North Huron Council approves its 2024 budget in principle
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
North Huron’s 2024 budget process continues to make headway. Nestled snugly in their shiny new chambers, council received the second draft of the budget from Director of Finance/Treasurer Chris Townes on Friday, Jan 12. Council adopted the budget in principle, and staff received direction to proceed with the preparations for the year’s capital projects. The statutory public meeting to receive input will be held at the regular council meeting scheduled for Feb. 5, where the budget will also be presented for the final time and adopted, barring any changes required following public comment.
The township is requesting $7,516,243 as a total tax levy, a $277,846 (3.84 per cent) increase over 2023. The annual municipal taxes for an average residential home in Blyth would total $2,799.40, while Wingham homeowners could expect to pay $2,820.21, and those in East Wawanosh would be shelling out $2,764.38 a year. That works out to a year-over-year increase of $79.43 in Blyth, $90.18 in Wingham, and $79.73 in East Wawanosh. Those calculations are based on a house valued at just under $200,000. The Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) levy is proposed to increase to $114,116 from $105,000, an 8.68 per cent increase from 2023. The tax rate will be adopted when all tax rate information becomes available.
Overall operating expenses are budgeted at $17,976,992, which includes $3,749,300 for capital projects. A transfer of $1,620,196 to capital reserves is also included in the draft. These expenses will be offset by an expected influx of over $10 million generated from a combination of municipal revenue and federal and provincial funding from agencies like the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, the Canada Community-Building Fund and the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund.
In addition to 18 Priority #1 projects that are already planned to be funded by reserves, council requested two more projects be undertaken - $5,000 to go toward Riverside Park and $170,000 in upgrades to the tennis courts, which would include necessary repairs and the installation of a new pickleball court. The other proposed capital projects include $11,000 in upgrades to the Blyth and District Community Centre and $45,000 in improvements to the Blyth Campground. The North Huron Wescast Community Complex in Wingham will receive, among other things, a $75,000 dehumidifier, a $6,000 air compressor, a $50,000 HVAC unit replacement and an emergency back-up generator with an approximately $250,000 price tag. The projects are set to take a big bite out of the Wingham Recreation Reserve.
Councillor Chris Palmer questioned the full funding of the tennis and pickleball court project, while other North Huron projects, like the Belgrave playground, have a community group attempting to raise $300,000 to fund its necessary modernization. “How are we going to deal with the folks that plan on fundraising [for the tennis/pickleball court]?” he asked. The total cost of the tennis/pickleball project is $230,000, with $170,000 coming from the Recreation Reserve, and the additional $60,000 is to be covered by a grant from the Wingham-only Vance Fund. The Belgrave playground group has requested a donation of $1,000 from North Huron, which has been approved. Director of Public Works Gregg Furtney explained that the request for court upgrades coincided with the deadline for utilizing the Vance Fund grant, which is set to expire at the end of the year. He offered that the playground could potentially benefit from future grant funding.
Another capital project set for 2024 is one that was nixed from the 2023 budget - a zero turn radius mower for the Wingham Cemetery, using $28,000 from the cemetery reserve.
Forty thousand dollars in salaries and benefits has been included to address succession planning within the fire department in anticipation of upcoming retirements.
Some major road projects are also in the works, the collected expense of which is a proposed $2,668,000 to be funded by over half the funds squirrelled away in the sale of property reserve. Palmer pointed out that council had never discussed how to use the funds collected through the sale of municipal property. “Should we talk about it? It’s got to be used in a very public way - I’m just wondering if we, council, are good with this? Because we haven’t talked about it.” CAO Dwayne Evans responded by saying that, “council has expressed an interest in big, municipal projects, I’ll call them large, notable projects, and that’s what these roads projects are.” The Reid Road project will require $63,000 to complete. Resurfacing both Charles Street and Patrick Street West will require $40,000 each to repair, but Edward Street is in rougher shape, requiring $75,000 to smooth things over. The biggest road project of 2024 is the commencement of the multi-year Mill Street project in Blyth, slated at a cost of $2,450,000, some of which will be recouped in later stages of the project through new water and sewage user fees.
Water and sewer user fee rates are set to increase by 7.1 per cent this year, and $195,000 will be budgeted for sewer capital projects, including the addition of a rail to increase safety at the sewage treatment plant and the repair of a Blyth sewage airline leak. In addition, $110,000 will be spent to complete an environmental assessment for capacity upgrades at the sewage treatment plant to cover cost overruns from 2023. Capital projects for water will total $222,000, most of which will go to repairs and equipment replacements for Veolia North America’s water monitoring, with a small portion improving the Blyth Campground.