Final touches are now being put on Collingwood’s draft budget, with a possible early Christmas gift of a two per cent tax increase in 2022.
As part of Monday night’s regular meeting of council, councillors got a look at the fourth and final draft of the 2022 budget before it comes back for ratification on Dec. 20, and brought up a few last-minute concerns on some of the additions and subtractions that have taken place over the past few weeks since it was originally proposed.
The total budget allocates $116 million in total spending between operating ($64.3 million) and capital budgets ($51.8 million).
Coun. Tina Comi asked that council reconsider adding $1,500 per each councillor’s expense account to be used for professional development, which could include daycare costs, which was originally proposed by Coun. Kathy Jeffery in November. The increase would take annual expense accounts from $4,000 to $5,500.
“I’m not in favour of that increase. In this day and age, there are so many webinars available and ways to manage your budget,” said Comi. “I think it also ties into our ongoing climate change recommendations. We need to find alternative ways to participate in these events while reducing the carbon footprint.”
Coun. Mariane McLeod clarified that the boundaries of what was going to be defined as “professional development” was also being expanded to include child care, which is part of the reason why the increase was proposed.
Comi said she still would not be in support of the budget item.
“Speaking as the only member of council with children and child care needs, I wouldn’t think it’s helpful for a parent or guardian to have to choose between education and child care,” said Comi. “A councillor without children would have greater access to education. In my opinion, it’s not going to play out equitably.”
“I think we would need something more comprehensive that carves out that need,” she said.
Council re-voted 5-3 in favour of adding the $1,500 per year to councillor professional development accounts, with Comi, Coun. Steve Berman and Coun. Deb Doherty opposed.
Comi also asked that the Pollinator Strategy, at a cost of $10,000, be re-added, which was supported by Doherty. That item had been removed from the budget at the November meeting.
“At some point, one way or another, we have to address this as part of our commitment to the Bee City Canada initiative. It’s not going to go away,” said Comi.
The motion was defeated by a tie vote of 4-4 with Mayor Brian Saunderson, Coun. Bob Madigan, McLeod and Jeffery opposed.
Jeffery brought back a line item regarding the hiring of a new communications co-ordinator at a cost of $80,000. As part of the Dec. 7 strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, Jeffery had put forward an amendment to remove the item, which was defeated at that time by a tie vote of 3-3.
“My initial instinct is to eliminate it and try to show some restraint given the amount of staff that’s been hired,” said Jeffery, proposing that instead, if the position were approved, she would like it to be contingent on council approving a communications plan in 2022 prior to hiring.
Madigan said he was in favour of the new position.
“I’m really happy to see this come back and I’m 100 per cent in support,” he said.
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin said she was in favour of the position, but was not in favour of the caveats to it.
“I think this is interfering in the job of our staff,” said Hamlin. “I believe we need communication improvement. I have heard this from residents.”
Council voted 6-2 in favour of hiring a communications coordinator at a cost of $80,000, however the position would be contingent on a communications plan prior to hiring, with Hamlin and Doherty opposed.
Doherty asked about the Maple Street Priority project and the implications of pulling it from the 2022 budget moving forward.
The Maple Street Bike Priority pilot project ran from Aug. 30 to Oct. 1. Maple Street was temporarily converted to a bicycle-priority street with barriers at each intersection from Third to Campbell Streets to reduce the amount of vehicular through traffic.
“We’ve asked that staff come back with the pilot project results. All the funds for this project were going to be grant-driven, so based on the report, staff would proceed with grant applications,” said Saunderson.
Comi shared concerns that as grant applications are time-sensitive, she worried a delay could affect timelines on the future of the project.
“Are we saying the whole thing will be contingent on grants?” asked Comi. “This project was so well-used. I look forward to that report from staff.”
No motion was put forward to reconsider the decision to remove the Maple Street Priority project from the 2022 budget.
Council voted to direct staff to finalize the budget, which will be coming before council for a final vote on Dec. 20.