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Want vs. need: Council wants to hear from you on 2023 budget

Council opted not to make budget decisions at its meeting Nov. 23 and will wait to hear from the public what expenses are worth a tax increase
2019-02-01-CollingwoodTownHall-EE
Collingwood Town Hall Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

Collingwood council needs your help to determine which extras they should add to the 2023 budget that would be worth a further tax increase.

On Wednesday (Nov. 23), council met during a special strategic initiatives standing committee meeting to get a first look at the draft 2023 budget, which is starting at a 1.78 per cent tax rate increase, but could hike that increase up to more than five per cent or higher depending on which priorities council decides are most important to add this coming year. The 2023 draft budget accounts for $133.7 million in spending, with about a 50-50 split for capital versus operating costs.

However during the meeting, councillors decided to defer any decisions on value-added items until they hear from the public.

“I would like to suggest we defer until after our consultation with the public,” said Coun. Deb Doherty. “Let’s, at least, let them feedback before we start pre-supposing what our budget should look like.”

Coun. Kathy Jeffery suggested the town needs to make cuts to its budget. 

“I know we’re facing inflation, but the households we represent and look after are facing inflation in all parts of their lives,” said Jeffery. “I think the brave thing would be to really assess what we can cut out, not do or delay.”

The 1.78 per cent increase represents the overall taxes collected by the municipality from $36,779,741 in 2022 to $38,416,934 in 2023.

This year’s budget is split into two sections: needs (called unavoidable increases) and wants (called items for consideration).

The unavoidable increases refer to items the town is committed to spending, such as:

  • $1.17 million in wage increases as well as union contracted amounts, non-union cost-of-living adjustments (2%) and increase in benefits.
  • $302,569 increase for utilities and fuel, largely caused by inflation. The staff report indicates 13.1 per cent increase in fuel costs year-over-year, and 15.2 per cent increase in energy costs.
  • $250,000 for the continuation of the grain terminals project, which is outlined in a memorandum of understanding with the developer. This is partially funded by savings, so will not all fall on the current taxpayers.
  • $132,586 increase in insurance rates, credited to inflation.
  • $118,375 for building and equipment maintenance, including roof repairs for the curling club, OPP storage building and more.
  • $71,500 for an accessible transit service contract.
  • $63,840 for the increased cost of salt and sand (also attributed to inflation).
  • $59,960 for the second phase of an arts centre feasibility study.
  • $47,250 in annual software subscription increases and new customer service software ($37,000).
  • $40,000 for geo-technical consulting regarding on-site and excess soil management and meeting new requirements by the province.

The items up for consideration include:

  • $65,000 for a fireworks drone show,
  • $91,000 toward a transit coordinator shared between municipalities,
  • $100,000 for a heritage review,
  • $235,000 toward studies such as a refresh of the community-based strategic plan,
  • $314,000 added to the asset management plan reserve
  • $305,000 toward an urban forestry unit including a full-time arborist, plus seasonal position and equipment and supplies
  • $50,000 in continued support for the urban economy forum
  • $27,400 for repainting pavement markings in town
  • $32,000 for new software for social media monitoring and annual support for website
  • $236,000 for new staff to enhance service, including combining two seasonal municipal law enforcement officer positions into one full-time position, and an audio/video coordinator to help run virtual meetings and reduce the amount of overtime required of regular staff to run the AV side of meetings.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Coun. Chris Potts asked about the $305,000 toward an urban forestry unit including a full-time arborist, plus seasonal position and equipment and supplies.

“Do we have internal resources now where we could, potentially, eliminate this cost?” asked Potts.

Director of Public Works, Engineering, and Environmental Services Peggy Slama said the public works department did previously have an arborist, however during the last round of union negotiations, the position was removed.

Mayor Yvonne Hamlin asked if the town could tap into resources through the County of Simcoe’s forestry department to see if efficiencies could be found.

Coun. Deb Doherty spoke about the reduction in funding toward affordable housing over 2022, noting the issue was a key priority heard during the election.

In the 2022 budget, council voted to increase the tax levy by one per cent for an affordable housing reserve, which equated to $350,000.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Hamlin noted that Collingwood's Affordable Housing Task Force had sent a letter asking council to consider putting aside the same amount in 2023, as they said the reserve fund for that purpose needed to be built up over years.

Under the current draft budget, $125,000 is slated to be put toward affordable housing in 2023.

“I would support putting $350,000 into the affordable housing fund this year, and would consider whether we could forego for this year the drone alternative to fireworks at $65,000, the heritage review at $100,000... and the UN conference at $50,000,” said Hamlin, noting that Collingwood had participated in the conference for three years, but hadn’t yet worked on ideas that came out of the conference in regards to affordable housing.

Coun. Brandon Houston asked about the transit co-ordinator position, and if the salary for the position (included in the draft budget at $91,000) would be offset by contributions from other municipalities that use the service.

Quinlan said the entire cost for the position would be $120,000, so the difference would be covered by other municipalities.

Coun. Christopher Baines asked about boats procured by both Collingwood OPP and Collingwood Fire.

“It is the best and wisest use of funds to operate the two boats?” asked Baines.

Collingwood Fire Chief Dan Thurman explained that the Collingwood Fire boat is for rescue, while the Collingwood OPP boat is mostly for enforcement. The fire boat was purchased in 2020 and more than 25 per cent of the cost was funded by a private donation

Coun. Steve Perry asked about capital investments in Summitview Park, Wilson Sheffield Park and the grain terminals projects, and where the funding came for those investments.

Quinlan said the budget items for Summitview Park and Wilson Sheffield Park were covered by development charges.

As for the terminals project, Quinlan said the town and the developer Streetcar/Dream Unlimited are currently working their way through completing a memorandum of understanding, which would outline how all of the costs would work and who would be paying for what.

Deputy Mayor Tim Fryer said he felt council was in a “very difficult situation.”

“I’m going to continue to be upfront about my concerns about Collingwood’s tax level,” he said, noting that County of Simcoe taxes are expected to rise by 3.5 per cent as well this year. “It’s not just about the tax rate, it’s also about how and why it’s being spent.”

At the end of discussions, council was offered an option to recommend a specific tax rate increase, but instead decided to defer any decisions on which items for consideration they would add to the 2023 budget until after public consultations, which did not require an official vote.

The virtual public consultation will take place on Nov. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m., while an in-person consultation will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. in the FreeSchools Room at the Collingwood Public Library.

The entire 217-page draft budget document is available on EngageCollingwood.ca.

With files from Erika Engel.


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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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