Northeast Town seeks input from ratepayers at 2017 public draft budget meeting

Northeast Town ratepayers gather for public draft budget meeting. photo by Robin Burridge

Staff present draft budget with 2.96 increase to the levy

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town held a public budget meeting to present the 2017 draft municipal budget, which reflects a 2.96 percent increase to the levy.

Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin began the meeting by thanking the ratepayers who were in attendance.

Town Treasurer Sheryl Wilkin presented a slide show, breaking down the draft 2017 budget.

She highlighted that the proposed budget will maintain existing levels of service and ensure the continuation of major capital upgrades.

Ms. Wilkin explained that the 2.96 increase to the levy equaled an additional $125,641 that the town had to raise.

She noted that that the town was able to maintain the same level of Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) funding as last year, which was positive, as well as saw a small decrease in policing and recognized $40,021 in savings by leaving the Manitoulin Planning Board. Some of the major elements that contributed to increasing the levy were increases to: staff salaries and wage benefits coming in at $54,301; the library at $2,580; the landfill grant in lieu, $11,000; equipment repair and fuel costs, $18,860; a reduction in new assessment, $44,771; increase to transfers to reserves, $20,000; utilities, $36,300; and the District Services Board (DSB)/Land Ambulance levy, $14,759.

Some of the major uncontrollable costs in the 2017 budget were policing at $795,740, DSB at $436,282, the Manitoulin Centennial Manor Northeast Town contribution at $109,063, and the health unit at $94,256.

The capital projects in the draft municipal budget include: refacing of the front of the municipal building and cenotaph project; road construction; surface treatment of Campbell Street West and Rockville Road, North Channel Drive, Townline Road (from Highway 6 for 1 km), Bay Street and Gaida’s Side Road; the purchase of a one tonne tuck for the public works department; a sand dome in Sheguiandah which is dependent on funding; a public works salt shed in Little Current; sidewalks, Meredith Street from Walcot to Sim Street and Draper Street to Worthington to Hayward; the Ashley drain, the watermain (cast iron) replacement (with funding); lagoon upgrade (with funding); recreation centre work such as ice plant upgrades, the replacement of the dehumidifier, and lighting upgrades in the arena and curling club; the Sheguiandah archaeological site development (a funded project); Spider Bay Marina dock replacement (Pier 3, 5 and 6), which is dependent on funding; Spider Bay Marina LED light upgrade; and fire department self contained breathing apparatus.

“Your taxes are calculated based on the municipal tax rate (the municipal levy requirements), your assessment from MPAC and the education tax rate (which is provincially set),” explained Ms. Wilkin.

Ms. Wilkin concluded the presentation by reinforcing that the draft budget will maintain existing levels of service and ensure the continued investment of critical infrastructure in the municipality.

The only member of the public to provide input to the budget was Mark Volpini of the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association.

“We appreciate and respect the time taken by council and staff to work through the various line times, impacting on this year’s budget,” said Mr. Volpini. “Clearly, this is a process that is complex and sometimes, time-sensitive. Through monthly meetings with the mayor and CAO, we continue to learn about the challenges and complexities that impact on the decisions regarding municipal services and capital projects. Once again, we appreciate the professional relationship we’ve established over the years with members of this council and our municipal staff.”

Not withstanding, Mr. Volpini stressed that many families in the Northeast Town are finding the cost of living unattainable.

“In fact, just last week, after less than one year of operation, a local business owner in Little Current was forced to close his family restaurant as a result of increasing hydro costs,” said Mr. Volpini. “This has become the unfortunate story for too many families, not only in our municipality, but also in the province of Ontario.”

Mr. Volpini said that the Taxpayers feel that the burden of increased costs has been placed unfairly on the shoulders of municipalities to tackle.

“Understandably, there are certain expenses where we have little to no control,” he said. “However, we are approaching a breaking point. Provincial funding has dried out and our provincial debt is ballooning and taxes continue to rise.”

“Tonight, the NEMI Taxpayers’ Association is asking council, like many families have already done, at what point does our council also need to consider making some difficult decisions?” he asked.

Mr. Volpini suggested re-prioritizing capital projects, re-evaluating non-essential programs and services, and looking at the size of council and town staff wages.

Mayor MacNevin thanked Mr. Volpini for his comments, and assured him that council would consider the associations suggestions. He also urged any ratepayer in the municipality with suggestions or comments about the budget to contact himself, a councillor or staff.