By Francis Baker
Centre Wellington councillors started debating the township’s budget Friday morning, with a proposed tax increase of 2.11 percent.
With Wellington County approving a 2.4 percent increase in its tax levy last week, township property tax bills should increase 1.88 percent overall – if councillors make no changes to the township portion of the budget.
But there may not be many places where councillors can make cuts, budget committee chairman Fred Morris said before the discussion began.
Usually, there’s a perception that councillors are presented with a budget increase that’s higher than what they’ll end up approving – that there are items that can be cut to bring the proposed tax increase down, Morris said.
But that’s not the case this year, he said.
“This in my opinion is not a hide and go seek budget,” he said. “This reflects the real operational cost of Centre Wellington township.”
There are only two areas where councillors can make significant cuts in the budget – to staffing or services, he said.
The proposed budget takes into account a further $99,900 reduction in the township’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund grant – money originally allocated to help municipalities deal with amalgamation and downloading of services. Now receiving under $900,000, the township’s grant has been steadily reduced since 2009, when it was $1.5 million.
Another major impact on the budget this year is a $323,000 increase in the area of wages and benefits, deputy treasurer Mark Bradey explained, which includes an average 1.5 percent in wage increases plus related increases to benefits.
The township has also added transfers to its vehicle replacement reserve – money set aside to help replace aging vehicles – and increased the transfer to the capital reserve to $750,000 from the $350,000 it had been cut to. That’s money from taxation put into reserves for capital building projects.
Morris said he was particularly pleased to see those two items included in the proposed budget, as it’s important to boost reserves so the township can deal with issues in the future.
The township is increasing budgeted revenue in building permits, interest, and parks and recreation, and taking advantage of $85,000 in savings through the township creating its own communications system, $97,280 in revenue through assessment growth, and $124,600 in savings through a redistribution of Grand River Conservation Authority charges.
Township CAO Andy Goldie said the proposed budget includes no new staff positions and no new services, and has “a very tight allocation for our services.”
Staff took an average of actual expenses over the past three to five years to come up with the 2013 budget figures, Goldie said. There were also one-on-one “pre-consultation” meetings with council members and more staff input into this year’s department budgets than in years past.
Staff budget work started later than was originally intended, councillors heard, and staff hopes to start that preliminary work for 2014 even earlier at the end of this year.
Council approved the capital portion of the budget in December, allowing staff to start working on getting project tenders out early this year, at the start of the construction season – which Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj says is important to get projects underway with good construction pricing. She also stressed the importance of finishing the budget early in the year.
There are three days of budget meetings scheduled – Monday was day two and Friday will be the third day, if it’s necessary.