Taxpayers weigh in on Northeast Town proposed draft 2016 budget

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town council held its annual public budget meeting last Thursday, seeking input from area taxpayers on the draft municipal 2016 budget.

“I would like to thank everyone for coming out tonight and, in advance, for your input,” said Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin.

“I would like to reiterate Mayor MacNevin’s appreciation for everyone who has come out this evening,” added CAO Dave Williamson. “This is an opportunity for us to collectively look at the draft 2016 budget. I stress the word ‘draft’ as council has not finalized the budget. We are here tonight to address the final needs of the community. We are seeking your opinions and ideas.”

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Mr. Williamson reminded the meeting that this was the second public meeting regarding the budget, and that council had hosted a public meeting last August prior to town staff starting the 2016 budget to get direction from taxpayers before beginning the budget process.

He explained that following the August meeting, staff reviewed the numbers and projections for 2016 and prepared a draft budget for council which they reviewed, developed and made changes to from October to December.

“The draft budget tonight is the culmination of all the efforts to date from the public, staff and council,” added Mr. Williamson.

Town treasurer Sheryl Wilkin walked council and members of the public through a slide show of the draft 2016 budget, highlighting key areas.

She began by listing the tax rate implications by ward. For Ward 1, if the new budget is approved it will mean a 1.96 percent reduction; for Ward 2, a 4.01 percent reduction; and for Wards 3 and 4, a 1.66 percent reduction.

She explained that the increase in the levy needed to operate the town and maintain the same level of services with the proposed budget would be $215, 978.47 or a 5.37 percent increase in the levy.

Ms. Wilkin broke down the budget into main areas and costs such as salaries, wages and benefits, $40,000; Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, $2,874, Manitoulin East Municipal Airport, $4,000; Little Current Public Library, $3,737; utilities, $10,000; equipment repair/fuel costs, $7,000; contribution to the Manitoulin Centennial Manor, $3,084; Health Unit levy, $2,665; reduction in new assessment from 2015, $13,000; recreation centre contracted services, $5,000; increase to capital net to town, $4,200; reduction in Waste Diversion Ontario funding $23,177; reduction in Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) funding by $83,000; and the reduction in police services costs by $60,000.

Ms. Wilkin also showed pie charts that reflected how the reduction in OMPF had led to increased local taxation since 2009.

In the review of the capital project, Ms. Wilkin noted the painting of the town office, streetscape revitalization, road construction, urban surface treatment (Campbell Street West), rural surface treatment (Town Line Road, Bass Lake, Honora Bay, Bay Street and the Green Bush Gulley), public works GPS unit, public works half ton tuck, public works sand dome in Sheguiandah (dependent on funding), public works salt shed in Little Current, streelighting, municipal drains, the watermain (cast iron) replacement, lagoon upgrade, recreation centre (ice resurfacer door replacement, washroom stalls, convection heating in the curling club), a parking lot flex beam at Low Island, archaeological site development at the Sheguiandah museum, dock replacement at Spider Bay Marina for piers 3, 5 and 6 (dependent on funding) and Spider Bay Marina LED light upgrade (pending funding).

Ms. Wilkin concluded her presentation stating that “the uncontrollable costs have increased by $169,067 since 2009 and 62 percent of the increase in the levy from 2009 to 2016 can be attributed to these uncontrollable costs.”

She added that while assessments have gone up (controlled by MPAC), the Northeast Town’s tax rates have decreased every year since 2009.

During the public input portion of the evening, NEMI Taxpayers’ Association spokesperson Mark Volpini was the first to speak.

“As we consider the tax increases over the past five years, it is astonishing to note that our municipality has seen a series of increases, amounting to 23.59 percent,” began Mr. Volpini. “When added to the projected increase for 2016, our taxpayers will have had to burden 28.89 percent in overall increases. To put it simply, this amounts to double the rate of inflation. With our question, we understand that difficult decisions are at the heart of every budget. After all, it is the duty of council to act in a way that is ethical with taxpayers’ dollars.”

Mr. Volpini, on behalf of the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association, made four suggestions to council related to the proposed capital improvements.

The first suggestion was to not paint and install a drop ceiling at the municipal office. Mr. Volpini pointed out that the town had already spent $339,930 on the building, plus an additional $15,000 last year for new boilers.

“We suggest leaving this project for another year,” he said. “This would save $10,000 on this budget, which equates to a .25 percent reduction on the levy increase.”

He also suggested that council skip the construction and surface treatment for Honora Bay Road, noting that that would mean a savings of $35,000 to the taxpayer and suggested that the project be saved to when it could be paid for with money from the gas tax grant.

His third suggestion was related to street lighting. Mr. Volpini suggested that council remove the $4,000 item from the budget this year, adding that the town had already spent $125,000 on new LED lights recently.

The last suggestion was for council to reconsider building a salt shed in Little Current this year (a $75,000 cost with $16,000 coming from the municipal taxpayer). “We suggest that the town continue to purchase their salt from DBI at the current salt dome, already built from provincial tax dollars,” said Mr. Volpini. “If we add all of these savings and subtract them from the proposed increase to the levy, we would reduce the proposed 5.3 percent increase to 3.675 percent.”

Mr. Volpini concluded his presentation suggesting again (they made the same suggestion last year) to reduce the number of councillors to four (one for each ward) plus the mayor.

Tony Ferro was next to address council. He asked council to look at doing away with the donation budget.

“Why should council be giving away my money?” questioned Mr. Ferro. “It shouldn’t be up to council, it should be up to the individual to donate to who or what they want. Families are having a hard time making ends meet. There were 550 families that received Manitoulin Family Resources Christmas food baskets this year and we had 72 families in tax arrears this fall.”

Ed Ferguson also spoke, noting that he was a long-time businessman in the community.

“I had to run my business so at the end of the year it at least broke even,” said Mr. Ferguson. “You have a critical job as councillors and I understand you are trying your best. I can’t add anything to what the Taxpayers (Association) have already said, but please be diligent. We have a community where a lot of people are getting older and increases are infringing on our set aside living expenses.”

Mayor MacNevin thanked everyone who had come out to the public budget meeting and for the input. “We appreciate your ideas,” said Mayor MacNevin.

Council will discuss the proposed 2016 municipal budget further at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, February 16 at 7 pm.