While a few amendments were put on the table by councillors on Tuesday to cut back on spending in 2022, the draft budget remains mostly intact from its previous versions heading into the final few meetings before it’s official.
Council participated in a special strategic initiatives standing committee meeting on Dec. 7 to go over the third draft of the 2022 budget. The total budget allocates $116 million in total spending between operating ($64.3 million) and capital budgets ($51.8 million).
As of last week, the current expected tax levy increase is sitting at 2.01 per cent. This translates to a $46.27 increase in taxes in 2022 for a home in Collingwood with an MPAC assessment of $327,000.
While Coun. Bob Madigan was in virtual attendance for the meeting, he spoke at the beginning of the meeting to clarify he was working at another job, and may not be available for certain votes during the meeting. He also kept his camera off throughout the meeting except when he was voting.
As part of Tuesday’s discussions, Coun. Kathy Jeffery put forward an amendment to remove an $80,000 expense for a new full-time communications co-ordinator position.
“I don’t think we’ve strategically addressed what we need to in terms of that portfolio, particularly in enhancing communications of council decisions,” said Jeffery. “I think we need to put some more thought into that.”
Jeffery noted that 30 full-time equivalent jobs have been added to the corporation since 2018 after taking on IT and water responsibilities in-house.
“I think we need to show a little bit of restraint,” she said.
However, the committee voted 3-3 (Coun. Mariane McLeod, Coun. Steve Berman and Coun. Jeffery in favour), which defeated the amendment. Coun. Tina Comi was absent from the meeting.
Coun. Deb Doherty put forward an amendment to remove a $50,000 expense for the UN Sustainable Communities Conference in 2022, which takes place in Collingwood.
“It’s not that I don’t see it as having value, but in my view, we should be receiving some support from the UN or other participating communities, or even surrounding regions,” said Doherty.
The amendment didn’t gather support of a seconder to put it on the table.
Coun. Mariane McLeod put forward an amendment to remove the $375,000 expense for the Maple Street Priority project. The expense is noted in the budget as being grant-dependant.
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.
“I haven’t seen a staff report on this item, and I’m not interested in supporting it, even in principle, until such time as I do,” said McLeod.
That amendment carried by a vote of 5-2 (Coun. Doherty and Coun. Yvonne Hamlin opposed).
As part of public consultations on the budget, which took place in-person on Nov. 30 and were received virtually until Dec. 3, the public sent in comments that mainly addressed affordable housing and climate change concerns.
A public survey on the budget was launched in August and subsequently closed in September. Treasurer Monica Quinlan said during Tuesday’s meeting that the town received 425 responses to the survey, which is not considered to be statistically significant.
According to survey outcomes, the top-5 issues respondents cared about the most were:
- Economy/jobs/economic issues
- Environment/climate change/sustainability
- Property taxes
In the 2022 draft budget, among the higher-priced capital projects are roads and public transit expenditures, which include the widening of Mountain Road ($4.8 million) and the Minnesota Storm Sewer Repair project ($5.1 million). Parks, Recreation and Culture’s capital projects in 2022 include expenditures for multi-year projects such as the Enviropark replacement ($1.5 million), Harbourview Splash Pad ($1.3 million), and $750,000 for shoreline restoration at Sunset Point Park.
A significant amount of the capital budget will be going to the water treatment plant, with $660,000 going toward refurbishment, $11.6 million toward the expansion and $500,000 going toward membrane filter replacements.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Coun. Kathy Jeffery asked for clarification on council’s virtual participation.
“If we’re at a meeting and we have our screen off, are we at the meeting, or are we not? Are we included in the vote, or are we not?” she asked.
“Because, I think some of the 3-3 votes could have been 3-4 votes. I’m just trying to get it clear in my mind going forward,” said Jeffery.
“I think this is one of those electronic participation odd instances,” said Clerk Sara Almas, adding that they would essentially be counted as abstaining from a vote.
“We would count that the councillor was not available in attendance at that time,” she said.
Another public meeting will take place on Dec. 13 with a last draft of the budget. Ratification of the final budget is expected on Dec. 20.