North Huron Approves Final Draft of Budget
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council’s budget deliberations are coming to a close as council prepares to present the final product to the public later this month.
After a special budget meeting on March 23, council felt that the budget document, which includes some substantial capital projects, was ready for unveiling in a final public meeting.
The budget calls for a 2.24 per cent increase in spending over the 2014 budget which will result in increases for both Blyth and East Wawanosh ratepayers.
Ratepayers in Blyth with an average assessment of $156,250 will see an increase of $37.46 dollars per year, or 1.46 per cent on residential properties while East Wawanosh residents in settled areas, with that same average residential property, will see an increase $21.35 per year, or an increase of 0.88 per cent.
Farmland in East Wawanosh, however, is going to see a significant spike as Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) assessment continues to rise. While an average residential property in rural East Wawanosh will see an increase of $1.38 over the year agricultural property will go up $172 on average.
Councillor Trevor Seip said that, since the increases in East Wawanosh were not due wholly to taxes and more based on assessment, he felt that the system was fair.
“Every ratepayer can appeal their assessment,” he said.
Reeve Neil Vincent explained that if assessment continues to increase the way it has in the current four-year assessment cycle, farmland owners could see as much as a 120 per cent assessment increase over four years.
Director of Finance Donna White said she felt most people won’t appeal because a lower assessment means lower value if they ever decide to sell the house.
Wingham, on the average assessment above, has the lowest increase with a 0.42 per cent increase over last year.
Most of council was happy with the 2.24 per cent increase, noting that staff had done an admirable job preparing the original 2015 budget, which had a spending increase slightly higher than four per cent.
“I don’t see anything missing and I can’t see anything we could put back in,” Councillor Bill Knott said. “There are a few things I’d like to put in that weren’t there, but I see we have no money for that.”
Knott, along with Councillor Ray Hallahan, did initially ask for another meeting and more time to review some of the information that was presented for the first time that night, specifically about community partnership funding. Both, however, after other councillors said they felt it was unnecessary, recanted and said they would take up their concerns with White privately.
Both Deputy-Reeve James Campbell and Vincent stated that staff and council had done a good job finding a balanced budget with a smaller increase, commenting that, with a higher-than-average 27-pay-period year, that wasn’t easy.
“Originally, I figured we would have been stuck at four per cent,” Vincent said.
White explained that the relatively low increase will have a minimal impact on ratepayers and that both staff and council knew that with the increase in water rates this year, it was important to keep costs down.
“There’s only one taxpayer whether you’re paying water, sewer or taxes,” she said.
White said that the budget represents the status quo.
“For sure in the next little while we’re focusing on affordability and sustainability,” she said.
Council was briefed on the budgets for each department by its respective senior staff member if they were in attendance starting with Director of Recreation and Facilities Pat Newson.
“We added $20,000 for roof repairs for the North Huron Wescast Complex,” Newson said. “There are more leaks appearing.”
Newson admitted that the roof has problems. She said it was not the roof that should have been chosen for the building. Beyond that, it was installed poorly and the municipality is now seeing the consequences.
“It’s a massive building and we want to keep the leaks under control and this is part of doing that,” she said. “There are new leaks that have recently started in the west hallway, over the pool and in the fitness area.”
Newson said that staff were frequently on the roof with consultants trying to find a solution to the problem.
The proposed renovation of Memorial Hall through Campaign 14/19 and council’s contributions to that project were also addressed.
“We’re making the second $75,000 donation of our $500,000 commitment,” she said. “I’m hoping we can do $100,000 next year to hit the 50 per cent mark, but we’ll need to look at what avenues to go down to meet that commitment. I don’t want to be sitting here and looking at next year’s budget with the same questions.”
Newson noted that since Campaign 14/19 was set to start funding renovations in 2016, it would be a good year to aim for that higher contribution.
Council heard comments on police negotiations, which included a wage increase through negotiations as well as the purchase of six carbine rifles for $10,000. Fire Department of North Huron Chief David Sparling also provided an update regarding the Emergency Service Training Centre and its recent request for funding through the county.
“We have no new information on a decision [from the Huron Economic Development Board],” Sparling said. “However, we’re not sitting here waiting. We are moving forward on as many initiatives as we can.”
