SCUGOG: In their latest round of budget meetings, councillors have worked to cut costs to the bone, and has moved to freeze salaries, in an effort to bring Scugog’s share of the estimated six per cent tax increase down to 4.3 percent.
The combined tax increase, which residents will see on their bills, also funds the Durham District School Board and Region of Durham - was 2.2 percent at the beginning of the Thursday, Feb. 26 meeting, and was reduced to 1.6 percent.
In a show of solidarity, Council decided to forgo a cost-of-living increase for the 2015 budget year, and to freeze their salaries at the 2014 rates.
In a message to The Standard, Scugog Mayor Tom Rowett said, “Don’t get me wrong, Council is not over-paid based on the extreme amount of hours that all of the councillors are committing to this role; however, we feel we must set an example.”
In the Township of Scugog, the position of Mayor pays a salary of $32,964 - the chair of Regional Councillor will earn $22,259 - and the five Ward Councillors will earn $20,156 this year.
As well, payroll savings of $50,000 from reduced and vacant positions within the Township will be used towards a one-time offset for the 2015 levy.
As the Township struggles to keep up with its constantly-increasing infrastructure improvement projects, one-percent of the tax increase will continue to go directly to maintenance of municipal roads - in keeping with minimum provincial requirements.
Scugog’s CAO, Ian Roger, explained to the councillors that “If the Province’s minimum maintenance plan isn’t followed, Scugog could stop seeing capital grants from the government, or any financial support for the Seagrave and Scugog Line 8 bridges.”
Mr. Roger continued to explain that the Province contributes roughly $90,000 per year for the maintenance of roads and bridges - and that, as painful as the one-percent tax increase is, Scugog could miss out on more money in the near future.
“Our roads, bridges, and maintenance budgets are sitting at a minimum,” said Mr. Roger. “These departments have been squeezed and squeezed for years - and I don’t think there are many pennies left to find.”
Next on the docket was the issue of the Old Mill, which was purchased by the Township in 2009 - using funds from the Scugog Hydro corporation sale. Since then, the Township has been paying off the total bill in installments, and compounding interest on top of their money owed to the reserve fund.
“My issue is with the amount of money set aside for the final repayment of the Old Mill - I would like to remove our debenture to the Scugog Hydro fund from the budget, and stop paying interest on our own money,” said Mayor Rowett. “The Township has paid over $200,000 in interest since the Old Mill was purchased - and we have just about brought our Hydro reserve funds back to the same level.”
Councillors also decided to remove $8,600 from the Community Services payroll budget, which was held due to a vacant position within the Township, and to instead place a $4,400 increase in the payroll in 2016 - which would facilitate the much-needed hiring of a Chief Building Official.
After learning that the Olympia ice-cleaning machine at Scugog Arena has reached the end of it’s service life, Council decided to use $80,000 in annual profits from the current ice rental surcharge, originally put in place for renovations to Pad 2, and $60,000 from government Community Enhancement Funds to purchase a new machine.
“This way we can keep our arena running smoothly, and off of the back of the taxpayers,” said Mayor Rowett.
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. Mayor Rowett and his Council 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,” explained 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 draw from the Region.
Scugog Township claims 26 cents per dollar from their resident’s residential tax bill - the remainder is taken by the Region of Durham and the Durham District School Board.
Ms. DeBruijn told The Standard that, “This means, no matter how many cuts we make, the biggest players will still determine the tax increase - we would have to make our tax levy go negative, in order to avoid an increase.”
The proposed increase will add approximately $71 onto the property tax bill of an average home in Scugog Township.
“I want the people of Scugog to know that their Council is trying to whittle this tax levy down as much as possible, and that it will be tough for the next two years, until we hit our growth period with the Nonquon Water Pollution Control Plant, and additional developments,” added Mayor Rowett. “We’re doing our best to keep the increase in-line with inflation, and we will continue working throughout this year to find efficiencies.”
As a closing note, Mayor Rowett and Council discussed turning Scugog into an incubator for commercial and industrial growth, by combining careful rezoning of land, as well as undertaking close discussions with potential 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. In the meantime, staff and Council will work together to find savings in our operating costs.”
A public meeting and official presentation of the full 2015 draft budget will be held on Wednesday, March 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. - at the Scugog Memorial Public Library, located at 231 Water St. in Port Perry.
Scugog councillors strongly encourage readers to attend this presentation, and offer their comments and suggestions on the 2015 budget.