By Cecilia Nasmith
Northumberland County council has determined that its levy increase for the 2019 taxation year will be 2.27%.
This consists of a base-levy increase of 2% and a dedicated infrastructure levy of 0.27% for the county's $56.2-million budget, councillors heard at their Jan. 30 meeting.
Treasurer Glenn Dees had originally recommended a 2.5% increase in the base levy, but councillors achieved the savings by voting to discontinue the practice of distributing bulky-waste vouchers to Northumberland households, The measure drew support for a number of reasons, such as the cost of administering the program, although they acknowledged that the move does increase the potential for road-side dumping.
As a full-service upper-tier municipality, Dees said, Northumberland presents an intricate budgeting challenge. The process is typically seven months long, and there are an anticipated 2,900 budget lines to be uploaded into their software.
Expanding on what exactly a full-service municipality means, chief administrative officer Jennifer Moore noted that there are 13 upper-tier municipalities in Eastern Ontario that all provide some degree of service.
“We check every single box – no other municipality checks every single box,” Moore said.
Two major extraordinary future projects (the Golden Plough Lodge rebuild and the new Campbellford bridge) will account for $100-million worth of construction costs over the next few years. Challenges like this demand the dedicated infrastructure levy council has approved as an annual levy addition.
Other challenges include asset-management budgeting and the very real possibility of reduced provincial funding in terms of grants and subsidies, In Northumberland, this accounts for 35% of revenues as compared to 20% for municipalities overall.
Dees said that the initial levy increases that had been requested would have produced a 5.2% increase. He provided a list of reductions that had been made that virtually cut that increase in half.
Even so, Port Hope Mayor Bob Sanderson said, people in the community are struggling.
“In Port Hope, the levy increase is down to 1.9%, specifically targeted because of taxpayers, with whom we are in fairly close contact,” Sanderson said.
“We are getting quite a bit of resistance in our community relative to the levy.”
In Cobourg, Mayor John Henderson said, the budgeting process is extensive and features quite a number of public meetings where different departments make presentations – all of which have been told not to exceed a 2% increase under any circumstances.
Henderson decried the downloading of expensive responsibilities like roads to municipalities but, in the end, noted that taxes at all levels are paid by the same taxpayer.
Hamilton Township Mayor Bill Cane said the message he is hearing from his citizenry is that they want careful scrutiny of the county.
Cane added that he is most concerned with township residents on fixed incomes. His understanding is that the government pensions have just had a 2% increase, and he does not want to lose sight of that.
Cramahe Township Mayor Mandy Martin said one of her top concerns is the provincial government's drive to reduce costs.
“If we think we are going to continue as we are with the funding in the past, dream on!” Martin stated.
“We have to be able to plan for the future. We will be doing more of our capital protects on our own, if we do them at all. The services we are providing are not going to be subsidized as they have in the past. We have to be far more self-sufficient and responsible in terms of how we plan.
“I understand it's a tough decision – and in my municipality, I have a higher percentage than any of you of lower-income people. But if you want to continue to have the services that we have like subsidized housing, transportation to medical appointments, counselling, that money has to come from somewhere, and it has to be sustained.”
Trent Hills Mayor Bob Crate agreed that cuts can be expected from the province.
“I am not sure where they are going to happen, but you cannot look at a $15-billion deficit and cut that without somebody having to suffer. I think we are going to be the people to suffer,” Crate predicted.
Brighton Mayor Brian Ostrander cast the only vote against the revised budget. His position was that the 0.5%-higher levy figure should stand and that the money saved from the voucher discontinuation should be reinvested in infrastructure.
“We should be looking at all the roads and bridges so we don't continue to get further behind – even more further behind,” Ostrander stressed.