by John Brauneisen
Our current municipal property tax increase follows the recommendations of the Long Term Financial Plan [LTFP] for North Grenville, which was adopted by Council in 2015, for an annual 2% increase until 2024. This plan was adopted to meet the development demands in the North West Quadrant. The population was forecast to grow by 7,302 persons from 2013 to 2024. In other words, the population in 2013 was thought to be 16,029 persons and, by 2024, would have increased to 23,331.
However, population forecasts and reality were somewhat disconnected. In the 2017 draft budget presentation made by municipal staff to members of Council on January 23, we were informed that growth is not what was expected. There has been a slowdown in both development and population growth in North Grenville by 25%. For example, the predicted population in 2016 was pegged at 20,108: whereas the actual population was 16,365.
It is time to go back to the LTFP. Two options were considered for growth: a high rat, consistent with the Official Plan, and a moderate growth. Residents had been told that North Grenville was the fastest growing municipality in Eastern Ontario, and the LTFP reflected this assumption. The high growth plan suggested that the population was forecast to increase by 7,302 persons, from 16,029 in 2013 to 23,331 in 2024, an annual growth rate of 3.5%. The more conservative, or moderate growth, was forecast to be 4,303, from 16,029 in 2013 to 20,332 in 2024 (2.2 % annual growth rate).
What numbers are believable? Recently, Statistics Canada released the population data from the 2016 census, which showed that the population of North Grenville was 16,451 persons. In 2011, the census data recorded our population as being 15,085. This is an increase of 9.1% over the period from 2011 to 2016, or 1.8% per year. The actual growth is lower than even the moderate growth rate used in the LTFP. Using the census data, the population of North Grenville will not reach 20,000 persons until after 2026, and the population will not reach 24,000 persons until sometime between 2036 and 2041. How did the growth numbers used for planning in North Grenville become so out of line with reality?
In my assessment, this failure by staff and Council to use a more realistic forecast of population growth has adversely impacted management of North Grenville finances and planning strategy. In 2017, staff has allocated $23,500 to update the LTFP. Budget documents state: “Included in this plan [LTFP] were population projections that provided valuable information on future revenues. The population statistics are being updated as another project for 2017budget. As future revenues are critical to decision making for spending, the proposed project will update the current plan to reflect these changes.”
The project justification goes on to explain, “as the updated population information affects future planning decisions, the update of the LTFP is critical toward sound decision making. This project will also include an update in the 2017 to 2027 forecasted plan in the Development Charges study.”
How does population growth in the Municipality of North Grenville affect the tax base? At the February 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Director of Finance showed a slide that indicated the distribution of the tax base. Approximately 80% of taxes come from the residential levy on single family homes and multi-residential unit properties. The remainder is derived from commercial, industrial and other property classifications. It is the residential segment that supports the bulk of municipal operations.
Annual municipal tax increases pegged at 2% until 2024 are without real consideration for need and, to date, there have been no substantive ways to find increased efficiencies, as was identified in the article that appeared in a previous North Grenville Times. Money has been unnecessarily spent on the active trails development in the North West Quadrant. These trails benefit a relatively small number of residents in the Settlers Grant and Equinelle developments.
Finally, one must ask why the County 44 Multi-Use Pathway is being fast tracked? The cost is projected to be $716,556. Granted, only $197,000 is coming from municipal reserves, while the rest is coming from development charges and an Ontario Government grant for municipal cycling infrastructure. This project is part of the planned 2017 capital projects and the project justification reads as follows: “The pedestrian link was identified in the 2011 Integrated Trails Strategy completed by the Municipality. Once completed, it will allow the Settler’s Grant and e-Quinelle residential developments to use Active Transportation links to connect to the NGMC and businesses north of County Road 43.”
This seems to be a somewhat weak and preferential justification for the completion of this work. Recently, I spoke with someone who is a member of the trails committee. I was told that the school buses going to the new Kemptville Public School in September will drop the students off at the Fire Hall in the morning. The students will then walk north on the trail to the new crosswalk on County Road 44, cross over the road and enter their new school. In the afternoon, the students walk from the school back to the Fire Hall, where they will be picked up by the school buses and then taken home. In this way the Upper Canada Board of Education will help to promote physical fitness among the students of Kemptville Public School.