North Grenville budget review

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by Mayor Nancy Peckford

December 3 marks the one year anniversary of this Council’s election to office. And with that anniversary has come the benefit of one year under our collective belt, and a much stronger orientation to the pressing needs, both now and into the future, of this municipality.

As we embark upon 2020, Council has decided to establish the first multi-year budget in North Grenville’s history. This budgeting exercise, which is common in the private and not-for-profit sectors, foresees expenditures and reviews over a four or five year horizon to properly plan for capital and operating costs, and better anticipate revenue over the long term.

As a growing municipality which has many competing needs, as well as strategic opportunities to invest, a multi-year budget just makes sense. Before getting elected, both Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman and I had used multi-year budgeting in our own professional lives and see the power in it.

This past week, Council completed two budget consultation meetings, where we heard from 12 community groups on a variety of needs. These presentations are always helpful to Council, as they help us understand how some members of the community view the gaps and priorities in our community.

Council heard from seniors groups, our local hospice, victim services, a community theatre group, a historian, a newly established youth coalition, and more. Assisted transportation for seniors, services for those who are grieving or have been the victim of a crime, some ongoing repair and maintenance of the municipality’s facilities to make them more accessible and functional were among the items discussed.

In addition to the needs expressed by these groups, Council must address, annually, costly public works items, such as the rehabilitation and rebuilding of rural and urban roads, water and sewer infrastructure, the establishment and maintenance of new sidewalks and trails, as well as parks and recreation.

In 2019, the Municipality’s Public Works Capital Budget was $3,477,952, the Water & Wastewater Capital Budget (which just includes the town’s water treatment and sewage treatment facilities) was approximately $1,905,300. An additional $900,000 was spent on capital expenditures to support Parks, Recreation, and Culture.

From an operations perspective, $2.5 million is spent every year on the municipality’s contract with the Ontario Provincial Police. Approximately $3 million is spent on the borrowing and operational costs associated with the North Grenville Municipal Centre. Of that $3 million, $1 million is generated in revenue from ice rentals, conference and facilities fees.

On top of this, staff have identified that the cost of twinning North Grenville’s 25 year old sewage treatment plant (built in 1993), which is reaching its capacity, to be $30 million. A decision about expanding this facility will need to be made in the next year.

But North Grenville residents just don’t pay their taxes to their municipality. A significant share (approximately $9 million per year) is paid to the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, which is responsible for County roads, buildings, as well as health and social services. This includes our share for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Health Unit, housing supports, hospital funding, ambulance services, Ontario Works, and childcare. The expansion of County Road 43 through Kemptville (including the doubling of the bridge near St. Mike’s high school), as an example, and which will cost approximately $25 to $30 million, is largely a County project, except for items like lighting, trees and the multi-use pathway.

This past spring, the Provincial government announced some significant changes in how some of these Counties-led services would be funded across the province – as many of them are cost shared services between the Counties and the province. After much ado, the provincial government retracted most of these proposed cuts because of the fact that municipalities had no time to adjust their budgets mid-year, given a legislated January 1 to December fiscal year.

However, there is concern that some of these cuts will be made in 2020, and will require the United Counties to use additional tax dollars to assume a greater financial proportion for these services. Of course, these proposed cuts by the province are part of a very legitimate effort to balance the provincial budget, but, unfortunately, they mean that municipal taxpayers in all parts of the United Counties will have to pick up more of the tab.

In recognition of this challenge, the province of Ontario distributed modernization grants to each municipality and the United Counties in the province in April. In North Grenville’s case, the Municipality received over $600,000 to create efficiencies, and introduce innovations and technologies that would streamline service delivery. Both Council and Staff are exploring ways to spend this funding strategically to do things better, improve service delivery for North Grenville’s residents and businesses.

In December and January, Council and staff will be meeting frequently to adopt a budget for years 2020-2023. It is our expectation that, every year, many budget decisions will still need to be made, and there will be a comprehensive review and adjustments to many line items year after year. At the same time, we expect this process will provide a better road map for this Council, and future ones. We invite you to join us.

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