by Brandon Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The North Grenville’s Council meeting on February 22 focused heavily on the 2022 draft budget, which has now gone through a media consultation session and two public consultation sessions. The budget discussion began with a presentation of the Municipality’s reserve fund, delivered by Acting Director of Finance/Treasurer Femi Ogunrinde. Numbers from 2020 were used to illustrate the funding sources for the reserve fund, as well as projects that sometimes warrant dipping into the fund, such as infrastructure, maintenance, and replacement projects. At the end of year in 2020, the main reserve fund (over which the Municipality has control) had a closing balance of over $11 million.
With the property tax increases proposed in the 2022 draft budget, both from the Municipality and from the Counties, many residents may be wondering what drives this need for additional revenue. Director Ogunrinde explained that many considerations are taken into account when preparing the draft budget, including the rising costs linked to inflation, which is showing no signs of cooling down. The increasing costs of fuel, utilities, and materials are felt by the Municipality in much the same way as by individuals and families. The Municipality is also preparing for the potential continued loss of revenue from facility rentals due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Director of Public Works, Karen Dunlop, provided Council with an update on some of the specific projects that could be completed with the proposed allocations in this year’s budget, such as the laying of sidewalks. Director Dunlop answered questions from Council members regarding 2022 Public Works matters for approximately 30 minutes. Director of Parks, Recreation, and Culture, Mark Guy, answered questions about the funding allocations for his department, particularly from Councillor John Barclay. Councillor Barclay was concerned about a lack of funding committed to the Old Township Hall in Oxford Mills, which he pointed out is a heritage building which may end up costing the Municipality significant amounts of money in the future if efforts are not made to provide maintenance soon, such as roof repairs.
Councillor Barclay questioned the funds allocated to Maplewood Hall, and, without suggesting “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” asked whether the Old Township Hall repairs may be just as important. In response, Director Guy suggested that public consultation regarding what the Old Township Hall can be used for would be an appropriate first step before allocating such funds. Councillor Doreen O’Sullivan provided a comment concurring with Councillor Barclay, to which Chief Administrative Officer, Gary Dyke, responded, in part, “we aren’t ignoring the building, and by no means are we letting it fall down.”
The presentation portion of the meeting concluded with a discussion of this year’s water and wastewater budget, which is considered self-sustaining through user fees and does not rely on taxpayer funding. Following the presentations, Councillor Barclay formally asked CAO Dyke if staff could look into the possibility of lowering the property tax increase from the proposed 1.9%, though he didn’t recommend a specific lower number. Councillor Kristin Strackerjan supported weighing options for a lower tax increase.
Councillor O’Sullivan provided a dissent, arguing that the 1.9% increase works out to about $7 per month for a house assessed at a value of $400,000, which she deems as reasonable, considering that it is better to cover increased expenses now, rather than letting them pile up for future years. She used the needed repairs at the Old Township Hall in Oxford Mills as an example of where money being spent now will help future larger costs be avoided. Before ending the meeting, Council members provided well-wishes to outgoing Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman, for whom the February 22 Council meeting was the last before he moves away.
The 2022 draft budge will be further deliberated by Council during the virtual Council meeting on March 2. The draft budget can be downloaded at www.northgrenville.ca/budget. Those interested in the details of the February 22 budget presentations, as well as the deliberations of Council regarding same, can view the virtual meeting at https://www.youtube.com/user/NorthGrenville