Merrickville-Wolford council received a preliminary draft budget last week at a 0% tax increase.
CAO Doug Robertson told council that staff have been particularly focused on being conservative this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included pulling back on their annual contribution to the infrastructure reserve, contributing around $17,000 instead of the usual $70,000-$170,000. “We’re just recognizing the fiscal constraints of the current climate,” he said.
Some other high-level items that CAO Robertson drew council’s attention to at the meeting included a reinstatement of the equipment operator position that has been vacant for the past year. According to CAO Robertson, staff had decided to see how they could manage without the position when it became vacant with the merging of the Fire Chief and Manager of Operations positions over a year ago. “We’ve done so but it’s been difficult, so what we are proposing today is simply to reinstate that position,” he said.
One of the biggest projects in the proposed budget is the maintenance of a few of the municipality’s tar and chip roads, at a cost of roughly $520,000. “Those are roads that are overdue for a maintenance lift, and we are concerned that if we don’t get on those, some of those roads might require a complete rebuild at a much greater expense,” CAO Robertson said.
The Village ran a very successful pilot project last year merging the use of a Public Works vehicle and a vehicle for the Fire Chief. Using one vehicle for both positions, held by Brad Cole, has improved service times and response times, and it also means that they only have to replace one very old 2002 vehicle in the Operations Department, at a cost of around $60,000.
Finally, staff have proposed a $175,000 contribution to the reserve for the replacement of their 1991 pumper truck. According to Fire Chief Cole, the new truck will be replacing both the old pumper and their rescue truck. The Village currently has $373,500 saved for the new vehicle, and they will have to make this year’s contribution as well as one in 2022 to cover the full cost. Staff are hoping to post a Request For Proposals for the vehicle replacement this year, with the full expenditure occurring in 2022.
After CAO Robertson presented his summary of the proposed draft budget to council, there was some discussion around the table. A few councillors were concerned about the need to maintain some of the other roads in the municipality, particularly in the urban area. Council also received a presentation from residents of Merrickville Estates requesting that H.F. McLean Road, which is the main road leading into the subdivision, be paved in 2021. According to treasurer Kirsten Rahm, there would have to be a 5% tax increase this year to fund the paving of H.F. McLean.
Council took the draft budget home for a more fulsome review, with another meeting scheduled for Wednesday April 14 at 1 pm to hammer out the details. This meeting will likely be held virtually as staff have amended the procedural bylaw to allow for virtual meetings. CAO Robertson says information about how to view the meeting will be on the agenda package once it is published on the website.
Mayor Doug Struthers said the public will have a chance to review the budget once the draft is finalized. They would normally have two budget presentations, at the Merrickville Community Centre and Eastons Corners Centennial Hall, but this is not possible due to the pandemic. However, a slide presentation outlining some of the budget highlights, as well as the full line by line draft budget, will be posted on the website once approved by council.