By Dan Rankin
At a public budget meeting held in St. Pauls on Feb. 18 when many people had the future of the municipality’s garbage and recycling system on their minds, there was also the small matter of the 2016 budget to be discussed.
Citing the continued reduction in Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding (OMPF) offered by the province as a “huge challenge to overcome,” Perth South Treasurer Rebecca Clothier told those in attendance that for 2016, they are proposing a levy increase of $96,603, which represents an increase of 3.36 percent.
Those funds would bring the proposed net levy to $2,971,000.
The draft budget was prepared by municipal staff and “reflects the recommendations of the staff and those priorities which have been previously approved by Council,” Clothier said. “Council has also had the opportunity to view the budget to this point and have made some adjustments.”
Early in the meeting, Perth South Mayor Robert Wihelm congratulated municipal staff on an excellent job. “We’re pleased to see they’ve got the budget down where it is,” he said.
Clothier described that process. “During 2015, municipal staff continually scrutinized the revenues and expenditures for the respective departments with the view of determining where modifications may be necessary,” she said. “Generally, most departmental operating costs continue to experience overall cost of living increases, as well as greater increases in energy, fuel and hydro costs.”
A few line items mentioned at the meeting included “General Government costs” which were reduced by $336,421 – or 19 percent – over 2015. There was no increase to Council remuneration.
Under the section “Protection of persons and property,” which includes budget items such as fire department, police services, conservation authorities, and protective inspections, there is an overall levy reduction of $5,548. There are no proposed changes to building fees.
In Transportation Services, proposed operating costs for roads and bridge work decreased by nearly $104,000 overall, “mainly due to budget cuts in transfer to equipment reserves,” according to the report.
The 2016 draft budget also includes a “split for half of the year with the existing bag tag system, and then switching to a proposed wheelie-bin program,” Director of Public Works Ken Bettles said. “The actual time of the switch would depend on when a decision was made by Perth South and timing for Bluewater Recycling to implement it.”
The proposed wheelie-bin program has an increase for 2016 of $11,665. Over 12 months, the proposed “Wheelie Bin” program has an annual increase of $23,329 over the existing 2016 program.
According to Clothier, strategic priorities for Perth South include promoting affordable and competitive property taxes, ensuring legislative compliance, addressing downloading and regulation responsibilities, promoting “pay-as-you-go” financing, enhancing revenue opportunities and containing costs, promoting industrial and economic prosperity initiatives, promoting savings through economies of scale on large construction projects by tendering for multiple projects at once, promoting joint purchasing opportunities with other municipalities to reduce expenditures, and aligning the budget with the township’s five-year strategic plan, which was approved in 2012.
A chart displayed to the public illustrated how cuts to the unconditional OMPF grant received by Perth South have impacted the municipality financially. The program for the funding was redesigned in 2014.
“Due to the redesign, we’ve lost a significant amount of grant funding,” Clothier said. “In the period 2013-2016, we’ve lost close to $1 million in funding. As this program continues, we’re going to experience a continued reduction of the amount of funding we get from the provincial government.”
In 2014, the municipality experienced a loss of roughly $217 per household in OMPF funds. That increased to a loss of about $246 per household funding for 2015. This year, continued cuts meant a loss of just over $147 per household funding.
Council will meet again to further consider the public input they received last Thursday, with plans to pass the budget following that date.