Council passed its code of conduct bylaw and its interim tax levy bylaw, the latter of which will enable the township to begin collecting tax revenues for 2019 based on 50 percent of the 2018 tax bill. This enables the township to begin gathering income before its budget is finalized and passed. The code of conduct bylaw was required to be passed before March 1, according to new municipal regulations.
Council had a chance to ask questions of deputy treasurer Barb Deforge regarding cheques for the month of January. One of the questioned items was $23,565 in legal payments, with about $20,000 of that being part of a settlement.
Council received, noted and filed consent items from the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), a health and safety report, a draft asbestos management plan, an expense report from the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board and a request from the library board to have its flyer sent out with township mailings.
Fire truck funding request
Clerk-administrator Roy Hardy presented council with a bylaw to set aside some funds in the budget to approve the capital expenditure of a replacement fire tanker/pumper truck, in advance of the adoption of the budget. This is to ensure the best possible pricing, scheduling and availability of the replacement truck, which is “to be financed from reserves with the purchase decision to be made by the fire chief in consultation with the clerk administrator, subject to a time-limited bidding process.”
The maximum dollar amount was left blank so council could decide what they were comfortable setting as an auction cutoff price. An initial amount of $60,000 was floated as a possible starting point.
Councillor Rick Gordon said he wanted the township to give the fire department more so that they could get reliable equipment closer to 10 years old.
“I think that they should have the best we can possibly get,” said Councillor Gordon.
Councillor Michael McKenzie asked what having trucks older than 30 years old would mean from the township’s perspective, considering after that age they are not recognized by the fire underwriters. Mr. Hardy said it would result in higher insurance premiums, a cost that is paid for by municipal taxes. It can also mean the fire marshal may deem the department as non-viable.
Fire chief Jeff Wilson had prepared a report of the township’s trucks and their current status for council. Based on the information, Councillor McKenzie said three of the fire department’s five trucks were “basically useless” given their current conditions, whether based on their age or their failed pump tests. He said the township’s goal should be to have two dependable, quality trucks and reduce its amount of backup trucks.
Because of the ongoing budget discussions, Councillor McKenzie suggested deferring the fire truck replacement allocation until the budget can be finalized.
“We’ve got to know where the money is going to come from. We can’t say ‘we’re going to give you money to buy a new truck,’ but not be willing to raise taxes,” Councillor McKenzie said.
Mr. Hardy said the ideal situation would be to purchase a truck at the end of the budget cycle when the township would have a better understanding of how much money it could spare; however, if an excellent deal arose before that time it would give the fire chief the opportunity to proceed within whatever amount to which council agreed.
“I personally am only willing to go for $20,000 at this point. I know it’s not buying the truck this township needs, but we have to be able to balance our books. We have to spend responsibly,” said Councillor McKenzie.
Councillor Lorie Leeson said the proposed $60,000 in reserves would have been generated through years of saving and should be directed towards a truck purchase.
“The number of 60 (thousand dollars) is actually still less than what he needs, but it is a place to start,” she said.
“I just don’t think we can handcuff him too much. Because I don’t think for $20,000 you’re going to get anything,” added Councillor Gordon.
Councillor McKenzie noted that the township is already borrowing money, per its borrowing bylaw to cover expenses until tax bills come in at the end of April, so taking $60,000 from reserves would result in more money being borrowed.
“We’re going backwards. We’ve got to get this township going forward,” he said.
Councillor Eric Russell was in favour of giving the fire hall the requested money.
“I think we should give them the $60,000. Mike says we have to move forward, but we have to move forward in the fire hall too,” he said.
Mr. Hardy then suggested rewriting the motion to instead feature a range of between 30- and 60-thousand dollars, to reinforce that the fire chief would not have to spend the full amount and also allow township staff to continue preparing the budget.
“I think we just need to remember that the 30- to 60-thousand means roughly a 2.5 to 5.5 percent increase on our taxes,” said Councillor McKenzie, referencing Mr. Hardy’s figure that each percent tax increase would net about $11,000 in revenues.
Mr. Hardy said if the fire truck funds came from reserves, and if the need is sufficient the township should be willing to dip into reserves and plan to replace them over time.
“I’ve been on there for eight years and it just seems like they’re always looking for equipment. They get something, get it going, and then they’re looking for something again. It doesn’t last. We have to get them something that will last more than six months,” said Councillor Russell.
Councillor McKenzie requested a recorded vote on the motion. All members voted to include the $30,000 to $60,000 range for a fire truck in the upcoming budget, except Councillor McKenzie who voted no. The motion carried.
Council discussed their funding priorities for the upcoming budget. A story on the budget discussions can be found on Page 3 of this week’s edition of The Expositor.