Northeast Town residents could see increase of 2.55 percent to tax rate

LITTLE CURRENT—Northeast Town council began its 2019 draft budget deliberations with a discussion about a recent letter from Minister of Finance Vic Fideli, informing Ontario’s council that they will likely see a change to its annual Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF).

Minister Fideli states his government’s top priority is to put the “province’s fiscal house in order.”

“We must continue to support municipalities in a way that is sustainable and responsible,” Minister Fideli continues. “To achieve this, we are reviewing the OMPF, which is why details of OMPF allocations will be released later than in past years. We will be looking to you, our municipal partners, to help us with the challenge that lies ahead as we look to drive efficiencies and value for money in all our transfer payments, including the OMPF. While we will all be operating within a smaller funding envelope, we want to work with you to return the program to what it was initially intended to do—support the Northern and rural municipalities that need it the most.”

Last year the Northeast Town received approximately $1.5 million in OMPF, seeing an added $250,000 bump to its usual contribution. The then-council realized that the additional funds were likely an anomaly and so saved them.

“If the reduction (in OMPF) is $250,000, it won’t be an issue,” CAO Dave Williamson explained, noting that last year’s money had been set aside and would cover the shortfall.

The CAO suggested that council suspend all expenditures until the municipality hears what its OMPF allocation will be.

Moving on to budget discussion, Mr. Williamson explained to council that the Northeast Town typically always runs a “lean budget.”

He noted that it is hard to estimate equipment and repairs and said that the majority of the municipality’s expenses come from invoices, and ones that are often beyond their control, citing the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB), Ontario Provincial Police and Manitoulin Centennial Manor, as examples.

“There is not much discretion in the budget,” he added. “Trying to save $50 here or there seems advantageous to some, but it’s not. The true test is whether there is a surplus or deficit.”

“I encourage you to think of it in its totality,” Mr. Williamson said of the budget.

The difference between last year’s budget to the 2019 budget is an additional $230,145 which means the municipality must make up for it with a 5.03 percent increase to the levy.

Mr. Williamson shared that the municipality is facing an increase to its equipment repairs budget, insurance policies, a decrease in grants in lieu from the province to the tune of $36,000, an increase in council honoraria and councillor training, an increase in legal fees and tax write-offs, an increase in policing costs by 13 percent and a reduction in First Nation landfill access fees by $43,000 when Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) opens its own transfer station in the spring (AOK and Sheguiandah First Nations pay the municipality for use of its landfill). The municipality is also facing an additional $43,000 to its roads budget due to brushing needs and $6,000 for firefighter training.

On the topic of council honorariums, Councillor Bill Koehler brought up paying those honorariums for public meetings that don’t last longer than five minutes and suggested there might be a different way where those honorariums are not handed out at a per-meeting cost of over $900.

Councillor Al Boyd asked about the increase in policing costs and how it is determined. Mr. Williamson responded that the figure is determined by the standard OPP funding formula “that no one understands.”

“That’s awfully high for the decrease in policing we’re seeing,” Mr. Boyd commented, saying he would look into it.

It was decided that the acting OPP inspector would be invited to a council meeting to explain the funding formula.

Council then turned its eye on the donations budget. Mr. Williamson explained to council that the 2019 donation budget is $15,000 and that there are some donation line items in the budget, such as $4,000 for the Little Current Lions Club’s Haweater Weekend, $2,500 for Manitoulin Streams, $6,000 for the doctor recruitment program and $600 for the Manitoulin Student Aid Fund (Awards Night bursaries). So far this year, council has received $2,000 in donation requests and anticipates a further $4,800.

Councillor Barb Baker asked that council look at all not-for-profit financial statements before granting a donation request. Mayor Al MacNevin said that this can be done.

Councillor Erskine reminded council that many of the donations that come into the municipality are in-kind, such as hall rentals or garbage pickup. Mayor MacNevin said that it still affects the municipality’s bottom line, however.

There was some discussion on Bleu Fisher’s annual donation request to council of $1,500, which sees stray Little Current cats spayed and neutered and vaccinated, made a line item. Following questions to Mr. Williamson on the program’s benefit, which he said was “invaluable,” it was decided to leave it as is.

Councillor Koehler asked why the municipality was giving Manitoulin Streams any funds at all and suggested it be struck from the donations budget.

Councillor Erskine told council that the work of Manitoulin Streams “is literally world class” and that its work is significant for many reasons, including helping to improve the fish stocks and sport fishery. “It’s incredibly beneficial to our community.”