Director of Public Works Kelly Church noted that he would like to start replacing streetlights with more conservative models throughout the municipality starting with some of the smaller villages this year.
“I would like to do the communities of Blyth and Wingham, but we’ll be starting with the outlying villages like Belgrave and Whitechurch,” he said. “It will save in two ways with both lower electricity and eliminating some of the necessary maintenance. There will be some savings to be had there.”
Church also said his department is looking at two new pick-up trucks which will be purchased at a total of $60,000 as part of a new fleet management program.
Through the program, the Public Works Department will purchase new trucks, use them until they reach a certain mileage and then send them to other departments with lower usage demands.
“The average age of our trucks is 2006, so half of them are older,” Newson, who helped design the program with Church, explained. “We’re hoping to improve that.”
Church said that some vehicles currently have 300,000 kilometres on them and he hopes that, through this program, there won’t be any trucks in the municipality with much more than 150,000 kilometres which seems to be the point some resale value is maintained according to Church.
“The county looks at 230,000 kilometres for selling vehicles like that,” Vincent said. “They’ve found that is the balance of finding a return on moving them out of county ownership and maintaining functionality. As long as I know we’re looking at a target like that... it may be a good point.”
Don Nicholson, chief operator of water and waste water, said that his budget reflects some special cost-saving moves that are going to be used.
“One of the things we’ve been doing is, between the Public Works and Water Departments, we’re taking advantage of slower times in each department so we can chip in and help each other get work done,” he said. “That’s working really well.”
Nicholson also commented on the fleet project.
“Kelly had mentioned the new truck purchasing program that’s starting and that’s going to really help out [the water and wastewater budgets],” he said. “Vehicles are one of the larger expenses that we have.”
Efficiencies are also hopefully going to be realized through a new networking system, Nicholson said.
“We’re trying to network all the water and sewage facilities so we’re able to pull up the trending data reports and messages,” he said. “The long range plan is to reduce the weekend rounds by staff. One person will be able to pull up the reports and there will be a reduced labour cost.”
Nicholson also said future plans involve utilizing Huron County’s GIS mapping to target areas where the water mains and road sewers are going to be in need of care.
“That will help us prioritize what roads need to be rebuilt as well as what surfaces underneath them need to be looked at,” he said. “It will help as, last year, we had two guys [only doing service locates] in the summer... This will save that time.”
Sparling was last to present his budget and said 2014 was an extremely busy year for the fire department.
“I think first and foremost I have to say last year was a pretty tough year for the fire department for activity, stress and the budget level,” he said. “We’re almost licking our wounds this year.”
Sparling explained that the department had depleted its contingency fund “and then some.” The fund is set up to pay for equipment and personnel costs during particularly heavy years and was more then extended this year.
The fire department’s budget reflect not only the “licking its wounds” mentality, but also reflects being in the second of a five-year block in which the department has fewer major capital costs than the first several years it was in existence.
“You’ll notice we’re lower in operating cost,” Sparling said. “The reason for that is, once we had our equipment up to snuff and training in place we don’t have to continue to buy things.”
Sparling said that, if all goes according to plan, this five-year block will be the norm and the department’s budget should only see increases of the cost of living adjustment going forward with one notable exception.
“At some point, because I don’t want to touch it now, we need to address the fact that the Emergency Services Training Centre [ESTC] doesn’t have a generator,” he said. “It’s a two- to three-person job to open the doors at the centre without power.”
Sparling said that in 2016 he will begin looking at options, but stressed the importance of the generator for the building as not only a fire department but as the training centre.
“We have people coming from the maritime provinces for courses,” he said. “They can’t wait or come back later. Not having this generator has the real potential to hurt our reputation because the courses aren’t available.”
Sparling says that early estimates for a generator were between $40,000 and $50,000
“I think it’s a necessity,” Councillor Ray Hallahan said.
Some major capital costs included in this year’s budget are as follows:
• East Wawanohs’s Moncrieff Road tar and chip: $90,000
• Blyth’s Mill Street Water project phase 1 (Westmoreland Street): $130,000.
• Airport Roof Repairs: $27,125
• Blyth Well upgrades: $60,000
• Wingham’s Patrick Street Sewer and Water: $190,000