Budget process begins in Morris-Turnberry for 2024
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Treasurer Sean Brophy and senior staff presented the first draft of Morris-Turnberry’s 2024 budget at a special meeting of council on Tuesday, Jan. 9. In this draft, staff propose an increase of 8.05 per cent to the levy and an 8.4 per cent increase to the municipal tax rate.
The 2024 county and education rates are not yet available, and other significant contributions and obligations are not yet known which will cause fluctuations in the next draft of the budget.
Drainage Superintendent Kirk Livingston estimates that capital drainage projects for the year will cost $732,000, paid for through a combination of grants and cost recovery from landowners. Livingston noted that all of the budgeted drainage projects for 2024 have already received approval from council.
Livingston boasted that an ATV purchased in 2023 is working out well for the department, making it easier to facilitate travel to harder-to-reach areas.
Mayor Jamie Heffer asked if rising costs associated with beavers and dams will continue to be a pesky issue for the drainage department, receiving an affirmative response from the superintendent.
In his role as Chief Building Official, Livingston indicated that upwards of 2,400 changes to the building code are expected to come down from the province in 2024, with enforcement beginning in 2025 and further changes expected to follow in 2026 and 2027. To prepare for the new rules, Livingston recommends increasing the budget for training staff.
Director of Public Works Mike Alcock advocated for an increase in contributions to the parkland reserve, stating that as the population of Morris-Turnberry grows, so will demand for parks. He also recommends earmarking revenue received from developers in-lieu of parkland, saying, “it seems logical to me that if we are collecting this money in-lieu of parkland, we should be putting it towards parks.”
The Belgrave water system needs a new computer and operating system update, as the current unit, purchased in 2007, is on the verge of becoming incompatible with modern software. Council locked in Belgrave’s annual water rate for 2024 at $1,234.91 a year, or $102.91 per month for users.
Alcock offered some positive news with regards to the water budget, saying the amount estimated for cleaning and inspecting reservoirs could be reduced by $10,000 because inspections revealed that cleaning is currently unnecessary. He also noted that the Jane Street well has another five years in its lifespan, but urged council to continue contributing to reserve funds for when the time comes to shut it down.
Proposed bridge repairs include $20,000 for the bridge on Salem Road and $120,000 for the bridge on Moncrieff Road. The Roads Department is also requesting $115,000 for the purchase of a multi-use shoulder spreader/pavement widener.
Currently, Morris-Turnberry contracts Perth County for shoulder work. Alcock explained that it would save time and man hours, allow the municipality to finish roadwork projects with increased efficiency, and reduce dependency on contractors, pointing out that Morris-Turnberry is not keeping up with shoulder maintenance due to high costs. Deputy-Mayor Kevin Freiburger inquired as to what the timeline for payback on the initial cost might be. Alcock estimated that the municipality currently spends around $1,100 per hour, plus materials, to perform shoulder work, whereas owning the equipment would reduce that to roughly $500 per hour, plus materials. Alcock suggests it would be around eight or nine years until payback, and the equipment, if maintained properly, should last for 20 years. Heffer asked if there might be opportunities to generate revenue through ownership of this type of equipment. Alcock confirmed that would be possible, but did not want to use that as a justification for the purchase.
One of the bigger line items of the proposed 2024 budget is for reconstruction of North Street and Alice Street for $300,000. Alcock explained that currently, the road only supports half-loads and that is discouraging potential commercial operators from purchasing property in the area. Council discussed whether they should make such a large investment without a guarantee that it will pay off later, or wait until there is more interest from a developer to negotiate a deal to improve the roads. After some discussion, council decided it would be prudent to wait, deferring this project to an unknown later date.
Concluding his presentation, Alcock offered an annual warning/reminder that bridge reserve contributions are extremely underfunded.
A request for $1,000 from a community group that is fundraising to improve accessibility and replace dated playground equipment in Belgrave gained approval from council. Heffer expressed some concerns about a possible lack of consistency, if approved, because a similar request from a community group fundraising for new playground equipment at a local school was previously denied. Councillor Jamie McCallum interjected, saying school playgrounds are a provincial responsibility. He noted that two-thirds of Belgrave is situated in Morris-Turnberry and that council should help the community group improve the park because it will benefit the entire community. Councillor Sharen Zinn echoed McCallum’s sentiment. Freiburger said it’s hard to say no to kids and Councillor Jodi Snell pointed out that the group is attempting to raise $300,000, so $1,000 is a reasonable amount for Morris-Turnberry to contribute.
A request from The United Way of Huron-Perth for $5,000 did not receive approval from council. Heffer said that he supports the very good work being done by the organization, but is uncomfortable using taxpayer money to support that work, and instead encourages individuals to donate to the cause on their own. Chief Administrative Officer Trevor Hallam said that the grant policy was adopted in 2020, but could be amended at a future meeting to become more explicit about the types of grants that will and will not be awarded to mitigate the expectations of groups making requests.
The proposed 2024 budget also includes a contribution to the neighbouring Township of North Huron, which requested around $86,100 to support recreational activities and facilities. Zinn enquired whether the amount needs to be paid all at once, or if it could be broken down into smaller payments. Hallam informed that it's usually a lump sum payment to reduce the need for further administration, but that anything is possible. Brophy said he would break it down into quarterly payments for the next draft of the budget.
Heffer and councillors expressed their preference for the tax rate increase to be reduced from the proposed 8.4 per cent to something closer to the rate of inflation, around 3.8 per cent. Brophy noted that the removal of the $300,000 cost for the road work on North Street and Alice Street immediately reduced the increase to below the 3.8 per cent figure, but also reminded the room that the incoming county and education rates and other outstanding numbers will change the bottom line again, once they are received.
Each member of council voiced their satisfaction and approval of staff’s efforts to produce this early draft of the 2024 budget. The next draft is expected in the coming weeks.