SCUGOG: The estimated one per cent tax hike, proposed by Scugog Council in March, received a greenlight during the Monday, March 30 meeting in Council chambers.
Scugog Township has raised the municipal portion of the taxes by two per cent, which equates to approximately $43 on the average residential tax bill, assuming a $351,000 home assessment.
Only 26 per cent of property tax revenue goes directly to Scugog, with a majority of the remainder going to the Regional Municipality of Durham – as well as a portion to local school boards.
The increase includes the one per cent special levy introduced by council in 2014 to help repair Scugog’s roads and bridges – which Mayor Rowett called “painful, but necessary,” in order to keep the Province’s $90,000 contribution to road maintenance.
Scugog’s councillors were originally pitched a six per cent hike, and whittled that figure down to the two per cent range in recent weeks – allowing for roughly $220,000 to be added to the coffers this year.
To reach the two per cent increase for 2015, which lies below the inflation rate, councillors voted to defer funding for pavement improvements on Crandell St. in downtown Port Perry - sending $172,000 to the public works and parks department to cover eligible projects. The move will delete the cost from the levy, and will instead use fund from the Township’s gas-tax fund - to be replaced from alternate sources at a later date.
Scugog’s Department of Works and Parks had budgeted for the purchase of a tractor and grass-mowing equipment for 2015, to help keep the Township’s boulevards tidy.
Before the budget was passed, Councillors decided to remove the tendered cost, $19,300, from the tax levy - and directed staff to seek out a pre-assembled piece of equipment, which would be purchased during this year, when a suitable tractor is located during the tender process.
“We need to save money, and if we don’t have the equipment by the time our grass needs to be cut for safety reasons, we can fund the operations from our contingency reserves,” said Mayor Rowett.
After councillors expressed dissatisfaction with the tax levy increase, the reduction of which was a primary election platform for many of the councillors, Scugog Treasurer Trena DeBruijn explained that much of the increase is due to inflation, and an increased financial draw from the Region of Durham.
Scugog councillors also approved a motion from Mayor Rowett that will see $34,000 trimmed from the Township’s tree replacement budget and a reduction of $20,000 in Scugog’s tree removal account.
Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew strongly opposed this decision, making a stand during the Monday, March 30 Council meeting – expressing the need for caution when trimming from the budget, especially when it could have an environmental impact.
Councillors later opted to move ahead with the $20,000 reduction in the tree removal budget, but promised to revisit the matter if experts deem that trees must be removed in 2015 to keep the beetle at bay.
Regional Councillor Drew told her Council counterparts that she supported the decision to use fill revenues from the Greenbank Airways site to test soil at the airstrip – but was disappointed to see reserve funds used to cover day-to-day operating costs.
“I’ve been involved in more than 40 budgets dealing with property tax, and for the first time in my carrer – I will not support this budget,” said Councillor Drew. “Our reserves will be 47 per cent lower than they were at the end of 2014, and a significant number of projects, like the Scugog Arena parking lot, have been deferred.”
Mayor Tom Rowett explained that a $2.5 Million portion of the reserves left to the Township from the sale of Scugog Hydro more than a decade ago have only been ear marked as unavailable – should the Connecting Canadians federal grant go through, and Scugog need money to build a fibre optic network to one of its rural reaches.
Mayor Rowett continued to state “We have to get away from the old-school thought of putting all of our costs on the tax levy, we’re trying to think outside of the box and become more efficient by investing in our own Township. We know that development charges are coming in the next couple of years, and then our budget won’t be so tight.”
The budget will also pay for a $200,000 roof reconstruction at the Scugog Arena, and a new Olympia ice clearing machine – Council voted in March to remove to cost from the levy, and have it paid for by the currently in-place ice usage surcharge.
As a closing note, Mayor Rowett and Council discussed a vision of turning Scugog into an incubator for commercial and industrial growth, via careful rezoning of land and close discussions with developers.
“Our future developments may grow as soon as we have the capacity, and they may take a few years,” said Mayor Rowett. “With the Province pulling money away each year, I see this budget as a stepping stone to a greater Scugog - where we can enjoy the luxuries that the larger municipalities enjoy. In the meantime, staff and Council will work together to find savings in our operating costs.”