Northeast Town council asks staff to revisit 2015 budget for further cuts

Taxpayers’ Association applauds council decision

LITTLE CURRENT—At a recent Northeast Town council budget meeting, council carried a motion directing town staff to revisit the operating budget in search of further cuts, despite staff explaining to council that any further cuts would likely mean cuts to municipal services.

After learning that the proposed 2015 municipal budget would include a 5.7 percent increase over last year’s operating budget, the Northeast Town council scheduled a special budget meeting to discuss the reason behind the increase.

Town CAO Dave Williamson presented council with a breakdown of the major increases over the 2014 operations budget. The list includes a reduction in OMPF (Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund) funding amounting to $82,600; a reduction in new assessments (from 2014), $29,000; mandatory increases to town staff salaries and wage and benefits, $44,000; insurance premiums (property and liability), $21,000; public works roads maintenance resurfacing, $25,000; contracted services, $10,000; crossing guard new corner added, $7,992; utilities including hydro and heating oil, $40,000; equipment repair and equipment fuel costs, $7,000; Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board levy and land ambulance, $20,519; Manitoulin Centennial Manor contribution $3,024; Sudbury-Manitoulin Health Unit levy, $989; Municipal Property Assessment Corporation levy, $2,790; Manitoulin East Municipal Airport contribution, $3,002; and the contribution to the Little Current Public Library, $1,635.

“It’s hard to accept a budget at this rate (5.7 percent over last year’s),” commented Councillor Marcel Gauthier on the proposed 2015 operating budget. “This kind of increase is going to be hard on elderly people and individuals on fixed incomes. I can’t support an increase this high.”

“This is one of the challenges of tightening and tightening the budget every year,” said Councillor Michael Erskine. “We ran with a zero percent budget increase on what we could control for almost all the years of the previous term of council, but you reach a point when you can’t tighten anymore, especially with the rise of operating costs such as hydro.”

Councillor Erskine reminded council that cuts last year to the roads maintenance budget and contracted services had not worked out and that these items had to be added back to the budget this year.

“I’m not happy about the increase either, but it’s a reality that we can’t cut anything else without starting to cut services,” added Councillor Erskine.

“I would like to suggest sending the budget back to the managers to find somewhere to cut,” said Councillor Laurie Cook. “It’s just too high.”

“We’ve cut the budget to the bone the last several years,” countered Councillor Erskine. “You hit a point where there is nothing to cut but services and cutting services is a political decision. Asking staff what services to cut is not fair. Staff have done a good job and we have too, but there are increases that are just out of our control.”

“I don’t like a 5.7 percent (operating) budget increase, but it is bare bones,” said Councillor Dawn Orr.

“The cold hard reality is that staff started looking at the budget in September of 2014,” explained Mr. Williamson. “We racked our brain looking for line items to cut and brought council a budget as low as we could get it, while still providing the same level of services. If council wants further cuts, please let us know what services council would like cut.”

Councillor Cook put a motion on the table, seconded by Councillor Bill Koehler, requesting staff to revisit the 2015 proposed operating budget to look for further reductions.

Councillor Melissa Peters requested a recorded vote and noted that she wouldn’t be supporting Councillor Cook’s motion.

“I haven’t agreed with the budget the past few years,” said Councillor Peters. “I think there were some bad budgeting decision. Unfortunately, this budget captures these decisions. I actually believe some of the line items should be increased.”

Councillor Peters, Bruce Wood and Mayor MacNevin voted against the motion, while Councillors Cook, Erskine, Gauthier, Skippen, Orr and Koehler voted in favour. The motion was carried and town staff were asked to revisit the proposed operating budget, looking for further cuts.

A motion was also put on the table to amend the motion, requesting staff reduce the operating budget to a 3.5 percent increase over last year, but this motion was defeated with Councillor Cook, Gauthier, Koehler and Skippen voting in favour of it, while Councillor Erskine, Councillor Orr, Councillor Peters, Councillor Wood and Mayor MacNevin voted against it.

Following the meeting, the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association provided The Expositor with the following statement of support for council’s decision:

“The NEMI Taxpayers’ Association recognizes the efforts of council, as well as town staff, to generate a draft budget that reflects the needs of our municipality,” said Mark Volpini, chairperson and spokesperson of the Taxpayers’ Association. “While we understand there are certain areas of the budget that are beyond council’s control, we applaud, support and are encouraged with their decision to have town staff revisit the impending increase on the operating budget. Our goal is to see a municipal budget that reflects the current cost of living, while taking into consideration a continuance of the many important services that our residents have come to expect. Quite simply, continuing to increase the operations budget beyond the cost of living is cause for great concern for many of our residents, specifically those who are on fixed incomes or young families looking to establish roots in the Northeast Town.”

Council scheduled its next budget meeting for Thursday, January 22 to review staff’s suggestions on reducing the 2015 proposed operating budget.