Huron East approves budget with 13.33 per cent increase to the levy
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Council has passed its 2023 budget, which includes a 13.33 per cent increase to the tax levy for municipal purposes. Factoring in Huron County and education taxation, the tax rate increase will range throughout the municipality from a 4.8 per cent decrease to a 13.1 per cent increase across the wards.
After two lengthy long-term financial planning budget sessions, council took less than an hour to plot out the financial year ahead in Huron East, approving the budget recommended by Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts and Director of Finance Stacy Grenier at council’s April 25 meeting. Council then officially passed the budget at its May 2 meeting by way of a bylaw with little discussion.
To offer a full picture of the tax rate impact in the municipality, McRoberts and Grenier presented properties in each of the five wards assessed at around $250,000 as a means of comparison. The two urban wards - Brussels and Seaforth - will see a decrease in their taxes. A home valued at $254,000 in Seaforth will see a tax rate decrease of 4.8 per cent in 2023, equating at a reduction of $169.80 on the aforementioned assessment. Similarly in Brussels, taxes will be reduced by 4.4 per cent for a drop of $154.04 on a $250,000 home.
The three rural wards - Tuckersmith, Grey and McKillop - will see increases. A $250,000 home in Tuckersmith will see an increase of 10.5 per cent, equal to $316.01, while a $250,000 home in Grey will see a 10.7 per cent increase ($322.38) and a $252,000 home in McKillop will see an increase of 13.1 per cent, or $387.42.
“It should be clearly noted that urban area taxes are reduced, as they have had a reduced level of service on waste collection and less weighting of police servicing costs,” McRoberts stated in his budget report to council.
“Historically, police servicing cost was area-rated, based upon the number of households for each area or district. The decision at the time was to apply the same billing approach that is used by the OPP, which is based upon households. Considering recent discussions, council has considered assessing police service through the general tax levy. Fundamentally, municipal taxes are applied based upon assessed value, rather than per household on the core principle that those that can afford to pay, pay more, much like our federal and provincial income tax. In the municipal environment, this is applied using assessed value. Using a per-household assessment for police service would weigh heavily on concentrated urban areas and negatively impact low-income households,” McRoberts and Grenier said in their report. “It should be recognized that policing service delivery is fairly evenly distributed through Huron East based upon previous annual incident mapping.”
McRoberts noted that, based on his projections for the coming years, which were part of a long-term financial planning process carried out in the earlier budget meetings, tax rate increases are likely to remain at 10 per cent or over for the next three years (10 per cent in 2024 and 2025 and 11 per cent in 2026) before dropping to six per cent in 2027. He did note, however, that the projections do not account for any increase in assessment due to growth in the municipality or any negative impacts from economic turmoil or unplanned expenditures.
The final draft of the budget came after a number of recommendations from council at the April 13 budget meeting, including using the gas tax portion of the roads and bridges reserves to fund the storm sewer capital projects in 2024 and 2025 and deferring storm sewer reserve contributions until 2025; financing Huron East’s portion of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipment purchase in 2023 over 10 years and deferring fire reserve contributions until 2024; deferring the start of Huron East’s portion of the deficit reduction for the Seaforth and District and Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centres until 2024; transferring the $60,000 proposed for an optimization study for town hall to a fire service review to be completed in 2023, and to continue to implement the succession plan later this year.
The proposed budget also included a number of tax-based reserve contributions for a total of $837,500: $225,000 for the municipal drain reserve; $45,000 for the municipal parking lot reserve; $250,000 for the public works fleet reserve; $25,000 for the parks reserve; $200,000 for the recreation reserve; $40,000 for the municipal building reserve; $40,000 for the economic development reserve and $12,500 for the information technology reserve.
McRoberts and Grenier also detailed the year’s proposed capital contributions.
Roads: Hensall Road from Highway 4 to Chiselhurst Road (four kilometres), $607,840 and Beechwood Road from Bridge Road to Highway 8 (four kilometres), $607,840, which are funded from the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund ($915,025) and the municipality’s bridge and road reserve ($300,655).
Seaforth sanitary: The Seaforth lagoon sludge removal is anticipated to cost $600,000, which will be fully funded from the Seaforth sanitary reserve.
Water and wastewater: The truck replacement for the water and sewer department for $60,000, which will be proportionately funded by various water and wastewater reserves.