Some of the councillors asked for more information on Manitoulin Streams and its work, including a financial statement.

Councillor Dawn Orr suggested increasing the Awards Night bursaries. Councillor Koehler said no, and Councillor Erskine agreed. It was decided to leave the Awards Night bursaries as is, two at $300.

Moving on to the capital budget, Mr. Williamson explained that projects that show a dollar figure under the heading grants mean that the municipality is actively seeking grants for those projects but without grant money, they will not proceed.

For capital projects, the municipal office building requires the repointing of its brick facade at a cost of $64,500 ($43,000 from grants and $21,500 from the working capital reserve).

Under roads construction, work on a portion of the connecting link (Highway 6 in Little Current) has been slated with a cost of $260,000 ($247,000 from provincial grants and $13,000 from reserves); surface treatment on Burnt Island ($20,000 which will be billed directly to Ward 1 residents, as Burnt Island is part of Ward 1); a lift and resurface to Limekiln Road ($32,000 from the Gas Tax); a lift and resurface and flex beam installation on Green Bay Road ($55,000 from gas Tax); surface treatment to Lucar’s Sideroad ($20,000 from Gas Tax); surface treatment to Newby’s Bay Road ($10,000 from Gas Tax); and surface treatment to Draper Street ($20,000 from Gas Tax); Blake Street, ($20,000 from Gas Tax); and Campbell Street ($20,000 from Gas Tax).

The Meredith Street drain has also been slated for repair at $60,000 to come from the working capital reserve.

For sidewalks, $8,200 has been slated for downtown sidewalk repair and $118,000 for a sidewalk on Hardbargain Road coming from the working capital reserve.

Under the heading ‘public works shop,’ $67,500 has been directed to renovations to the Sheguiandah shop at a net cost to the municipality. A new backhoe at $140,000 to replace the 2002 backhoe (working capital reserve) and a new sand dome in Sheguiandah at $350,000 (grant) has also been listed.

Under environmental services, the lagoon upgrade at $3,250,000 ($1,000,000 grant, secured, $250,000 from reserve and $2,000,000 from ‘other’) is the largest project on the budget. Mr. Williamson explained that ‘other’ could be a loan. 

Mr. Williamson commended economic development officer Kristin Luoma for being “out there” lobbying and looking for each and every project and explained that she had secured the $1,000,000 grant from FedNor for the lagoon project.

Mr. Williamson explained that the lagoon upgrade is currently on hold because a landowner had asked the Ministry of Environment to take a second look.

Under recreational and cultural services, $300,000 ($300,000 in grants) will be sought for a new ice plant for the arena. Community Services manager Reid Taylor explained that the ice plant has a five-year expected lifespan, but noted that it becomes uninsurable after 25 years of service.

A new ice resurfacer is also on the capital projects list at $110,000 ($76,000 in grants and $34,000 from the ice resurfacer reserves). The downstairs and upstairs washroom stalls, from the original 1978 build, are also going to be changed at $15,000 at a net cost to town.

A splash pad at Low Island is on the capital projects list at $150,000 ($80,000 from grants, $20,000 from the working capital reserve and $50,000 from the Little Current Lions Club). The municipality’s 1970 tractor needs replacing at a cost of $32,818 (from reserves) while the ‘A’ ballfield needs new outfield fencing and seating at $27,000 (from grants).

Seven thousand dollars, at a net cost to town, has been allotted for playground equipment for Soldier Park in downtown Little Current. This, Mr. Williamson said, is for two reasons: it’s nice to have a playground in a downtown space and it’s also illegal to smoke cannabis near a playground. A new parking lot flex beam has also been added to the capital project budget at $16,000, from the working capital reserve.

At the museum, $25,000 has been allowed for the archaeological site and $7,000 for a new furnace, both at a net cost to town.

The library is requesting an air conditioner at $20,000 (all from grants) while at Spider Bay Marina, $250,000 is scheduled for a Piers 3 and 6 dock revitalization and $20,000 for yard light heads at $20,000, both from grants.

Mr. Williamson explained that the $175,000 slated for a new fire hall expansion (from the working capital reserve) is pre-emptive as the fire department will soon be needing a new truck, which will no longer fit in the Little Current fire hall.

A 5.03 percent increase to the tax levy will mean the following increase in tax rate: Ward 1, 3.7 percent; Ward 2, 1.76 percent; Ward 3, 2.55 percent; and Ward 4, 2.55 percent.

After almost two-and-a-half hours, council adjourned to do some thinking about its 2019 budget until the next meeting of council.