Meaford councillors took a deep dive into the 2018 draft budgets during a special council question and answer session held on November 13.
While much of council's focus was on ensuring that the funding of infrastructure needs was adequate for the coming year, council also had four proposed budget enhancements to consider.
In September council directed staff to prepare a draft budget that included a maximum overall tax levy increase of four percent, including allocations of one percent dedicated to roads capital funding, one percent for capital funding of bridges, and 0.5 percent for capital funding of municipal facilities. The draft budget presented to council on October 30 included a 3.893 percent increase, which would add $81.17 to the average single family dwelling's tax bill next year.
Two of the four proposed budget enhancements presented to council on November 13 were minor in nature with minimal impact on the overall budget – $7,000 to fund Canada Day fireworks and $5,000 to fund the future appointment of an Integrity Commissioner.
“Up to 2017, the fireworks were provided by a service club and no costs were included in the Canada Day budget for this component of the program,” council was told at the November 13 meeting. “In June 2017, the delivery of fireworks as part of the annual 2017 Canada Day celebration in urban Meaford by a local services club was discontinued. In response to this direction, the delivery of the 2017 fireworks was directly coordinated by the Municipality of Meaford with the Meaford and District Fire Deptartment overseeing. Council approved a budget of $10,000 to expand the program to recognize Canada 150. To continue to directly deliver fireworks a budget is needed for the related costs starting in 2018.”
The fireworks budget enhancement was approved by council as was the funding for an Integrity Commissioner.
“Recent changes to the Municipal Act require that municipalities appoint an Integrity Commissioner to investigate potential breaches of the Council code of conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act,” staff told council in the enhancement report. “The appointment of an integrity commissioner will involve the payment of an annual retainer and hourly fees for investigations, advice to Council, and public education. While it is expected that the municipality will officially appoint an integrity commissioner to coincide with the start of the new term of Council (December 1, 2018), staff recommend that monies be allocated in 2018 to allow for advice from the successful applicant on the drafting of an updated Council & Local Board Code of Conduct and the provision of orientation to the incoming Council.”
The third and fourth proposed budget enhancements resulted in extensive discussion and debate around the council table.
Council spent a significant amount of time debating a proposed enhancement that would see the municipality hire two Capital Project Coordinators who would be responsible for managing the growing number of municipal infrastructure projects in the coming years.
“For 2018, the capital program is proposed to include a total of seventy-seven (77) capital projects ranging in cost individually between $3,000 and $1.9 million, with an overall cost of $10.46 million. Given the current ten-year capital schedule/budget, and the future recommendations of upcoming State of the Infrastructure Reports/Plans, implementation of a $10 million or greater annual capital budget is anticipated to become the norm for the Municipality,” staff told council in the enhancement report. “Given the large number of projects to be delivered annually under the ten-year capital plan, in addition to the established operational tasks/deliverables of each department as detailed within the Service Delivery Review Reports, it is anticipated that the Municipality will be significantly challenged to deliver the capital program within existing staffing levels.”
Council was told that without the adequate staff to manage the capital projects, delays are likely to continue.
“This will result in a delay in the delivery of the capital projects as has been the norm over the last few years. If this continues to occur, negative implications with respect to cost and lost opportunities to coordinate multiple projects for cost-savings and efficiency will materialize. Many projects require renewal or rehabilitation only, however, if the window of opportunity closes and forces a reconstruction the ability to complete a rehab at a significantly less cost will be lost.”
While the two new staff positions carry an annual cost of $177,200 per year, that is just a fraction of the millions of dollars worth of projects to manage in the coming years. Staff anticipate a start date of July 1, 2018, which would mean that the funding required next year would be $88,600 which staff said will be funded from last year's operating surplus.
After much discussion council approved the budget enhancement.
Council could not come to an agreement on the final budget enhancement proposal which was presented as a result of a request made last month by Councillor Steven Bartley to provide cost estimates to address a section of Story Book Park Road which earlier this year was pulverized and returned to gravel.
For several years the municipality has adhered to a council-approved 'preservation model' outlined in the State of the Infrastructure (SOTI) for roads, that aims to keep the 'good roads good', while acknowledging that roads already in poor condition will get worse before funding can be found for rehabilitation.
Staff told council that 88 kilometres of Meaford's 410 kilometres of roads require work that can not be afforded in the ten-year preservation model.
Staff provided council with three options for the two kilometre section of Story Book Park Road, though they advised against bumping sections of road in the queue for rehabilitation. The first option would provide a full rehabilitation of the section of Story Book Park Road, returning it to a hard surface at a cost of $411,000. That option would ensure a 30 to 40 year life span for the rehabilitated base, and a seven year life for the surface treatment. The second option provided by staff included adding gravel to the current surface, the replacement of three culverts as well as some minor ditching, and a double surface treatment at a cost of $145,100 and an expected life span of three to four years. The third option for council to consider was to maintain the current status of the road with 1,700 tonnes of gravel at a cost of $19,000 every three years.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman noted that not all roads are equal when it comes to surface treatment.
“For different levels of traffic counts, you're going to get a different level of service of road,” Chapman told council. “The Municipality of Grey Highlands, their priority is that any road that has a traffic count of more than 400 (daily) is asphalted. They've also said that any road with a traffic count up to 399, it is satisfactory to gravel it. Most of our gravel roads have traffic counts of 150 or less. So it's going to be about the level of service that the community is willing to accept.”
Council struggled to make a decision on the Story Book Park Road budget enhancement, so they deferred decision on the item.
Given the items remaining for council to address, it was decided to delay the final draft budget review from November 27 to December 11, which will require a rescheduling of both the mandatory public meeting (originally scheduled for December 4) and the final budget approval (originally scheduled for December 11). A revised schedule for those meetings will be announced in the coming days.