Bridges: The replacement of a large culvert on Rodgerville Road, $372,000, which will be funded by gas tax revenue, aggregate resource revenues and 50 per cent by South Huron; a culvert replacement on Front Road for $135,000 and a culvert replacement on Canada Company Road for $30,000, both of which will be funded by gas tax revenue and aggregate resource revenue. The surplus gas tax revenue and aggregate resource revenue of $59,000 will be added to the municipality’s roads and bridges reserve.
Municipal drains: 14th Concession, municipal portion $117,730; Baker, municipal portion $73,680; Charters, municipal portion $20,570; McKenzie, municipal portion $2,000, in addition to a $2,040 cost for software within the department. All of the costs will be funded through the year’s contribution to the municipal drain reserve.
Parking lots: $25,000 for the Richmond Square lot and $20,000 for the Brussels Town lot, both of which will be paid for through the year’s parking lot reserve contribution.
Public works buildings: $25,600 for various projects to replace eavestrough and doors, which will be funded by the year’s municipal building reserve contribution.
Public works fleet: Replace the 2004 tandem truck with a used model, $150,000; replace the 2010 tractor with a new front-end loader, $240,000 and replace the 2003 trackless with a new trackless, $150,000. The total of $540,000 will be funded from the public works fleet reserve ($350,000) and short-term financing of $170,000 for between one and two years.
Parks: Replacement of Victoria Park playground equipment, $50,000; replacement of portion of Optimist Park playground equipment, $10,000; new outdoor fitness equipment at Quebec Park, $100,000 (if the municipality’s grant application is successful) and the replacement of a lawn mower for the department at a cost of $7,000. The projects will be funded by a grant ($85,000, if successful), $25,000 in community group fundraising and $57,000 from the municipality’s parkland reserve.
Recreation: Seaforth and District Community Centre roof replacement, $1 million; Brussels, Morris and Grey Community Centre oil separators and hot water heater, $52,000 and Vanastra Recreation Centre additional kitchen costs, booth extension and sanitary drain repair, $55,000. The costs will be funded by remaining recreation reserves ($227,864), former restricted ward reserves ($199,012), West Perth contribution for the Seaforth and District Community Centre ($87,000), Vibrancy Fund ($338,030), the year’s recreation reserve contribution ($200,000) and short-term financing of $55,094.
Municipal buildings: Office renovations and furniture at a cost of $40,000 and an optimization study that will only go ahead if a grant is procured. The office costs will be funded through the year’s municipal building reserve contribution.
Economic development: Seasonal decorations for Brussels at a cost of $30,000 to be paid for through the 2023 economic development reserve contribution.
Information technology: Computer replacements, $10,000, which will be funded by the 2023 information technology reserve contribution.
Fire (non-fleet): SCBA replacement at all stations, $675,000; select bunker gear replacement, $40,000; decontamination equipment, $25,000; HVAC replacement in Seaforth, $30,000; technology upgrades and the fire service review. Of the total of $875,000, $122,250 will be funded by Morris-Turnberry, $60,000 will be funded from the levy and $688,466 will be financed over the next 10 years.
Mayor Bernie MacLellan said that while he was in favour of the budget being presented for this year, he had some concerns about future projected budgets and what those tax rate increases would mean for the residents of Huron East.
Looking at McRoberts’ projections, MacLellan said, taxes will be going up substantially between 2023 and 2027 and he felt it was time to reach out to Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson to discuss the plight of small municipalities in these times, especially given the province’s unexpectedly positive financial position, he said.
MacLellan said that if the provincial government is predicting the early elimination of the provincial debt, while at the same time municipalities are struggling to maintain basic service levels, it was time to talk to Thompson and her government about a potential way forward.
Councillor Bob Fisher said he had asked that the tax rate increase be brought down to 10 per cent, so he was disappointed to see it remaining above 13 per cent. Furthermore, he said he and Councillor Ray Chartrand had discussed a few options, including an alternate funding model for the new front-end loader. However, that idea didn’t gain much traction.
Deputy-Mayor Alvin McLellan said he felt council should pass the budget as had been presented and the mayor agreed, saying that not in his time as a council member had members of the public really rose up and told council they’re doing a bad job. If and when that happens, council would need to look at its service levels and what is missing for residents, but he said he felt the municipality needed to pay the cost presented in order to maintain the service levels residents have come to expect.
Aside from those few comments, there was very little discussion on the budget as presented and council voted to pass it.
The budget was then approved at council’s May 2 meeting, which was a public meeting for the budget, and then made official by way of a bylaw.