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Opening Wasaga Beach budget meeting an eyeopener

 Gisele Winton Sarvis

WASAGA BEACH — Council’s first peek at the 2018 town budget showed a 15% tax increase.

No one fell out of thei seats at the Sept. 5 committee-of-the-whole meeting when treasurer Jocelyn Lee said, taking in all departmental submissions together with staff wage and benefit increases and projects including the beachfront property management, the rate would be 15.33%.

Mayor Brian Smith closed the window on that tax storm quickly.

“The tax rate this year won’t be anywhere near 15%. An acceptable number is a maximum of 2%, or 2.5% if we push it, but I’d like to see it lower than that.”

He added this is a preliminary stage including a combination of wants and priorities.

“I have all the confidence in the world that this staff and council can bring that number down to something that’s acceptable to our residents,” he said.

However, the community is growing, and growth brings higher costs and demand for services and facilities.

“We’ve just gone through a huge boom in real estate. We are up in housing starts and with that comes the challenge of meeting the needs of the citizens,” he said.

The town grew by 164 new housing units in 2017, compared to 131 in 2016, according to the treasurer’s report.

“We have a lot on the go. We have a lot of priorities. We’ve just had another successful summer, and if you are going to move forward, there (are) costs to it,” Smith said.

Staffing is one of the biggest challenges.

“We’ve got to look at staffing levels. We’ve operated lean for many, many years. Because of that, we will have to look hard at getting our staff in line with neighbouring communities,” he said.

Budget making is a lot of give and take, explained Smith.

Council decided earlier this year not to sell Wasaga Distribution Inc., therefore not getting a large lump sum of funds to put toward new projects.

“The possible sale or no sale of Wasaga Distribution would have had no bearing on where we are at with the budget. There was never any plan to sell it. At the end of the day, it’s a moot point and it wouldn’t have had any impact one way or the other.”

With no industrial tax base, 91% of Wasaga Beach’s income comes from property tax, with 9% from commercial taxation, according to figures from the economic development department.

But Smith said not all funds come from taxation, noting the town will make use of the tax stabilization reserve and provincial money from gas taxes and the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.

“We have fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers and we are moving forward in the right direction and there (are) costs to that,” he said.

It’s too early to say if the town will rely more heavily on reserves to pay for growth, said Smith.

The picture will become clearer once staff and council go over the budget identifying priorities that demand immediate funds and projects that can wait a year or two.

However, one new item that will likely remain in the budget is lifeguards on the beach next summer. The town now has control of Beach Areas 1 and 2 after signing an agreement from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and assumes associated costs.

“Personally, I support lifeguards. I will be supporting lifeguards moving forward, but I am one member of council,” Smith said.

Key budget dates:

Sept. 12 — Committee-of-the-whole discussion on council priorities for 2018.

Oct. 3 — Committee of the whole to review first drafts operating and capital budgets in summary format. Key budget items and council priorities will be discussed further in the context of the status of the first draft of the budget.

Oct. 10 — Reports due from staff on discussion items identified by members of council.

Oct. 17 — Committee-of-the-whole presentation of reports related to discussion items.

Oct. 31 - Committee of the whole to review second draft of detailed operating and capital budgets and proposed changes to 2018 rates and fees.

Nov. 21 — Committee of the whole to review third draft of operating and capital budgets, four-year operating and 10-year capital forecasts.

Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 — Committee-of-the-whole budget meetings, if required.

Dec. 12 — Public meeting for consideration of 2018 operating and capital budgets, four-year operating and 10-year capital forecasts, 2018 rates and fees (including water/wastewater update). Recommendation that bylaw proceed to council once school board and county rates are received.

Dec. 19 — Council approval of 2018 operating and capital budgets, four-year operating and 10-year capital forecasts, and 2018 rates and fees. 

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