Former Penetanguishene deputy mayor Anita Dubeau was one of several audience members to address the committee of the whole during the second 2023 draft budget discussion.

Towns normally love to hear from residents, and it’s not like Penetanguishene isn’t trying.

A special committee of the whole meeting was held in town hall to discuss the 2023 draft operating budget, as well as the 2023 and 2024 capital budgets for Penetanguishene. Since the process began this summer, staff of all departments were instructed to find ways to keep the maximum tax impact to 2.25%.

Penetanguishene has roughly 10,000 residents for population, and in the recent municipal election of the 7,725 eligible voters in town only 2,850 cast ballots for a 37% turnout to decide the fate of the municipal leadership over the next term.

In the public survey for the 2023 budget available since April, only 70 residents provided input.

The majority of them felt most of all that roads and sidewalks should result in a higher tax increase as that and winter control were most important, that economic development was one of the biggest challenges to face, that programs and services provided ranked at a good rating, and that they supported a moderate tax increase to maintain services.

Finance director Carrie Robillard provided an overview of the draft budget for council members and the dozen residents who attended the meeting in person. 

“The results of the public survey are available online, and there were a lot – a lot – of comments,” said Robillard, who said that 70 responses was a good amount, but that she would have preferred more.

“A recurring theme I viewed out of the additional comments were: Keep tax increases to a minimum, and implement long-term visioning and planning.”

The 2.25% draft increase for the town levy was calculated from the rises of the 2022 budget where the town tax levy was less than $9.8 million with the policing tax levy at over $1.9 million for an $11.7 million total town levy. Staff recommended ways to bring the 2023 municipal increases for the town tax levy to $10 million (a 2.08% increase), and policing at $1.95 million (0.17% increase) to reach the proposed 2.25%, or $11.9 million, limit by council.

Proposed increases to the operating levy were at $7.6 million (a 1.65% or $194,000 increase from 2022), and $2.4 million to the capital levy (0.43% or $50,000 increase).

Most of the ways in running the municipality stayed the same as anticipated increases and decreases happened as expected. However, major drivers of the budget changes included a 2% tax increase to salaries, wages and benefits, while a transfer from the tax stabilization reserve marked a 0.8% decrease to the tax rate as a response to the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) policing cost increase.

“We did stabilize (the CNCC policing cost loss) by about $178,000 to reduce the tax impact,” said Robillard, “and again for (the 2023 budget) we plan on using our tax stabilization reserve of about $95,000 to reduce that impact as well. Slowly, that impact from the loss of recovery, it will hit our budget minimally over several years instead of all at once.”

A preliminary look at the overall tax impact, listed as an amount per 100,000 residential current value assessment on a single family dwelling, was estimated as $23.28 for the 2023 municipal tax impact, and $33.05 of the total tax impact including the calculated provincial education and county rates not released as of yet; these followed the 2.25% increase as directed by council.

Big capital projects listed for 2023 were the Martin Valley Park development Phase 1 ($660,000) through recreation and community services, and the public works projects to reconstruct Harriet Street ($655,000), preventative road maintenance ($500,000), resurface of Robert St. E. and W. ($450,000), a sidewalk plow replacement ($320,000), and drainage improvements to Navy Lane ($235,000). 

On the previous budget meeting, Mayor Doug Rawson suspended conversations as the meeting went into the long hours of the night. For this meeting, Rawson took the midway point to bump up resident questions and concerns to accommodate them. Former Penetanguishene deputy mayor Anita Dubeau made a recommendation to continue with the Main St. art project, which another resident countered by stating art was secondary to the town’s needs for low taxation.

Council members had several suggestions to reduce expenditures and make financing more efficient. Coun. George Vadeboncoeur offered that a series of funding deposits could help fire services instead of a large and intermittent all-at-once expense, which garnered supportive praise from Fire Chief Paul Ryan.

A 2024 development charge (DC) study prompted council’s request to how Bill 23 would affect the town. 

Robillard shared a small laugh as she stated that under Bill 23, the 2024 DC study wouldn’t be DC eligible to be paid using development charges, and staff would look into alternative funding. She added that staff hadn’t analyzed the full financial impact, and noted some confusion to recent comments by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

“Through an AMO letter, I believe that it was Minister Clark that commented, ‘don’t worry’ to the municipalities, ‘we’re going to make your development charges whole’,” said Robillard. “I don’t know how they can do that or what that comment meant, but I’m anxious to see what he meant or follows up with from that.”

Other comments from residents included a budgetary exploration of the hazards of the three-corner intersection of Robert St. E. and Burke and Dufferin Streets, and a request to keep the town taxation low for residents.

Staff were directed to present the third draft budget at the next special committee of the whole meeting on December 21.

Updated information on the 2023 draft budget deliberations can be found on the Town of Penetanguishene budget web page. A link to the budget draft #2 report can be found on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Archives of the budget discussions within the special committee of the whole meeting are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Dec 08, 2022 at 14:58

This item reprinted with permission from   MidlandToday.ca   Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

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