ACW Council eyes potential 10 per cent tax increase for 2023 budget
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
The Township of Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh (ACW) Council continued 2023 budget deliberations at a special meeting on Feb. 28 and Mayor Glen McNeil began by sharing his vision for a 10 per cent proposed increase to the municipal levy resulting in an additional annual cost of $99 per household, or a little more than $8 per month.
The mayor’s plan would require council to trim an additional $1 million from the bottom line of the next draft of the budget through cuts and/or transfers from reserves. McNeil noted that ACW ratepayers enjoy the lowest tax rate of all of Huron County’s municipalities.
The mayor urged councillors to consider the roughly $5 million budget at a “high level,” rather than devoting too much time to squabbling over the document’s less significant figures.
Members of council expressed varying degrees of support for the mayor’s proposed 10 per cent figure. Deputy-Mayor Bill Vanstone said he knew it was going to be a “tough budget” due to inflationary pressure, but wished to limit a levy increase to between six and eight per cent, a figure echoed by Councillor Wayne Forster. Councillor Anita Snobelen raised concerns about the effect a 10 per cent levy increase might have on farmland property owners, but nevertheless agreed the figure was fair and affordable. Councillor Evan Hickey expressed a preference for a five per cent increase to the levy combined with an aggressive use of reserve funds. Finally, Councillor Curtis Blake called the mayor’s proposal “ridiculous, in my opinion” and said he wanted to limit the increase to between zero and three per cent.
Treasurer Ellen McManus took the lead in presenting the 2023 draft budget and noted the prepared numbers reflected no change in the township levy over 2022. McManus provided details covering general revenues, council expenses, administration costs, conservation authorities, protective inspection and control, roads administration, roads overhead, roads capital, public works operating expenses, gravel pit farms, street lighting, water department, landfill, waste collection and recycling, municipal drains, building department, development and planning administration, general recreation, cemeteries, and requests for grants, with additional input coming from other senior level staff in attendance.
Council determined the main area up for discussion regarding potential cuts was the roads capital budget. Public Works Superintendent Thomas McCarthy proposed the inclusion of capital investments for several projects including work on Hawkins Road, Dungannon Road, Gore Road, Presbyterian Camp Road, Melbourne Street, and Belfast Road. McNeil requested McCarthy prioritize the list so council could defer less urgent projects until another time. After some discussion, council arrived at the decision to remove the Hawkins Road, Dungannon Road and Belfast Road projects from the next draft of the budget, cutting a combined $910,000.
Chief Administrative Officer Mark Beker updated council on the relative health of the township’s reserve funds, saying they were in very good shape. McManus concurred that there are sufficient funds available in reserves that could be drawn upon for the 2023 budget, but cautioned that depleting these resources now may cause future issues.
Mayor McNeil suggested moving $313,000 from the township’s reserve funds to achieve the goal of a 10 per cent increase to the levy.
The meeting concluded with a motion in favour of drafting of a resolution instructing township staff to include amendments to the draft budget that would result in a 7.17 per cent increase to the 2023 tax rate and a 10 per cent increase to the township levy, yielding an additional $544,144 for the municipal coffers. The motion carried in a recorded vote that saw Blake isolated as the only vote against it.