North Huron approves 2021 budget with 3.47 per cent spending increase
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council approved its 2021 budget on Monday night, which includes an overall spending increase of 3.47 per cent, or $213,084.44, and total expenditures of nearly $17 million.
The budget, which was presented on Monday evening, had been approved in principle by council during a budget meeting late last month. During that meeting, council removed several items, while funding others from reserves to make sure that, during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and second lockdown, taxes were kept as low as possible for ratepayers.
During Monday night’s meeting, Director of Finance Donna White presented her “bare bones” budget with minimal changes from the previous year.
The only difference from the document that was presented on Monday and the one decided on by council late last month was that the actual figures from the 2020 financial year were included, however those statistics had little impact on the 2021 budget, White said.
White tackled the differences between the 2020 and 2021 budgets to show the increase in spending, noting that there were significant increases in environmental services expenses, which had gone up $866,904 from 2020 to 2021, and recreation and culture expenses, which had gone up $481,214, between the two years. Other increases included health services and social and family services. She also noted there were decreases in capital spending, planning and development, general government expenses and transportation costs.
Capital projects for 2021 include paving projects on Carling Terrace in Wingham, Wellington Street in Blyth, Owen Street in Belgrave and Moncrieff Road in East Wawanosh.
Several water projects are slated to go ahead including a new supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system for the Wingham well system ($75,000), inspections of wells one and two in Blyth ($38,000), standpipe design work and application processes for Wingham ($75,000) and the dechlorination project for the Blyth wastewater system ($400,000). White reiterated that water and wastewater projects traditionally have no bearing on the budget as they are supposed to be funded from reserves built up for those systems.
Other new capital projects include the replacement of a roof at the Blyth and District Community Centre ($85,000); an accessibility ramp being installed at the town hall in Wingham ($160,000, partially funded); siding and doors of the Wingham daycare building ($36,250); accessible washroom renovations for the Wingham Fire Hall ($65,000) and the Wingham Public Works Building ($35,000) for which funding has been applied for; work on the Wescast Complex funded through the Investing in Canada Plan ($325,580); IT security systems at various locations throughout the municipality ($15,000); a tandem truck for the Blyth ward ($300,000) and a zero-turn mower for use in parks and cemetery ($20,000).
Several projects that were funded in 2020 but were deferred for one reason or another are also proceeding, White said, including repairs to the municipal town hall, the installation of a salt/sand shed at the new North Huron fire hall/public works building; site security at the Howson Dam; two trucks that were purchased in 2020 but not delivered yet due to COVID-19 and electrical upgrades for the Wingham public works building.
White explained the budget includes $5,174,979 in wages and benefits, which includes council members and volunteer firefighters. That figure accounts for 30.48 per cent of the whole budget. She also said that the total estimated hydro cost for the municipality is $651,000.
Using an average residential property with an assessment of $205,000, White illustrated how the spending increase would result into actual tax changes for the different wards. She explained that, in Wingham, the increase would result in a $23.66 increase for the property, while Blyth and East Wawanosh would see significantly higher increases of $47.70 and $71.06, respectively. She explained area-rated changes resulted in Wingham’s being so low and offset some of both the Blyth and East Wawanosh increases, with the biggest change being refunds for policing costs.
White noted several important developments in the budget, starting with lauding council’s decision to increase the asset management levy for 2021, increasing the payment to $150,000. She also pointed out that, with the 2021 $60,000 contribution to the Memorial Hall renovation project, which concluded several years ago, the municipality’s obligation to that debt had been met. Other projects she highlighted included the recreation master plan review that is underway, the municipality’s new website, the implementation of a new human resources policy manual, records management initiatives for the municipality’s older paper records and ongoing economic development initiatives.
White also tackled why taxes are considered “high” for North Huron, saying that the municipality offers services, facilities and programs that a larger municipality would normally provide while having low overable taxable assessment, low average assessment of homes and a low population base, as well as the duplication of services in the communities of North Huron due to how spread out they are. She added, however, that the municipality is making headway against those problems.
“We are seeing the light and some developments,” she said. “We have had a change in assessment and we hope that continues.”
White also addressed a concern from previous years about trouble selling property within North Huron, which she said is no longer an issue.
In 2019, 145 properties were sold across the municipality with a sale value of $41,428,570. The properties were located in Wingham (78), Blyth (50) and East Wawanosh (17) with more than half the sales value ($21,288,497) coming from Wingham. In 2020, there were three fewer properties sold across the municipality, but those sales accounted for nearly $14 million more in land value with 66 properties being sold in Wingham, 49 in Blyth and 27 in East Wawanosh, with the latter two wards making significant increases in the value of land sold. White said that selling property didn’t seem to be a problem any longer and that values continue to rise.
Council received White’s report and approved the budget with little comment.