Northeast Town makes big cuts to 2014 draft budget to combat gov. funding cuts

NORTHEAST TOWN—Due to an $81,000 decrease in Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) support to the Northeast Town for 2014, council was forced to make tough decisions, cutting line items and reducing the 2014 draft budget by $63,806.

“The increase to the 2014 draft budget as a result of OMPF reduction is 2.2 percent, which means a 5.94 percent increase to the municipal levy,” explained town CAO Dave Williamson.

Town staff came to the last administration and finance committee meeting with a list of options for consideration to reduce the 2014 operations draft budget by $97,952, but after a great deal of debate, the council could only agree to cut six of the eight suggestions resulting in a $63,806 reduction (or 4.21 percent overall increase) to the municipal levy.

On the suggested chopping block was the increase request from the Little Current Public Library of $2,581, the increase request from the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport for $1,040, Ward 2’s recycling pick-up at $32,000, one public works seasonal position at $23,000, the Ministry of Natural Resources fire agreement at $22,931, council’s economic development fund at $5,400, the recreation centre’s contracted services at $5,000 and labour negotiations for wages and legal services at $6,000.

Each suggestion was carefully weighed by council and sparked a great deal of debate.

“Is there any way that we (the library board) could get half of the increase requested?” asked Councillor Christina Jones, who is council’s representative on the library board.

Mr. Williamson noted that while all the other municipal departments had seen a reduction in the 2014 draft budget, both the library and the airport had requested an increase.

“I won’t accept a reduction to the airport,” said Councillor Melissa Peters. “They haven’t had an increase in years.”

As for cutting out Ward 2’s recycling pick-up, Councillor Bill Koehler asked if the suggestion was a joke.

“It is unreal to think about this,” said Councillor Koehler. “Think about seniors having to try and get people to take them to the landfill.”

“I agree with Councillor Koehler,” added Councillor Michael Erskine. “It is in our best interest to manage this. The alternative is not good for the town.”

Mr. Williamson explained that the seasonal public works position would be a truck driver/labourer job.

“Would we just be moving this job onto someone else’s plate?” asked Concillor Erskine. “Have we spoken to the person that would be taking on the additional responsibilities?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Williamson, “and they were positive about taking on the additional duties.”

The reduced MNR fire protection was a very controversial discussion item, with a great deal of confusion.

Staff explained that under the town’s new insurance policy, anywhere that the Northeast Town fire department could cover (every area but Ward 1, the islands), the insurance company would pay for the MRN firefighting costs (in the case of a bush or forest fire), meaning that the town would only have to maintain the MNR fire agreement for the islands.

“If everywhere is covered by insurance and the islands are covered under the agreement, then this is a no brainer,” said Councillor Erskine.

“Essentially if you stay at full MNR coverage, then our insurance company will be recognizing the savings,” added Mr. Williamson, reminding council that under the MNR agreement the town sees a 50 percent reduction in the emergency fire protection costs.

With the elimination of the economic development fund, staff explained that it was only council’s $5,4000 contribution that was being suggested as a cut item and that the town economic development officer had her own budget for municipal economic development.

“We don’t really do a lot as it is to enhance economic development and a lot of people in the municipality depend on economic development for their livelihood,” said Councillor Erskine.

“If unexpected repairs were required at the recreation centre we would return to council, but I have spoken with the manager here (at the recreation centre) and he believes that staff could work more diligently to manage repairs themselves,” said Mr. Williamson on the next item on the suggested reduction list.

The final item up for discussion was the labour negotiations for wages and legal services, which staff suggested could be absorbed into the municipal legal operation budget.

Councillor Peters said she was not in favour of this idea as “legal issues are touchy at best.”

At the end of the discussion, committee recommended to staff that the library only receive a three percent increase opposed to the requested $2,581, and that the seasonal public works position be cut along with restricting the MNR coverage to the islands, the elimination of council’s economic development line item, the recreation centre contracted services and the labour negotiation wages and legal services line item. Committee agreed not to cut the Ward 2 recycling pick-up and the increase request from the airport.

 Robin Burridge