Municipal councillors received their first look at the 2017 draft budget Wednesday night, and are faced with a potential tax increase of nearly two per cent.
Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire said the 1.96 per cent proposed tax increase includes the one per cent commitment to increase funding to infrastructure via the asset management plan.
“This is a big step forward for our community,” he said.
He added there is a pressing need to increase the funding for infrastructure.
“Our infrastructure assets still have a long way to go before they are fully funded. Over the next several years, we’ll be in a better position, though,” he said.
Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering services, lobbied council at the meeting to commit the one per cent increase to infrastructure. He also brought forward an alternative proposal to help fund bridges at a faster rate.
Kelly recommended the approval of $3.5 million be transferred from reserves to go towards bridge repair funding. And he also wanted a three-year 0.63 per cent increase applied directly to bridges.
With that funding increase, Kelly said the municipality’s bridge issues would vanish. By 2018, the current inventory of 825 bridges would remain open, including 22 municipal bridges that are currently at risk of being closed. Two bridges – one on Morris Line and the other on Pollard – would be repaired to a load-posted state. One of the aging bridges inside Maple Leaf Cemetery in Chatham would also remain a vehicular bridge, while the other would become a pedestrian-only crossing.
In terms of infrastructure funding, bridges and culverts don’t even top the list of areas that are the most underfunded. That dubious honour goes to municipal roads, followed by storm sewers and then bridges and culverts. Road funding is more than $15 million short each year, Turner said, while storm sewer work is about $12.6 million short, and bridges and culverts are shorted by more than $8.5 million annually.
Mike Turner, the municipality’s chief financial officer, said the pressures on the budget this year came from the Consumer Price Index’s 1.7% increase for operational needs, and approval for infrastructure spending. There is also 1.31% hike coming from approved council decisions, as well as the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority’s budget increase. The financing for the asset management plan also adds one per cent in spending for infrastructure.
Assessment growth, increased funding from the province and uploading of Ontario Works items to the province helped lower the combined figure for the proposed 2017 budget to the 1.96 per cent mark.
Assessment on the average home in CK, a $163,000 bungalow, was $3,039 in 2016, including school taxes. If approved, the proposed 1.96 per cent increase would add about $60 to that amount.
Residential taxes made up 68 per cent of tax revenue from municipal sources last year, comprising more than $97 million of the more than $143 million collected locally.
Commercial taxes made up $28.6 million, or 20 per cent; agricultural $10.7 million, or eight per cent; and industrial $6 million, or four per cent.
Chatham Coun. Derek Robertson, chair of the budget committee, was impressed with the proposed budget. In the past, the municipal service review efforts at times placed some controversial services and infrastructure, such as the Bothwell Arena last year, on the closure list. Not so this time around.
“I thought the feel of the meeting was radically different than from past meetings,” he said. “This budget does not threaten the interests of our large and small communities. We don’t have the ugliness of a list where we are closing libraries and pools. We can really get down to business in a hurry.”
Next up for the budget process are the open houses around the municipality next week. All begin at 4:30 p.m. and staff will present the budget information briefly at 5 p.m.
On Jan. 24, open houses take place at the Brunner Centre on Wallace Street in Thamesville and Ryder Hall of the Tilbury Arena on Bond Avenue. On Jan. 25, the Blenheim District High School Cafeteria on Chatham Street in Blenheim and the Wallaceburg municipal office on Dufferin Avenue play host to open houses. The Active Lifestyle Centre hosts the final budget open house at its Merritt Street location in Chatham on Jan. 26.
Following the municipal staff presentations will be the opportunity for Q&A sessions with the public.