KAGAWONG—Billings residents will see an increase of one percent in their taxes for 2012.
That’s what several members of the public were told at a public meeting held to get input on the budget prior to a regular council meeting on Monday evening.
Mayor Austin Hunt said, “taxes have gone up one percent,” noting the raise could have been higher if the township had not taken in more in terms of money with housing development over the past year. “And we had some pretty big expenditures to consider this year.”
“Before I mention anything specifically to do with the budget, I want to discuss things relating to it,” said Gerry Mack. He explained that the township website is still out of date, and when the municipal sustainability-strategic plan was completed, an updated website was deemed a priority. “If we had an updated website I could have looked at the proposed budget there. We need to get the website up and running, all of this is very frustrating.”
The meeting was told there is a glitch in the system and the township is getting ready to accept tenders for a website redesign, probably by September.
“We miss out on things because of this—there should have been more information available on the proposed budget before tonight,” stated Mr. Mack. “This is all about transparency and access to the municipality and the world for local residents. The new site should be up in a month.”
“Council absolutely believes in transparency. I’m not happy either with the fact the website is not updated,” said Councillor Sandi Hurcomb. “A new updated website will be good for the residents of the municipality, but also for people coming to Kagawong. I’m as anxious as you are to get the website up and running.”
The first question posed on the actual budget had to do with funds of $33,068 the township had received. “That’s the grants we get for gas from the government,” said Ms. McDonald.
Mr. Mack asked what the township is doing in terms of providing facilities that entice people to visit Billings. He used the marina as an example, asking, “for the marina, did it cost council money in the past year or did it make a profit? For 2012 do you expect to make a profit?”
Mr. Hunt responded, “Usually it makes a profit.”
Mr. Mack also pointed that $100,000 has been listed for a marina enhancement study in the budget.
The municipality is hoping to receive funding for a harbour study. “We are hoping to get a grant of $75,000, so it would actually cost us $25,000,” said Ms. McDonald.
“But we won’t do the study unless we receive the funding,” added Councillor Tom Imrie. “It’s a contingency figure. We won’t be doing this study unless we get funding.” He also noted that as for 2012 budget purposes, “this year we expect to break even or have a slight operating loss at the marina.”
There has been a lot of maintenance and upgrades done to the marina in hopes of drawing more boaters, said Mr. Imrie. “The marina may cost us a little this year, but next year we may see an increase and if we get the grant, we should see an increase in revenues in years to come.”
“Little Current and Gore Bay have things that bring in boaters, things we don’t have here,” said Mr. Mack. “Kagawong will not be a viable port until we have things like restaurants.”
“Our sustainability-strategic plan is a five-year process,” said Mr. Imrie. “We are trying to not spend money we don’t have, and hopefully we will receive a grant for the marina study. As for the marina it is a boutique port, with small unique shops and stores here. We will never be like Little Current or Gore Bay. We are unique and specific to the North Channel, and Kagawong has features that the others don’t have. We need savvy investors to come forward, and yes, I agree we need a restaurant here, as well as more bed and breakfasts.”
Mr. Mack questioned the issue of honorariums paid out by the municipality. “We have a lot of unpaid volunteers in the community, such as the economic development committee and the library that help to keep the municipality alive. Then going into the budget I see the fire department is receiving $13,000 in honorariums. When I was brought up you volunteered because you wanted to help out.” He pointed out the fire department budget has gone up significantly for the purchase of equipment and for a down payment on a new pumper truck.
“Are you saying the fire department is getting too much?” asked Ms. Hurcomb, to which Mr. Mack said personally he feels they shouldn’t receive honorariums.
“The equipment the fire department is working with is between 15 and 20-years old,” said Ms. Hurcomb. “We’re talking about fire equipment that they need to wear into a fire being antiquated; we can’t throw enough money into their safety. As for the pumper truck, if they are able to save one home in 10 years I think it’s worth it. It is not a question of overspending on the fire department, but things that maybe should have been done a long time ago. We are now having to play catch up.”
“The honorariums we provide to firefighters are in line with other municipalities,” said Mr. Hunt.
“But why are there honorariums being paid for fire and not the EDC?” asked Mr. Mack.
“You can’t compare these two group, its not apples to oranges, this would be bread to fruit,” stated Ms. Hurcomb. “We don’t even have enough bodies on the fire department. And they volunteer a lot of their time for absolutely nothing, things like fundraising activities and being in parades and other community events.”
Fire Chief Merv Gilchrist also pointed out the firefighters are on call 24 hours, seven days a week, and along with training it takes them away from family for long periods of time.
Mr. Mack noted he is “not picking on the fire department,” but “communication is the answer. I’m just going by the budget. I’m just asking questions as to where and why money is being spent so I will know.”
Another issue Mr. Mack touched on was concerning the Billings Library. “I am very concerned about a rumour that we may be losing a very important part of the community; that the library can’t continue if funding support is not found. It is a very important feature of the community.”
Ms. Hurcomb acknowledged, “The library is in a horrible situation. It would be tragic to lose the library, and I know no one on council would be happy. This has yet to be resolved.”
Although Mr. Mack felt this could have been resolved in the 2012 budget, Councillor Kim Bilbija said, “as council we didn’t know the extent of the problem until our last council meeting.”
One of the reasons for the library financial plight is that government grants have been cancelled, which hadn’t been anticipated.
The library has sufficient funds in place to remain in operation to the end of the year, and it is through January-April it would be short funds, but council would also be looking at a new budget (for 2013), said Councillor Kim Bilbija.
“Everyone has agreed we have to take measures to make sure the library can continue to operate,” said Mr. Hunt. “We have already arranged some meetings with the library board. By the end of the year hopefully the crisis will have been alleviated.”
Mr. Lalonde raised a concern about the budget and the amount of money the township is paying in hydro and telephone costs on its buildings, for instance, $4,000 for the Old Mill building.
It was mentioned the township has installed two new heating systems in the old mill building, which should decrease the costs going out. It was also mentioned that historically, Ontario Power Generation would give municipalities a special rate, but it no longer does this.
Also on the agenda was the township water system financial plan.
Mr. Hunt said the rates for users would be going up significantly, by $137.
Users on the water treatment plant will see their rates increase from $1,000 to $1,137 this year, the meeting was told, prior to council passing the budget and the water rates.