Smiths Falls council members are confident that the town’s 2017 budget will be good news for ratepayers weary of annual tax and utility rate increases.
“I think it’s a good news budget,” said Mayor Shawn Pankow. The 2017 budget, which passed first and second reading at the Feb. 13, was the third draft prepared by staff.
In this final draft, staff reduced the recommended water rate increase from seven per cent to two per cent. The proposed increase in the wastewater (sewage treatment) rate was dropped from eight per cent to three per cent. The budget calls for an increase in taxation of 2.46 per cent. Due to a drop in the assessed value of property in Smiths Falls from last year, the town will collect just $3,000 more in taxes than it did in 2016. The rate increases are effective Feb. 1.
The budget does provide for some major capital projects, including a $1.9 million upgrade to Lorne Street. The town has applied for federal and provincial funding to assist with this project, leaving the town’s share of the cost at about $500,000.
Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris said Smiths Falls will not hear the results of these grant applications until March, but could plan to take out a loan to cover the cost of the project in case the applications were unsuccessful. The loan would not be required until closer to the end of the year, allowing plenty of time for grant money to be received.
Councillor Dawn Quinn agreed that Lorne Street should remain a priority in 2017. “If we don’t soon get to it, it’s going to get us,” she said.
“Overall on the budget I want to congratulate staff,” said Councillor Jay Brennan. “I think this is the most reasonable I’ve seen in years.”
Brennan did voice concern that some priorities for capital spending might be misplaced. The budget allocates close to $300,000 for the Town Square, a project to develop a central, multi-purpose area located between the town hall and the library. Although the funding for this project was scaled down after some anticipated grants were not received, Brennan suggested those funds might be better spent improving the accessibility of town hall. He added that a report presented to council five years ago concluded that the fire hall had already “served its useful purpose.”
Brennan also expressed disappointment that the Centennial Bridge leading to Centennial Park remains closed.
Councillor John Maloney agreed that accessibility to the council chambers is an issue that should be addressed. “Some people don’t bother to come because they can’t make it up the stairs,” he said.
Manager of Community Services Art Manhire responded that architects will be selected soon to develop plans for both the Town Square and renovations to the town hall. This work will be done in stages due to funding limitations.
“What the architect’s going to do is come up with a vision for the whole space,” commented Councillor Chris Cummings.
Morris said that plans for the town hall are not expected to include any need for expansion, because there is already enough floor space within the building. “We can use it more wisely,” he said.
The budget is scheduled to receive third and final reading “on or before March 6,” said Morris.