BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: While Scugog’s 2014 budget will not see final approval until February, Scugog Council is already discussing a one per cent increase to be tacked onto the tax bill for 2014 - and possibly the following 24 years.
Councillors approved the staff recommendation for the increase following discussion of the township’s new asset management plan, which will guide future infrastructure investments in Scugog, a document required by the province to be completed by year’s end in order for municipalities to qualify for future infrastructure funding programs. According to staff, the one per cent increase will be put toward maintaining the township’s roads, bridges and culverts - costs that sit in the hundreds of millions of dollars - to a 60 per cent ‘adequacy level’ (the township currently sits at 55 per cent), a somewhat drastic measure in the face of decreasing Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) contributions.
However, to achieve that goal, funding will need to be generated over 25 years and only in 2060 do staff expect to hit that target. According to the report, a one per cent increase is roughly equal to $105,000.
"Not knowing what the province is going to do for us," said Public Works Director Ian Roger, "an increase like this is the only thing we can recommend at this point."
Added Treasurer Trena DeBruijn:
"We don’t know what’s coming the future," she said, "so we’re recommending a made-in-Scugog approach."
The treasurer added that while the recommendation was to levy a one per cent increase for infrastructure for 25 years, the increase is "not set in stone" and could be examined every year as budget pressures change, a point which Ward 5 Councillor Howard Danson deemed "fickle," as the council elected next October could do away with the funding plan if it so chose.
"The thing we’re going to have difficulty with is telling someone that for the next 25 years, we’re going to increase taxes by one per cent," said the councillor. "It’s going to be a hard sell."
Councillor Larry Corrigan raised concerns with increasing the levy prior to any public discussion of the budget; however, Ms. DeBruijn explained that as part of completing the asset management plan within the province’s required timeframe, municipalities must show that they are taking steps to maintain local infrastructure, adding that by not doing so, it could jeopardize future funding opportunities.
Dave Anderson of 4 Roads Management Services, which prepared the plan for the township, summed up the municipality’s current infrastructure state.
"Your roads are in below-average condition," said Mr. Anderson, "and your bridge/culvert system, on average, is beyond its design life."
Citing the number of complaints regarding local roads received by the township, Mayor Chuck Mercier lauded the plan but expressed uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of a one per cent increase dedicated to infrastructure.
"The time is now for a built-in-Scugog plan," said the mayor, adding that infrastructure concerns are the "number one complaint from the public.
"The province is also basing its funding distribution on our preparedness and will only address those who meet the specific criteria. The long-term plan assures that we address the roads problem, but is it enough?"
Mr. Roger responded, "it’s not enough, but in a situation where we are a Greenbelt community and our OMPF funding is being reduced, this is a long slow climb, but it’s the best we can do right now."
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