Central Huron Council hosts its second 2021 budget meeting
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Central Huron Council held its second budget meeting last week – the first of the new year – to discuss its fire, public works and fleet, environment and water and wastewater budgets for 2021.
Director of Finance Jeff Boyes presented the budgets, also allowing council time to discuss the departmental budgets with their heads, if necessary. This comes after council held its first meeting to discuss the 2021 budget on Dec. 14, 2020.
Council first discussed an addition to the agenda, which addressed ongoing issues with councillors’ iPads and their ability to effectively attend virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boyes outlined several information technology (IT) concerns with councillors’ iPads not allowing them to make notes on agendas and follow along while engaging in the meeting virtually on another screen. To combat the problem, he proposed several options, including the purchase of new laptop computers or new iPads.
Boyes and other Central Huron staff members attributed the issues to the age of councillors’ current iPads, though the issues could not be replicated at the municipal office.
Mayor Jim Ginn recommended the purchase of new iPads, but insisted that the municipality retain ownership of them. With a new term of council just two years away, he said, the iPads would certainly still be functional when a new council is sworn in, so this way, they could be used by those new councillors as well.
Council agreed and directed staff to investigate the purchase of new iPads.
Boyes then detailed the municipality’s 2021 fire budget, which included a 1.59 per cent increase in spending and a one per cent increase in firefighter pay.
He detailed the decline in training spending in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also detailed the municipality’s partner fire budgets. The municipality’s portion of the Goderich fire budget will increase 5.3 per cent, while the Central Huron portion of the North Huron fire budget will increase 6.2 per cent. The municipal portion of the Bluewater fire budget, he said, will remain the same as it was in 2020.
There will be a 9.54 per cent increase in spending in the municipality’s roads budget for 2021, Boyes said, which comes to an increase of just under $260,000 for the year. The bulk of that spending, he said, is for capital drain costs (over $162,000) and an increase of over $71,000 to the municipality’s tree trimming budget. Insurance costs will also be rising by over $19,000 in that department, he said.
In all municipal departments, Boyes said there will be a 1.5 per cent increase to wages, which is negotiated ahead of the budget deliberation process.
The municipality’s roads sheds budget will see a decrease of over 13 per cent in 2021, Boyes said, which is largely due to a dramatic increase in maintenance being accomplished in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Central Huron’s fleet and equipment budget will include a decrease of under 0.1 per cent over the previous year. In addition, Boyes said the department is carrying a budget of nearly $106,000 into 2021.
Similarly, the municipality’s equipment budget will be very close to last year’s budget figure, sporting an increase of just under 0.4 per cent this year.
The wastewater budget for 2021 will come with an increase of 6.383 per cent, which includes an increase of $100,000 for legal fees due to ongoing litigation, according to Boyes. He is also recommending a two per cent increase to sewer fees.
The department’s reserve is currently in a deficit position of $930,000, Boyes said. He has suggested taking funds from the municipality’s ERTH (Erie-Thames Power) reserve fund to help reduce the deficit. The fund, he said, currently has just under $630,000 in it.
On the other end of the spectrum, Boyes was recommending an 8.96 per cent decrease in spending for the municipality’s water system, which is currently showing a reserve balance of just under $1.7 million.
Council didn’t make any budget decisions at the meeting, which was mainly held for Boyes to present departmental budgets.
Council’s next budget meeting is set for Feb. 17. At that meeting, Boyes will detail budgets for the recreation and facilities, general government, protective services, community improvement and economic development departments.