Merrickville-Wolford council met via teleconference last week to discuss the 2021 budget.
The original draft budget, which was presented to council earlier this month, had a 0% tax increase. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Doug Robertson indicated that staff have worked very hard to ensure they were fiscally conservative this year, in recognition of the impacts of COVID-19.
Although many were simply clarifying questions, there was still some discussion around the council table about a few items. Deputy Mayor Michael Cameron wanted to make sure that the roughly $500,000 the municipality plans to spend on maintenance lifts for some of their tar and chip roads is a good investment. “By doing it now, are we going to extend the life of that tar and chip road so that it’s worth the money we are spending, or would we be better off to take a look at perhaps replacing the roads through a grant program in the coming future?,” he asked.
Manager of Public Works, Brad Cole, said that they have had the subject roads evaluated and that they are good candidates for the slurry, which will extend the roads’ life for 5-7 years. They are also investing in a product called a fog seal, which will seal the roads and hopefully extend their life even further. “Many municipalities have had great results from it, and I’ve gone and toured a bunch of roads that have had it done, and it looks like a very good product,” Brad said.
Other roads that were discussed, but didn’t make it into this year’s budget, were the paving of HF McLean Road in the village and Corktown Road. Although residents have expressed their interest in having these roads paved, council decided to stick to the budget that was presented by staff and defer those projects for another year. Mayor Doug Struthers suggested that council have staff bring back a report at a future council meeting, outlining their options for resurfacing these roads and associated costs. “We can have that conversation in the near future to look at what we can do in the years to come,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Cameron said he looks forward to having these conversations around the council table, as he believes roads should be a priority for the municipality. “I think that starting to include roads in our budget is something that we should have moved on earlier; but I’m happy to see that the Mayor is having this conversation and allowing this to move forward,” he said.
The only part of the draft budget that council decided to change was adding $3000 to the library budget for repairs on the library building. Although the library has almost $100,000 in their reserve fund, this money is meant to improve library operations, not for maintaining the building. The hope is that council will reinstate the library’s building fund to allow them to put aside money dedicated for building repairs every year. While all of council agreed to add the $3,000 to the library’s $96,000 line item for this year, Councillor Bob Foster requested that the library submit a more in depth budget, similar to what staff prepare for the municipality. “This current budget doesn’t give us any idea about how they allocated funds, or how much was received in terms of grants or donations,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Cameron agreed and also suggested that they take a look at the library’s lease agreement and consider amending it to place the responsibility of building maintenance in the hands of the municipality. “It would be relevant for us to establish a budget line within our budget so that we can contribute money yearly to the library to make sure the building stays in good standing,” he said.
With the $3,000 increase to the library budget, staff calculated a tax increase of 0.09%. The total budget for 2021 is sitting at $5,658,242, with $4,202,502 for operating expenses and $1,455,740 in the capital budget. With an average residential property assessment in the municipality sitting at $224,000, most residents will be paying about $1,818.16 in taxes in 2021, an increase of $1.72 over last year.
As of last Wednesday, a Powerpoint presentation of the draft budget was available on the municipal website for public review. The budget was set to be brought back to council and passed on Monday. Deputy Mayor Cameron was concerned that this didn’t allow enough time for public input, however Mayor Struthers said the Powerpoint was more for information purposes than comment. “It’s not from an input perspective,” he said. “This is a process that we’ve utilized very well on behalf of the residents of the municipality, so we would continue that practice.”