPF funding, now at $2,000,100. Hunter explained that the funds they have received, that were from the Gas Tax, “have not been allocated in 2022 as we are doing projects for which funds had already been put aside.” She recommended that they be moved to the 2023 budget.
Hunter also reported that the increase in remuneration through the union has increased by 1.75 per cent for 2022. Benefits have increased as well but she did not have the percentage in front of her.
Most operational costs were up and down as 2021 was not a regular year. “There was not much travelling and so we have seen savings that way,” said Hunter.
Money is also being set aside for an Integrity Commissioner, just in case one is needed in future.
Overall, there were more annual licenses to pay for towards software and the EV charging station.
Funds are also being earmarked towards upcoming municipal election expenses, including an election returning officer.
The policing costs for the township will see a decrease in 2022, although costs are still over $1 million per year, according to Hunter.
Following the presentations to council, Hunter expressed her hope that sufficient information has been provided so that all members feel comfortable. She encouraged any members of council with questions to contact her.
“Overall, not much as changed. When we put together assessment and total budget required, we came up with a 3.8 per cent tax rate increase. The assessment did not increase substantially,” explained Hunter.
After Hunter’s final comments, Mayor Burton called for the motion and council approved the creation of a bylaw showing a 3.8 per cent tax hike that will come before council on Feb. 8 for final approval.