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The 2019 draft budget was tabled at the January 22 meeting of council; now councillors and residents have some time to review and digest the budget package prior to a public engagement session which will be held at Woodford Hall on February 6.

Council had previously balked at a budget framework that had proposed a maximum rate increase of 5.6 percent for the coming year, and they sent staff back to the drawing board in hopes of achieving a budget with a maximum increase of 3.65 percent, however Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that the closest staff could come without impacting existing services was to propose an increase of 4.064 percent.

At the last meeting you directed us to prepare a draft budget not to exceed 3.65 percent (increase) overall. That was to include no more than 2.3 percent for operations, and that was also to include one percent for the state of the infrastructure for roads, a further one percent dedicated to bridges and culverts, and lastly a half a percent dedicated to our facilities,” Chapman told council while presenting the draft budget. “We have developed a budget to the best of our ability that delivers a fiscally responsible budget given the challenges that are present with us this year. We did attempt to develop a financial plan with that maximum 3.65 percent increase as directed by council, but given uncontrollable fixed costs, the direction of 3.65 percent was not achievable, and will not be achievable without direction from council to change service levels. In other words, we couldn't get it down to as low as you want it without some service being cut, or reduced, something which we of course as staff don't have the authority to arbitrarily do, so it would be up to council to provide that direction.”

Chapman told council that the budget continues Meaford's trend in recent years of focusing on infrastructure repair and rehabilitation needs, and he suggested that Meaford is spending more on infrastructure than many other municipalities.

I do think it's important to note that our capital program makes up 24.5 percent of the total tax dollars that we take in. So for every dollar that's coming into the municipality, 24.5 cents is going directly into the capital program. Not to compare us to anybody else, but certainly I've seen the budgets of most of our neighbouring municipalities, and that percentage is substantially higher than anybody else in the county,” Chapman told council.

A 4.064 percent rate increase in 2019 would mean that the average single family dwelling assessed at $264,587 would see their property taxes increase by $85.20 in 2019, or $7.10 per month.

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For residents using the municipal water and wastewater systems, the proposed increases in rates in 2019 are 4.2 percent in water, and 5.9 percent in sewer rates.

Chapman also noted that the discontinuation of the public transit pilot program is included in the draft budget, however the municipal specialized transit service will remain in place.

As has been done in previous years, municipal staff will be creating a summary of all budget questions received from council members and residents. The budget documents can be found on the municipal website (meaford.ca). All questions about the budget from Council and the Public can be sent to budgets@Meaford.ca. The Questions and Answers for the budget will become a public document and be posted to the website starting the week of February 10.

After the February 6 public engagement session at Woodford Hall, council will hold a question and answer session on February 11, which will allow councillors to ask questions and debate budget items. The current 2019 budget schedule is as follows:

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