GAIL MARTIN, Independent Editor
Woolwich councillors took their first stab at the 2013 budget on Tuesday night, by setting the overall targets that will guide township staff.
Township treasurer Richard Petherick opened the budget discussion, highlighting his recommendations to councillors.
These included maintaining existing service levels, using one per cent of the expected three per cent assessment growth towards debt repayment, setting an overall 1.8 per cent base rate increase for the capital and operating budget, and setting aside an additional 2.5 per cent to address infrastructure needs.
This would be the second year for a special infrastructure fund levy. In 2012, the township will collect $179,294 for infrastructure projects.
Councillor Julie-Anne Herteis expressed reservations about the two tax hikes, which would bring this year's overall increase to 4.3 per cent.
"That's too much," said Herteis, who suggested the township should only increase the capital and operating budgets by 1 per cent, and set aside 1 per cent for the infrastructure levy.
Councillor Mark Bauman objected, however, suggesting that an overall two per cent increase would contribute to the township falling behind.
"If we fall below inflation, we'll have to cut service or wages," said Bauman.
He noted that he has long supported the idea of setting money aside for infrastructure needs.
Currently, the township is facing an infrastructure deficit of $63 million.
Councillor Bonnie Bryant agreed with Bauman, but added a caution.
"We need to stick to the numbers we set," said Bryant, who said that ratepayers get frustrated when they see budget numbers creep up during the budget process.
Mayor Todd Cowan pointed out that a 4.3 per cent tax increase would result in another $40 per year in local taxes, for a home assessed at $400,000.
"That's just 11 cents a day," said Cowan.
Budget meetings will be taking place during the month of January, on Thursday nights.
The township is facing additional pressures in the 2013 budget, over and above infrastructure needs. Many township recreational facilities are needing upgrades, Ontario Municipal Board costs continue to be a concern, and the township will be conducting a fire station review that may require the addition of new fire stations.
Township staff will be reporting back on these issues through the budget process.