Northeast Town residents weigh in on proposed 2015 municipal budget

LITTLE CURRENT—Earlier this month the public had their chance to weigh in on the Northeast Town’s proposed 2015 municipal budget, which marks a 4.55 percent increase to the levy. The comments and suggestions from the public varied, but overall the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association was disappointed with the increase and provided council with three key suggestions to reduce the bottom line.

Town treasurer Sheryl Wilkin took the meeting through the proposed budget, starting with the tax rate implications for each ward.

“Ward 1 would actually see a 3.67 percent decrease, Ward 2 a 4.35 percent decrease and Wards 3 and 4 a 5.47 percent decrease,” said Ms. Wilkin. “The increase in the levy is $175,061, which is a 4.55 percent increase in the levy (the amount of money being raised).”

Ms. Wilkin explained some of the reasons for the increase to the levy as including insurance premiums, airport increased operation costs and a reduction in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.

She also reviewed the proposed capital projects for 2015 including items such as office upgrades, surface treatments, additional street lighting, the development of the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah archaeological site, the replacement of the library roof and municipal website and accounting software upgrades.

During the public input section of the meeting the taxpayers’ association and several members of the public came forward with comments and suggestions.

“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,” began association chair and spokesperson Mark Volpini. “As an association, our goal is to support a municipal budget that mirrors the current costs 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 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.”

“This past Monday, we held an association executive meeting and discussed the impending percentage increase,” continued Mr. Volpini. “As a board we deliberated and are all confident that a further decrease can be achieved. We are not interested in a budget that is compounded with service cuts, that type of thinking simply takes us backwards, but we do feel there are opportunities that still exist (to further reduce the budget).”

The taxpayers first suggestion was for council to relook at line item 597, snowplowing contracted services.

“We need to consider the amount of snow that has fallen to date as compared to 2014,” further explained Mr. Volpini. “In an attempt to save $10,000 in contracted services, is there no opportunity to work within the parameters of our town agreement and allocate these dollars to our own staff? Are we able to schedule split-shifts among our own staff, so we are still fulfilling our commitment to road maintenance and plowing (within the expectations set by the ministry) and use the balance of one’s shift to remove unnecessary snow banks from the higher risk areas?”

Another suggestion from the taxpayers was to reduce the arena canteen purchases for resale.

“In 2013, this line item (1417, canteen purchases for resale) was listed at $30,028.41,” said Mr. Volpini. “In 2014 it was reduced to $21,248.30. Now, in 2015, this line item is slated to increase again to $37,500. This represents an increase of $16,251.70. Why? When we asked the question it was brought to our attention that a plan is in place to diversify the products being offered at the canteen. When we pushed further for some explanation and asked how much revenue the canteen yielded in 2014, we were informed that, in fact, it broke even.”

Mr. Volpini noted that if the two suggestions were considered by council they could further reduce the budget by $26,251.70, representing .66 percent.

“Hypothetically, if council were to consider all of the line items that are actually budgeted for (and we believe the total number of line items being budgeted exceeds 1,000), what would be the overall impact if every one of these line items were to be reduced by $50?” questioned Mr. Volpini. “In essence, you could go through the exercise and ask yourselves, ‘how much would this line item be impacted with 50 less dollars in it?’ In the end, $50 is minimal, but when multiplied by 1,000 budgeted line items, you have now saved $50,000, representing 1.25 percent.”

Jib Turner questioned the $36,000 levy to the municipality for the Manitoulin Planning Board.

He suggested that if the town was to take on their own planning, the revenue saved could be used for promoting the municipality.

Linda Bowerman took to the podium at the public meeting, telling council that she was upset “that the costs keep going up.”

She suggested that the town look at reducing staff.

Town CAO Dave Williamson responded to questions from Ms. Bowerman regarding the town’s staffing level, noting that, in fact, staffing levels had gone down.

Rob Paxton expressed his discontent with MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) and taxes being based on their “inflated assessments.”

Mr. Williamson responded that the municipality has no option but to use MPAC assessments for taxation. “It is the law,” he noted. “That aspect (of the taxation process) is out of municipal control.”

Mayor Al MacNevin concluded by thanking everyone from the municipality who had attended the public meeting and for their suggestions.

“Council will be following up with these suggestions and looking at them further at our next budget meeting,” said Mayor MacNevin.