At their January 29 meeting, Meaford's council approved the municipal budgets for 2018.
The municipal levy will increase by three percent in 2018, but thanks to a reduction in the education rate along with a small 0.36 percentage increase in the county rate, the blended rate increase for Meaford property owners in 2018 will be approximately 1.25 percent. The increase will add roughly $45 to the annual property tax bill of an average home in the municipality.
Staff had prepared a budget for next year complying with council's wishes for a maximum 4.0 percent increase, and a rate increase of 3.893 was proposed, however some good fortune allowed staff to arrive at the December 11 meeting with a similar budget package though with a required rate increase of only 1.603 percent.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council in December that the municipality will receive $171,200 in additional OMPF funding for 2018, and that unexpected news combined with some smaller savings found within the budget allowed staff to bring the rate increase down to 1.603 percent.
Council welcomed the good news, and asked the treasurer to prepare a final budget document reflecting a 3.0 percent rate increase, with the additional $185,000 that would be realized by bumping the increase from 1.603 percent to 3.0 percent to be dedicated to infrastructure needs.
While council approved the operating and user pay (water and wastewater) budgets with 5-0 votes (Councillors Poetker and Bartley were absent from the meeting) at their January 29 meeting, before approving the 2018 fees and charges bylaw council debated the increases to fees charged to community groups at Meaford Hall.
“In recognition of, and in appreciation of the many efforts of the many dedicated volunteers who make up the memberships of our local service clubs, and to honour the enormous contribution of these groups to our community over the years, and as well in acknowledgement of our Deputy Mayor's comments on January 15 when he reminded us that Meaford Hall was and is intended to be accessible to all, not always just to those with financial means, I'd like to propose the following amendment to this bylaw,” Councillor Shirley Keaveney told council. “I propose we add a second clause to this resolution which will direct staff to provide a 30 percent discount to schedule N, the Meaford Hall portion of this bylaw to the following service clubs: Kinsmen and Kinettes, Lions, Kiwanis, Optimists, and the Rotary Club of Meaford.”
At the January 15 public meeting focused on the 2018 budget the Rotary Club asked council to consider lessening the impact on local community groups using Meaford Hall after they discovered that they are facing a 125 percent increase to their rates for use of the Terrace Room at Meaford Hall for their weekly meetings.
Keaveney could not find support for her amendment.
“I would be very careful about directing a specified targeted group for special favours because I think that just opens up a huge opportunity for misrepresentation or misunderstanding,” said Mayor Barb Clumpus.
The mayor also noted that the operation of Meaford Hall is already heavily subsidized with municipal tax dollars. Treasurer Darcy Chapman confirmed that the annual taxpayer subsidization for Meaford Hall amounts to roughly $530,000 per year, of which more than $400,000 is due to debt repayment and the hard costs of operating the facility, while roughly $100,000 of the programming costs are subsidized. By comparison the arena sees roughly $162,000 in annual ratepayer subsidization, and the public swimming pool is subsidized by the ratepayers in the amount of $93,500 per year. Neither the arena or the pool have outstanding debt.
Mayor Clumpus told council that community groups are welcome to engage in the annual community grant process for assistance should they need it. She also suggested that groups that find Meaford Hall's fees too expensive have other options including space at the community centre, or even local restaurants.
“Being a former Rotarian myself in Sudbury, our meetings were always a meal meeting, and ours were a Thursday morning breakfast and we held them in local commercial restaurant establishments, so we were supporting commercial businesses at the same time,” noted Clumpus.
Ultimately council approved the 2018 fees and charges bylaw 4-1 with Councillor Keaveney voting against.