Huron East Council to approve 2021 budget
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Treasurer Paula Michiels has balanced the municipality’s 2021 budget and will be presenting it for approval at a public meeting on Tuesday, March 16.
The second draft of the budget will include some savings to aid the 2022 budget and additional spending after several councillors felt the municipality was undercutting itself and “kicking too many cans down the road”.
While Michiels first presented a budget with a five per cent increase to the general municipal levy, council encouraged her to raise it, which resulted in a proposed 6.5 per cent increase. After factoring in area-rated services like streetlights, waste management and others, the municipal spending increase across the wards dropped to 4.3 per cent.
Those tax levy increases vary across the municipality’s five wards to reach an average of 4.3 per cent, beginning with Seaforth at 2.55 per cent, McKillop with 2.78 per cent, Tuckersmith at 3.47 per cent, Brussels with a 5.31 per cent increase and Grey in the highest position with an 8.2 per cent increase.
However, those numbers will now rise after council’s March 2 meeting, at which council approved a $100,000 contribution to the municipality’s equipment reserve.
The contribution will be officially considered by council at its March 16 meeting as part of officially adopting the budget. Mayor Bernie MacLellan proposed it after Michiels, in order to balance the budget, suggested deferral of a tandem truck purchase for Huron East’s public works department.
The truck purchase, which will replace a truck from 2004, is expected to cost $300,000, so the inclusion of $100,000 in this year’s budget will serve to soften the blow of that purchase next year.
Council also agreed with Director of Public Works Barry Mills’ suggestion that he be permitted to actually solicit tenders for the truck later this year, despite the truck being in the 2022 budget, in order to have it delivered and ready for the spring of 2022.
Some councillors were concerned with even pushing the truck purchase to 2022. Council noted that with another truck and a grader needing to be replaced in the coming years, there could be as much as $1 million in public works equipment purchases on the horizon for the municipality in the next few years.
Another change recommended for the final draft of the budget is the re-inclusion of a Genset generator for the Huron East municipal office in Seaforth, expected to cost $40,000.
Some councillors were skeptical of the purchase when it was included in the first draft of the budget. As a result, it was dropped from the second draft.
However, Michiels spoke to the purchase on March 16, saying it’s not just a matter of convenience for municipal staff in the event of a lengthy power outage, it allows the office to run at full capacity. With the office’s current generator, she said, it isn’t convenient, nor does it fully service the office’s needs, saying staff have to choose between running computers or heating/cooling and lights.
Council, however, suggested funding that purchase from modernization funding the municipality had received in 2019, but not yet spent. Councillors were keen to spend it, as the municipality could only apply for more once the current money was spent.
As a result, the inclusion of the generator will be paid for through the modernization fund and will not have an impact on the levy.
In order to remove $50,000 from the budget, Michiels also recommended funding a document scanning project from the administration budget from the modernization funding.
After some additional work to “nickel and dime” the budget, further reducing the bottom line by just under $5,500, Michiels was able to bring the budget to a balanced position to be presented to council at its March 16 meeting.
Michiels also noted that the municipality’s reserves are due to decrease as a result of this year’s budget. They will drop by over $2.2 million, leaving a full reserve balance of just over $12 million.
At the end of Michiels’ presentation and with the additional $100,000 factored into the budget, Huron East’s budget includes a 4.3 per cent increase to the municipal levy. When Huron County and education taxes are factored in, she said, Huron East ratepayers are facing an overall tax rate increase of 2.9 per cent.
While the increase sat at 2.3 per cent before the changes, councillors said they were still pleased with the year’s increase being under three per cent after what has been a difficult year for many.
Councillor Alvin McLellan said that while his ward is facing the highest increase in the municipality, he still felt council needed to better position itself and not push too much spending to future budgets.
Councillors also felt the municipality would be in a better budget position at this time next year because cuts to Huron East’s Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) allotment are due to cease after years of trimming.
One final budget item that will be considered at a future meeting will be the potential sale of a municipal parking lot in Brussels.
Council considered selling the lot on Elizabeth Street in order to inject some money into the budget, but was cautioned by staff due to an open application to place an electric vehicle charging station at the lot. There had been some confusion regarding the municipality’s two lots, including the Elizabeth Street lot and one on the main street next to the LCBO.
Chief Administrative Officer Brad Knight didn’t advise council one way or another on the sale, but told councillors not to expect a large return for the sale of the lot. He said another lot was recently sold to a local developer and the sale netted the municipality only $2,500.
Councillor John Lowe agreed, but said it wasn’t necessarily about the profits, but rather divesting Huron East of a lot it would have to pave sometime down the road and the costs it would incur.
Knight said the issue could be discussed at a future council meeting and didn’t necessarily have to be part of the year’s budget deliberations.
Council accepted Michiels’ report, establishing that the budget will be officially considered as part of a public meeting on Tuesday, March 16 beginning at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually via Zoom.