Delayed by a week due to last week's snow storm, Meaford's councillors met on Monday March 4, and the top priority was to further trim the 2019 budget before approving the final draft.
While the fat had mostly been trimmed, making the finding of potential savings more difficult, councillors did manage to find some areas to cut, and when they were finished, the proposed rate increase for 2019 had been whittled down to roughly 2.7 percent.
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.
During their budget question and answer session on February 11, councillors did manage to find some cost savings. Councillor Tony Bell found support for removing the proposed purchase of artificial ice for the arena from this year's budget, shaving $80,000, and Councillor Steve Bartley found support from his fellow councillors for reducing the proposed cost of living wage increase for municipal staff from 2.3 percent to 1.65 percent, in line with the increase county workers will receive in 2019. Chapman told The Independent that the reduction in the staff wage increase will shave another $33,000 from the budget.
After council's budget question and answer session last month, staff revised the budget to reflect the changes requested by council, and at the March 4 meeting the proposed rate increase for 2019 was 3.321 percent. While the increase was less than the original maximum increase of 3.65 percent requested by council, several councillors were still looking for areas to find savings.
After exploring a number of items in the budget and debating their merits, Councillor Steve Bartley proposed delaying the purchase of a new backhoe until next year. Rather than spending $185,000 in this year's budget to replace the equipment, Bartley proposed spending as much as $25,000 in the coming year to repair the existing equipment, setting $60,000 aside for the purchase next year, and thus freeing up $100,000 in the 2019 budget to help lower the required rate increase.
“It's the only thing in this whole (budget) document that we can do, and that I would feel good about,” Bartley told his fellow councillors. “Do we need a new backhoe? Yes, we do, I understand that.”
Bartley told council that he had spent 100 hours reviewing the budget documents, and he indicated that opportunities to find savings were scarce. But he felt that the municipality could safely delay the purchase of a new backhoe in order to relieve some pressure in the 2019 budget.
Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that the savings from delaying the purchase of a new backhoe, along with some other minor adjustments to the budget, the rate increase in 2019 would be roughly 2.7 percent, which for an average single family property will amount to an increase of less than $60 in 2019.
A statutory public meeting is planned for March 11, with a goal of council approving the final budget for 2019 on March 25.