Northeast Town council rejects Taxpayers’ Association budget cut suggestions

LITTLE CURRENT—Prior to the Northeast Town council reviewing the final version of the municipal 2014 draft budget, which will be taken to the public for comments on Thursday, January 30, the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association made a deputation to council last week, suggesting actions to reduce the proposed budget. Despite motions being put on the table, the suggestions were rejected by council.

“The NEMI Taxpayers’ Association would like to thank you for all of the hard work put into the draft budget for 2014,” began NEMI Taxpayers’ Association spokesperson Irene Callaghan during her deputation to council last Tuesday evening. “The mayor and CAO have given our association’s board members much of their valuable time over three months to go over and clarify line budget items and the five-year history on these items. In going over the 1,887 line items in the operations draft and also the capital projects budget, we had many concerns and received excellent answers to most of them.”

“The suggested percentage increase on the levy of 4.5 percent, although better than the possible 5.94 percent, is still high when several factors are considered,” continued Ms. Callaghan. “We have two suggestions to make. The first is line item 1,003, leachate management planning. We know that council is justifiably committed to this project. It simply makes sense. However last year this line was added to the operations budget and it was suggested that $70,000, which is about two percentage points on the levy, was needed to get this rolling.”

Ms. Callaghan said that since, to her knowledge, only $14,483.90 had been utilized, the remaining $55,000 should be moved to the working capital reserve for 2014.

“This would alleviate about 1.3 percent of the suggested increase,” she noted. “It would go a long way to assisting taxpayer in all the wards and might help to offset some of the added taxation to Wards 2, 3 and 4 because of the distribution setup of the wards.”

Ms. Callaghan turned the floor over to Marc Volpini, who she explained was taking over as the association’s spokesperson.

“Our second suggestion is the donations line budget item,” said Mr. Volpini. “A great deal of council’s time goes into discussing donations. We would suggest that council adopt a donations procedure similar to that used in other municipalities. A representative taxpayer from each ward and a councillor would sit on a donations committee.”

Mr. Volpini explained that if council was to adopt this idea, the committee would meet once in the fall and review all the donation requests for the year, making recommendations to council. He also added that the association felt that the donation budget should be cut because of the additional $10,000 coming from Northland Power (as part of the roads use agreement).

Following the deputation, Councillor Bill Koehler put forward a motion to support all of the taxpayers’ recommendations.

“I agree with the taxpayers,” began Councillor Koehler. “We can’t keep going on and on. The donation budget is too rich; I’ve said it before and it’s not like we are going to get the funding for the lagoon anyway this year.”

Councillor Koehler suggested that in addition to the taxpayers’ recommendation, the donation budget be reduced to simply the $10,000 from Northland (eliminating the municipal portion of the budget item all together).

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin suggested to council that the three suggestions be divided into separate motions for discussion and voting.

On the topic of the leachate management planning money being moved into the 2014 operating budget, Councillor Christina Jones began the discussion.

“We have a known problem with our lagoon that we are going to have to deal with,” said Councillor Jones. “At the least, if we need to ship the leachate to Sudbury again, we are going to need the money.”

Mayor MacNevin asked town CAO Dave Williamson to speak on the topic from a staff perspective.

“The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has already advised us that we need to do something about our lagoon and have given us a one year grace period,” explained Mr. Williamson. “We did not use all the money in the leachate management planning budget in 2013, but we will need that money this year. We are exploring two options to deal with the lagoon right now. The one we can’t speak of in public right now, and the second is that we are working with the MOE, discussing a different type of landfill that could save us a lot of money in the long-term. Putting that money aside in the reserve is crucial because we will need it. It is not a future problem, it is a problem we are going to have to deal with this year.”

Councillor Marcel Gauthier said that in general, he didn’t feel that the town should be using reserves to lower the levy, on top of the other issues associated with this particular case.

“I agree with Councillor Gauthier,” added Councillor Dawn Orr. “We need that money to solve a problem that we are facing.”

Councillor Gauthier requested a recorded vote on the motion, with all of council, accept for Councillor Koehler, voting against the motion (defeating it) to move the remaining $55,000 from the 2013 leachate management planning fund to the 2014 operating budget.

As for reducing the donations budget or creating a donations committee, the majority of council made statements illustrating a lack of support for the idea.

“We get requests throughout the year for donations,” said Councillor Gauthier, speaking to the taxpayers’ suggestion that all donation requests from all organizations would have to be in by a September deadline. He explained that an unforeseen emergency could arise with a community organization and that the committee structure would not accommodate the situation.

“We have discussed this before at the council table and already decided not to reduce the donations budget further,” added Councillor Michael Erskine.

A recorded vote was once again requested for the motion of reducing the donations budget from $23,500 to $10,000 (eliminating the municipal donation budget). Councillors Erskine, Jones, Gauthier, Orr and Mayor MacNevin voted against the motion, defeating it, while Councillors Koehler and Bruce Wood voted in favour of it.

As for the motion to strike a donations committee, none of the councillors would second the motion so it was not put on the table.

Mayor MacNevin concluded the discussion by saying that he was looking forward to hearing public input on the draft 2014 municipal budget at the public meeting on Thursday, January 30 at 7 pm.

Robin Burridge