Municipality pares budget down to a four-per-cent tax increase
By Liz Dadson
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Kincardine council has pared its 2014 budget down to a four-per-cent tax increase, but has a lot more work to do.
In committee-of-the-whole last night (Jan. 20), council held round two of budget talks, and managed to pare the operating expenses to a 3.91-per-cent increase. That equates to a tax increase of $46.58 for the average residential assessment of $245,000.
Council then worked through a long list of capital projects deemed high-priority by staff.
However, a further meeting will be required to discuss other capital projects and initiatives, such as the Inverhuron Pavilion, the Whitney Crawford Community Centre, the Kincardine Lions Club Splash Pad, and renovations to the Kincardine Arts Centre.
Treasurer Roxana Baumann reminded council of the changes made during the Dec. 16 budget meeting and brought forward new calculations.
Overall, the impact was a reduction of $95,424 in the operating costs, she said. This meant a revised tax rate increase of 4.93 per cent or $58.67 for the average household, down from the original six-per-cent increase which equated to an average tax increase of $71.40.
She then presented a list of proposed additional cost savings, identified by staff, and council went line-by-line, debating those items.
Baumann noted that any further reductions, beyond these identified items, would result in a decrease in maintenance and services in the municipality.
The first item was $42,000 for Phase 3 of the phragmites management plan.
Deputy mayor Anne Eadie put forward a motion to remove that cost, provided that if there is a surplus in the budget, come fall, $20,000 can be put back into that program.
"It would be nice to have money in there to complete more of the phragmites plan if the opportunity arises," she said. The motion was approved.Next, was $16,394 to have students inventory the number of ash trees in the municipality, in light of the outbreak of Emerald Ash Borer.
Eadie argued to keep that money in the budget because there are safety and liability issues related to having ash trees fall across a roadway or in a residential area.
"I disagree," said councillor Randy Roppel. "I don't disagree about the safety issue, but phragmites is a bigger issue for this municipality."
"I'm not talking about saving trees," said Eadie. "This is about knowing where the ash trees are."
"If I had a choice between Emerald Ash Borer and continuing our termite program, I would go with the termite program," said councillor Jacqueline Faubert. "If Emerald Ash Borer is going to become such a disaster, maybe the upper-tier governments will be forthcoming with some money for areas that are hit really hard."
Council agreed to eliminate the Emerald Ash Borer funding, but maintained the $10,556 for the termite program.
Councillor Ron Coristine noted that it's important that the students conducting the termite program be properly trained to do the work.
Regarding $8,338 to hire students to work on the trails program, council agreed to eliminate this cost because there is an agreement coming forward that will provide money for the trails work, including the funding for these students.
As for $12,500 to provide free wireless Internet (wifi) in downtown Kincardine, councillor Maureen Couture suggested deferring this for a year because many downtown businesses already offer free wifi.
"I thought we already committed to doing this," said mayor Larry Kraemer.
"I support Maureen (Couture)," said Roppel. "People in the rural areas that I represent, receive no benefit from this."
"I have friends in the rural area who would use this service," argued Faubert. "It would increase the tax base, increase tourism, and effectively increase economic development. And when you look at the big picture, it would decrease taxes.
Couture put forward a motion to defer this cost for a year, and noted that the Business Improvement Area (BIA) could raise the money on its own and provide the service.
That motion was defeated and the downtown wifi remained in the budget.
The same went for the $12,000 for Team Kincardine which, council noted, is working to complete the implementation of the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan, for the municipality.
As for the $142,500 for the Penetangore Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC), Kraemer recommended deferring this until PREDC makes its presentation to council.
Couture said she has asked for financial information from PREDC and has yet to receive it.
"We have given them about 100 per cent of their funding," she said. "They are supposed to be transparent and accountable."
"We don't ask for bank statements from other contractors," said Eadie.
"We ask for that information from those applying for community grants," argued Couture.
"This is not a community grant," said Eadie.
"They should provide financial statements by a qualified accountant annually," said Couture.
"They give us audited financial statements," said Eadie.
"It's important that we ask PREDC for information and receive it," said Coristine. "Which is why we should be attending the meet-and-greet events and the meetings between PREDC and council, so we can get that information."
A motion was put forward to defer discussion on PREDC until after the corporation makes its presentation to council.
That was approved, 6-2, in a recorded vote. Those in favour were Coristine, Eadie, Faubert, Kraemer, and councillors Kenneth Craig and Mike Leggett; voting against, were Couture and Roppel. Councillor Candy Hewitt was absent.
A proposed cut to the clerk's department of $8,475, for repairs to the murals in Kincardine and Tiverton, garbage can painting, and decorations, was allowed to remain in the budget
The $2,000 for Harbour Beach (Kincardine's twin community) was eliminated, as was the volunteer appreciation adjustment of $6,500.
Chief administrative officer Murray Clarke noted that the volunteer appreciation program is not being abandoned, it is just being done differently.
A proposed cut of $40,000 to the physician recruitment reserve fund was not approved by council.
Clarke said the physician recruitment program is being done differently, with some other incentives included, rather than the $100,000 over five years.
"This $40,000 contribution to reserves is important to preserve in the budget," he said.
Eadie asked if council would consider dipping into the health care reserve of $2.5-million to pay for this program. "Is all that money for hospital expansion?"
Kraemer said there was more money in that reserve but some was used for the Kincardine Community Medical Clinic.
Eadie said it took six years to get a proposed hospital expansion project together, and then it was lost. "If it takes another six years, we could use this (health care reserve) money for other projects."
"I have a different view," said Kraemer. "This is one program the taxpayers are prepared to pay for. We don't ever want to see another physician shortage in this community."
Council agreed to keep the $40,000 in the budget.
The $10,000 for council conferences was removed; as was the $5,000 for a radar speed indicator.
However, the $12,000 for FirePro software for the fire department was kept in the budget, to provide up-to-date, reliable database software for this department.
Council then discussed high-priority capital projects before adjourning for the night.
A third, and possibly final, budget meeting will be held in February.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014