BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: Scugog councillors will spend the next two weeks looking for ways to trim a sizable proposed tax increase of 6.9 per cent from the township’s 2014 budget, the largest proposed tax increase in recent years.
During a lengthy discussion of the document this week, councillors were presented with the initial round of department requests as well as the current tax increase required to fund such programs. More than $262,000 in new spending has been proposed for 2014.
While the levy increase will likely be reduced, Scugog CAO Bev Hendry said that a 6.9 per cent increase would equate to approximately $68 extra on the tax bill for the average Scugog home assessed at $300,000. Last year, a tax increase of 3.51 per cent was approved by council.
Among the large items currently proposed for 2014 are:
- the first phase of the restoration of the Scugog Community Centre’s parking lot, to be funded with $300,000 from the Community Enhancement Fund (CEF);
- replacement of a snowplow ($280,000) and one-ton truck ($105,000) in the Public Works department;
- purchase of the Fire Department’s next generation radio system ($225,000 from the CEF);
In addition, a number of other items are yet to be included in the budget, many of those related to funding requests for various projects.
Those include $70,000 toward the Port Perry Hospital Foundation’s ‘Your Hospital, Your Future’ campaign for renovations at Lakeridge Health Port Perry, $125,000 for culvert replacement and $500,000 each for repairs to Spring Blvd. and St. Christopher’s Beach Rd., both of which were requested by delegations of local residents. An entry for $2 million toward reconstruction of Ashburn Rd. will not be included this year, after a provincial funding request to assist with the project was turned down.
Adding to the size of the proposed levy increase is an annual one per cent tax increase to fund the township’s infrastructure projects, a new aspect of the budget introduced this year designed to ease the cost of repairs and replacement of local roads and bridges.
According to the draft budget, the $105,000 generated by that increase would be divided between hardtop resurfacing ($40,000), loosetop/gravel ($40,000) and bridges and culverts ($25,000).
According to a report by treasurer Trena DeBrujin, the remainder of the proposed increase would cover the base budget (3.4 per cent) and program changes (2.5 per cent).
An additional $180,000 from the municipal rate stabilization reserve, plus $505,700 in Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund money, has already been applied against the 2014 levy increase, said the report.
Additional pressures remain the same as in previous years, said Ms. DeBrujin, citing costs such as fuel, utilities and insurance, the cost of which is set to increase by ten per cent this year. The treasurer also told councillors that a number of MPAC appeals of local property valuations are due this coming year, an item for which an additional $35,000 has been budgeted (above $60,000 in the township’s base budget).
Among the largest ongoing pressures, however, is staff salaries, ringing in at 3.76 per cent of the 2014 base increase and accounting for more than 70 per cent of the township’s annual operating budget, said the treasurer.
She added that the recent arbitration award to Scugog’s full time firefighters resulted in a retroactive pay increase equal to 1.3 per cent of the base increase.
When questioned by councillors regarding average staffing for similar municipalities, Ms. Hendry said that Scugog is currently working with 60 per cent of the total staff body of a comparitor municipality, although she didn’t cite a specific community.
While the document awaits final approval, councillors pitched a number of ideas to reduce the levy, from using funds in the Greenbank Airport agreement generated by tipping fees, to borrowing from reserves.
"We’ve gone through this and been very moderate with our requests," said Ms. Hendry. "At a per-household level, it’s definitely an increase, but how does it compare to other municipalities?"
The budget returns to council chambers for the next round of discussion on Jan. 27, followed by an open house on Feb. 12, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Scugog Memorial Public Library.
Final approval on the document is anticipated on March 3.
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