Council approves 1.96% tax hike for 2017

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budget

Council rolled through its second day of budget deliberations Thursday evening, passing the 2017 budget with a tax increase of 1.96 per cent – the exact same amount they faced going in.

In fact, council was ready to vote just 45 minutes into its second day of deliberations, but waited to listen to a deputation.

Issues brought forward Thursday included pulling $750,000 out of building reserves to put towards infrastructure spending, thus bringing down the proposed tax increase, and giving $75,000 towards the rejuvenation of the sports field at Ridgetown District High School.

Both proposals were defeated.

In the case of the use of reserves, Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman made the motion to shift the money to cut the tax increase.

“The objective is to not hinder the infrastructure amount. I’m not saying where we are at right now is irresponsible, but I think we owe it to the taxpayers to explore the opportunity to lower the tax increase,” Sulman said.

While the councillor argued the money is just sitting there essentially gathering dust in the building reserves, staff said that was not the case.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Turner said the annual shortfall to fund building infrastructure is at nearly $4.5 million.

“Building reserves have been gathering for the last few years, but there are still a significant number of projects associated with this building,” he said of the Civic Centre, citing the need to upgrade the heating and cooling system, as well as the building’s windows.

Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering services, stressed municipal buildings are part of infrastructure, an area that is the focus of funding this year.

“We’re funded by just 30 per cent in buildings,” he said. “Buildings is one of our worst-conditioned reserves. If you want to remain in this building, we need to put more money aside in the building reserve, not less.”

West Kent Coun. Bryon Fluker agreed, and asked what the tax impact on the average home in Chatham-Kent would be if council voted against Sulman’s motion. The answer: $15.

The motion lost 5-12.

The night began where the first day of open session deliberations left off, with Ridgetown’s sports field funding up for debate. East Kent Coun. David Van Damme led the charge to have $75,000 pulled to help with the rejuvenation project at the facility. While he had the support of others, including fellow East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault, he faced stiff opposition, in no small part due to the fact the Lambton-Kent District School Board, the organization that owns the land, could close the adjacent Ridgetown District High School (RDHS) in the near future.

Staff advised the budget committee that four high schools that serve the southern parts of the municipality – RDHS, Blenheim District High School, John McGregor Secondary School in Chatham, and Tilbury District High School are all part of an accommodation review process. Each cater to fewer than 400 students, and some or all could be closed.

Don Shropshire, CAO for the municipality, said the school board’s director of education, Jim Costello, advised him that several proposals on the accommodation review will be presented to board trustees, but the process is not set to begin until next fall.

Sulman urged council wait to make a decision on helping to fund the sports field upgrades until after the school board decides on what is to be done with high school restructuring.

“I don’t know why we’d add the money into the budget when you have so many contingencies. They won’t know what is going to happen until the fall at the minimum,” he said.

Budget chair Derek Robertson agreed.

“I don’t know why we don’t just wait until we get all the information,” he said.

Ultimately, that’s what council did, as the committee voted down the motion 8-10.

Following the two issues, as well as the deputation, the budget committee moved quickly to pass the proposed increase, then went into a brief session of council to approve it.

Hope complimented municipal staff on their efforts putting together the draft budget.

“This was one of the opportunities where everybody felt totally engaged in the process. The senior management team vented everything. They did their homework,” he said.

Robertson concurred. He added he was glad to see the $750,000 remain in building reserves.

“I think we made a wise decision to not buy it down,” he said of the budget. “We don’t need to add additional constraints next year.”

 

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