The municipal budget process continued last week with budget discussions at the council meeting on Monday and two public meetings held in Merrickville and Eastons Corners.
As of right now the budget is a working document. At last Monday’s meeting, a draft was presented to council suggesting a 23.7 per cent decrease in the capital budget and a 3.7 per cent increase in operational costs. The budget also includes an 18.9 per cent increase in the budget for water and wastewater. This is because of a number of necessary infrastructure projects including the Drummond Street, Lewis Street and Brock Street road and water/sewer reconstruction which is subject to a $1.2 million grant from the Ontario government. With these numbers, the total budget has increased from 2017 at a rate of 2.8 per cent from $5,500,024 to $5,659,052.
The budget is still a working document because council voted not to pass it as the official draft budget last Monday. They felt a 3.7 per cent increase in the operational budget was much too high. Council directed staff to look for cost savings in the operational budget to make the increase no higher than 1.75 per cent. As of the public meeting on Thursday, staff had already found a cost savings of $30,000, putting them half way to their goal of cutting $60,000 to reach the 1.75 per cent. A report will be presented to council outlining if and how these cuts will be affecting municipal operations and services.
Even without the proposed cut backs, the municipal tax rate is still expected to decrease by 1.3 per cent. As staff look for efficiencies in the budget, this number could drop even further. The education tax rate is also expected to decrease by five per cent, while the county tax rate has yet to be announced. All things considered, it looks like Merrickville-Wolford residents can expect a slight decrease in taxes this year. This is a welcome announcement as taxes in the municipality are the highest in the County and have been steadily increasing year after year. “We know we have a problem,” says CAO John Regan. “We need to reduce the burden on our residents.” Unfortunately for Merrickville residents, the water/wastewater rates will still be going up ten per cent as per a commitment made in 2016 to do so until the cost of running the system becomes completely user-pay in 2021. Two per cent of the tax rate will also be going into an infrastructure reserve fund to help pay for the replacement of critical capital infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, equipment and utilities).
John says 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting but busy year in the municipality. There are more upgrades to the municipal centre proposed as well as several important infrastructure projects. The capital budget also includes upgrades to the community centre (including its washrooms) and Centennial Hall in Eastons Corners, another dry hydrant, security fencing for the landfill, hose for the pumper/tanker, asphalt for the Read Street parking lot and electrical hook up and trenching for a gazebo in the Blockhouse Park spearheaded by the Lions Club.
Municipal staff will also be busy with putting some strategic planning initiatives into play including the establishment of an Economic Development office if they are successful in their application for a Rural Economic Development (RED) grant through OMAFRA. They also hope to update the municipal website, improve communications, put up some signage to make drivers aware of farm traffic in rural areas and create a visitor strategy for the Village. They will also be looking at making more of an investment in training staff, asset management and updating the municipality’s Official Plan, which is mandated by the province. Not to mention it is also an election year.
Budget deliberations are not over and even if you missed the two public meetings last week there is still time to have your input. The draft budget is on the municipal website in their document library under financial documents. Any questions or concerns can be directed to John Regan at [email protected] or 613-269-4791 ext. 229.