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Kawartha Lakes looking at new ways to handle city finances

DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: Kawartha Lakes council members provided input for the city’s next long-range financial plan at a meeting on Tuesday, May 11th.

In a press release, Jennifer Stover, the city’s Director of Corporate Services, explained why the plan needs to be refreshed.

“The refreshed Plan will include lessons learned from the current plan, ensuring we have the flexibility to adjust to economic conditions each year, such as a pandemic. It will also take into greater account the impact the Operating Budget has on long-term finances by considering factors beyond our control, like weather patterns and WSIB costs. The end goal is to provide stability to residents so the tax levy can remain affordable while we continue to look after assets and deliver the services defined by Council.” Ward 1 councillor Emmett Yeo suggested the city look at changing the way residents across the municipality are taxed. Kawartha Lakes has an area rating system, which means different areas in the municipality pay different amounts of taxes based on the number of services offered in that area.

“When you say keep it at 3 percent, it’s artificial to me because, if I vote for a 3 percent tax increase, up here, people are seeing 1.5 to 1.9 percent [tax increases].

So, how do we strategize that to truly have a 3 percent tax increase and take area rating out of the picture? Maybe make area rating a premium rather than a part of the average tax increase because we’re shooting ourselves in the foot in my mind. We’re not gaining that 3 percent,” Councillor Yeo said.

Ms. Stover responded, providing some avenues municipal staff could look at to change the tax system.

“We could set a tax levy increase just on the general levy, rather than on the total tax levy. The other option would be to look at a direction to say we want the average household to have a tax bill increase of x, and then we could equate what that would look like, as far as a total tax levy increase.”

Mayor Andy Letham stated his support of changing the tax system, “I think that should certainly be a part of some ideas coming forward of how we can close that gap because the other part of that conversation is we have a $200 million budget, but only $100 million of that is tax levy. So, when we increase our budget 3 percent, that’s $6 million on the $200 million, but then we only do a tax increase on the $100 million, so you’re covering that shortfall on the other side of it.”

Ward 3 Councillor Doug Elmslie asked if the city has considered using technology to reduce costs. “I know you’ll have to spend some money to get there, but is that [something that is] done?”

Ms. Stover explained city staff are always looking at new opportunities to save the city money through new technology.

“There are certainly within the capital budget and the special project’s budget every year opportunities we bring forward to buy software applications to help find efficiencies. But certainly, we could look at doing more.”

As well as voting to receive the long-range financial plan update presentation, Council also approved including funding, in its entirety, for the Coboconk Wellness Centre project, in the city’s long-range financial plan.

“I don’t want [the project] to get lost,” Mayor Letham said.

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