Last year’s flatlined municipal budget put the 2016 budget behind the 8-ball to the tune of more than $1 million.
The deferring of costs to this year means an additional 0.81% of pressure in terms of keeping taxes in check.
Municipal administration showcased its draft budget Tuesday night, and it ultimately included a 3.29% proposed increase. Of that total, chief financial officer Mike Turner said 1.96% is from the operating budget – including the 0.81% — and another 1% is to fund infrastructure.
There is an additional 0.33% in discretionary spending administration put in for council to consider.
Administration’s starting point, Turner said, was 11.34%.
Municipal CAO Don Shropshire commended staff on their efforts.
“Council gave us a mandate of a 2% increase in the operating budget. We have delivered on that,” he said.
Gone are items such as $300,000 in proposed winter control spending, $7 million in one-time requests, and $2.9 million in strategic investments, Turner said.
The draft budget also included four pages of service reduction proposals – cost cutting of about $860,000 and the loss of nearly six staff positions.
Reductions include the elimination of participation in the annual Communities in Bloom competition, which would save nearly $77,000 a year; and the closure of the Bothwell arena, for savings of nearly $78,000 annually.
Going forward, Chatham Coun. Derek Robertson, the chair of the budget committee, said how the budget ends is in council’s hands.
“It’s important that council take ownership of the budget now.”
Some councillors know it is potentially a daunting task.
“This is not going to be a pretty budget,” South Kent Coun. Karen Herman said. “Staff has definitely done their due diligence. But it’s not going to be easy for any of us.”
Robertson said while there are some items of contention on this year’s list of possible service reductions, he believed this list is “not nearly as drastic as we’ve seen in the past.”
Council and administration could get a good feel on how the public views the cuts at the public meetings over the budget. They begin Jan. 19 at the Wallaceburg Municipal Office, continue Jan. 20 at the Tilbury Arena, and conclude Jan. 21 at the Active Lifestyle Centre in Chatham. Each meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. and features an overview and Q&A period.
Robertson said some councillors may feel pressure to match last year’s 0% increase.
“With the tax freeze last year, there exists a significant amount of pressure to deliver the same results,” he admitted.
But he added the message from communities is to protect some of their services.
Hence the tough choices ahead.
“We sent a pretty strong message last year,” he said. “In doing so, we had a professional responsibility to deliver a message to the community. We are in a belt-tightening time.”
Council has set aside six nights in late January and early February to hammer out this year’s budget.