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Asset management top of mind for residents on 2024 budget

Coffee with Council event ran at the Collingwood Public Library on Nov. 8
Collingwood's treasurer Monica Quinlan gives a presentation on the second draft of the 2024 budget to attendees of a Coffee with Council event at the Collingwood Public Library on Nov. 8, 2023.

Despite the rainy weather, a few good residents sat down with a coffee and a Timbit in hand on Wednesday night to talk shop with Collingwood councillors and provide their thoughts on the 2024 budget.

On Nov. 8, council held a Coffee with Council event at the Collingwood Public Library to discuss the 2024 draft budget with interested residents, with all nine councillors in attendance as well as key town staff.

As of the second draft presented to councillors at their Nov. 6 meeting and discussed that evening, so far the tax increase to residents in 2024 is coming in at 4.25 per cent, however with at least two more drafts to go, that could change depending on resident and council input.

Anne Brayley and Nanette Sanson attended the meeting to learn more about council’s priorities in 2024.

“I was hoping to hear about the direction for the town and what their priorities are for spending and saving our money,” said Brayley. “I heard a lot of good, directional information.”

“We’re all aware of inflationary impact on our lives. I was very curious. They worked very hard last year to keep our tax increase to a minimum,” said Sanson. “I didn’t hear anything here yet about the new arts and culture centre. I don’t know how that quite fits in, but I will ask.”

“The other one that is, of course of interest to families is the new multi-use recreation facility,” she said. “I know they’re moving forward in one way or another.”

For this year’s budget exercise, town staff divided the budget into four priorities. All items marked in the first priority group are considered extremely urgent and were included in a base two-per-cent increase budget.

Priority one items include increases to salaries and benefits for existing staff, new staff hires for an engineering manager ($160,000), business analyst ($98,000) and a part-time administrative assistant to the mayor and council ($50,000), and inflationary items such as increases to insurance (10 per cent), natural gas (eight per cent), hydro (four per cent), materials (salt, sand and other, 4.5 per cent) and fuel (seven per cent).

Council is also considering three other groups of items: the second priority is considered urgent, the third group is considered important and the fourth priority group is considered important but could be deferred to a future budget year.

To read about progress on which priority 2 through 4 items have been pushed through by council to the next draft so far, click here.

The town’s overall funding is made up of multiple income sources including the tax levy, payments in lieu of taxes, grants or government transfers, user rates, user fees, fines, investment income and development charges.

If the town approved a 3.75 per cent increase only in 2024, the town’s total operating and capital expenditures would be $155 million, while the total amount raised through taxes alone would be $41 million.

If the town moves forward with a 4.25 per cent increase, that will account for a $102.51 increase on the tax bill for a median-assessed home in Collingwood of $327,000.

Sanson said she felt nervous about the projection that asset management reserve funds will deteriorate to nothing by 2031 if there aren’t additional investments made through the budget for asset management.

Asset management refers to the renewal/maintenance/rehabilitation of assets the town owns. Such assets include infrastructure such as roads, sewers, water and wastewater. For example, if a road will last 25 years, then over the 25 years of its life, the town must put away enough funding for it to be replaced by the 26th year.

So far as of draft two of the 2024 budget, staff have asked council to approve increasing the amount to contribute to the town’s asset management plan with an additional one per cent tax increase, or $380,000.

However, at their meeting on Nov. 6, council voted 6-3 opposed to adding a further one per cent increase for asset management to the budget, although they could reconsider in a future draft.

“It either will require some new thinking or a lot of fundraising,” said Sanson.

Brayley agreed.

“I think it’s a huge challenge when you look at the reserve funds for core assets. We’ve seen in other towns and cities that if you don’t do your maintenance today it just accumulates and makes a huge problem down the road that you can never afford,” said Brayley.

“I really hope they can figure that out.”

Both Brayley and Sanson said they would be OK with an additional tax increase if it meant the town could be better prepared for the future.

“Those core assets are so fundamental to the running of the town. It’s our water, our roads, our sewers. You can’t have that infrastructure crumbling,” said Brayley.

Sanson suggested that perhaps it would be helpful to list the asset management portion separately on tax bills sent to residents.

“I think if it’s just included in an increase to taxes, everybody would be (upset), but if they understood that it was to maintain our assets, thus our quality of life in Collingwood, then I think that would be a better form of communication,” said Sanson.

David Ohrling attended the meeting in his capacity as a member of the Collingwood Climate Action Team. He said he was delighted that a request from staff to move the town’s climate change specialist position into a full-time position at an additional cost of $15,000 has been moved forward to the next budget draft, and counts the move as a step forward toward further addressing climate change.

“We’re trying to promote a forward-thinking approach on our assets and financial resources,” said Ohrling. “I would like to see the town account for environmental assets as well.”

“There are difficult decisions council has to make,” he added.

Rick Lex, owner of the Tremont building and the Simcoe St. Theatre building, attended the session to talk about the preservation of heritage in town.

“I have a few issues I’m interested in, including the funding of the arts and the future of the downtown heritage district,” said Lex.

Lex added that he’d like to see more planning for the overall future of Collingwood’s downtown.

“I’d like to ensure that rules are being followed. I think there’s a need for a new study to analyze where the district is going,” he said.

Overall, Lex says he’s pleased with the directions council have taken so far leading into the third draft of the budget.

“I’m fine with a four per cent increase, given there’s inflation. Four per cent is not too bad at all,” he said.

Budget talks will continue over the next few months, with drafts three and four expected to come to council at the end of November and beginning of December. A second Coffee with Council event on the fourth draft will take place Dec. 6, with a goal to ratify the final budget by Dec. 18.