Northeast Town council takes first look at draft 2016 municipal budget

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town council reviewed the draft 2016 municipal budget last month with staff.

“It is my pleasure to introduce council to the draft 2016 budget,” said CAO Dave Williamson. “We started this process with a public input session this summer, which was new to our usual budget process. Managers then went through and prepared the departmental budgets, incorporating public input where it fit in. From there, the treasurer (Sheryl Wilkin) and I go through and review the departmental budgets and slash what we can, without cutting services, going back to the managers to discuss which line items they can live without. As well, we go over the needs with the department managers and priorities for the capital area of the budget. We also looked at the reserve schedule and what would be reasonable to put aside for future needs. We have now developed a draft budget incorporating all of those elements to bring to council for your consideration.”

Mr. Williamson added for members of the public in attendance that council would now go through the budget over the next three months, asking questions and providing input. “In December we will get the final numbers for some of the line items and will be looking at another public meeting in February 2016 before council approves the final budget,” said Mr. Williamson.

Councillor Marcel Gauthier inquired about public input from the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association, suggesting council reduce the cost of the subdivision lots to encourage sales.

“I looked into this suggestion, and very few lots have sold in the municipality recently,” said Councillor Gauthier. “Realtors I spoke with said that we shouldn’t panic and that things will happen, just not right now, and recommended that we don’t reduce the lot costs.”

Mr. Williamson walked council through the draft budget, starting with the bottom line.

“We are proposing a 5.55 percent increase over last year on the operating side ($3,806,266.09 in 2015 to $4,017,563.35 for 2016), a 3.55 percent increase to the capital budget ($125,500 in 2015 to $129,700 for 2016), a zero percent increase to reserve (contributing the same $92,734) for a total budget increase of 5.35 percent overall ($4,024,500.09 budgeted for 2015 and $4,239,997.35 for 2016),” Mr. Williamson said. “Now I know council doesn’t like this, but we are already looking at a deficit for this year.”

Mr. Williamson explained some of the line items that forced staff to look at a 5.35 percent increase.

“New assessments in the municipality were good over the last few years because of the wind turbines and the new hotel, but over the course of 2016 we are looking at $3 million in building permits, which is average annually, but there are no new industrial or commercial projects coming up that we are aware of,” he told council. “The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) has also taken another hit.”

Next, Mr. Williamson reviewed the proposed capital budget, beginning with upgrades to the municipal office.

Staff proposed a $10,000 line item (net to town) for the creation of a drop ceiling from the second floor and painting the municipal office. A cost of $20,000 was also proposed to be taken from the working capital reserve for streetscape revitalization and tree replacement.

“We would like to bring in a professional firm that can tell us what we need to do to maintain the look and feel of our downtown and help write a plan so we can secure future funding,” said Mr. Williamson.

The capital budget also including road construction on Rockville Road (regrade and surface treatment) at a cost of $55,000 to be taken from the gas tax reserve, regrade and surface treatment to North Channel Drive for $15,000, also to be taken from the gas tax reserve, and grade and raise surface treatment to Townline Road from Highway 6 for 1.5 km at a cost of $93,000, to be taken from this year’s gas tax funding.

Also in the draft budget was the surface treatment of Campbell Street West at a cost of $15,000 from the gas tax reserve, Townline/Bass Lake ($30,000 from the gas tax reserve), Honora Bay ($35,000, net to town), Bay Street ($15,000 from the gas tax reserve) and the Green Bush gulley ($13,000 from the gas tax reserve).

Streetlighting was proposed for $4,000 net to town, a GPS unit for Public Works at $4,000 net to town and the replacement of one of the Public Works half-ton trucks at a cost of $35,000 net to town.

The Ashley Drain was also part of the draft capital budget with a $74,000 price tag, proposed to be taken from the working capital reserve and work to the Meredith Drain at a cost of $65,000 to also be taken from the working capital reserve.

The final line items are a sand dome for Sheguiandah at $350,000 (if the municipality receives a grant) and a new salt shed in Little Current for $75,000 with the hope that $59,000 would come from grant funding and the remaining $16,000 would be net to town, for a total proposed 2016 capital budget of $94,000.

Mr. Williamson reminded council that line item lists with funds coming from possible grants were conditional on successful funding.

In the proposed capital budget, the replacement of the water main (cast iron) was a big ticket item with a total cost of $1,174,500, with $974,500 hopefully coming from grant funding and $200,000 from the Little Current water works reserve. The other big item was the lagoon upgrade at $5,000,000, $3,000,000 proposed to come from grant funding and of the remaining, $275,000 would come from the Little Current landfill reserves and $1,725,000 in the form of a loan.

Proposed for the recreation centre are new ice resurfacer doors at a $15,000 cost (net to town), new washroom stalls at $20,000 (conditional on obtaining funding) and heat upgrades at the curling club at $3,000 (also conditional on obtaining funding).

A guard rail was included in the capital budget for the Low Island Park parking lot at a cost of $16,000 (conditional on funding).

Upgrades for the Little Current Public Library were also in the budget at a cost of $10,000 (conditional on funding).

There were numerous items proposed for Spider Bay Marina including the replacement of the Pier 5 dock ($200,000), Pier 6 dock ($200,000), Pier 3 dock ($100,000) (all conditional on funding) and a lighting upgrade to LED at $15,000 ($7,500 net to town and $7,500 conditional on funding).

Electrical upgrades to the Port of Little Current at a cost of $40,000, with the funds to be taken from the reserve account.

The Northeast Fire Department was also included in the budget with a $10,700 line item for communications/radio upgrades. Council discussed the possibility of providing the department with the necessary funding this fall and will review the concept at council’s next meeting.

The total proposed capital budget for 2016, directly impacting the levy, is $129,700.

Council will continue to review the budget over the next few months, with a public meeting to be schedule for February.