Although the second draft of the Town of Smiths Falls’ 2017 budget calls for a 2.46 per cent increase in the tax rate, this does not mean that the town will collect more in taxes this year, according to Councillor Chris Cummings.
Because the value of property assessments in town has dropped, the town will receive less revenue from taxation than before. “This is probably the first time in 20 years that we’re not raising taxes,” said Cummings.
However, the draft budget, presented to council by Interim Treasurer Janet Koziel, includes a seven per cent increase in water rates and an eight per cent increase in wastewater (sewage treatment) rates.
“I want to congratulate staff because you’ve cut almost a point off what you came to us with in November,” said Councillor Jay Brennan. However, he added, “There are opportunities here to do better.”
There are a number of variables that will determine how much the town can afford to spend this year. Smiths Falls has applied for $665,000 in Canada 150 funding for a variety of projects in town, but has not heard whether the grants have been approved.
“It’s always a dangerous game to predict what kind of funding we’re going to get,” said Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris.
The budget currently includes a number of capital projects, the most expensive of which will see $1,960,000 spent on the reconstruction of Lorne Street.
Mayor Shawn Pankow commented that he would be reluctant to cancel that project, regardless of how much the town receives from the upper levels of government. Referring to the Tweed factory, he said that Lorne Street “leads to our only billion dollar industry.”
Other members of council, including Brennan and Councillor Joe Gallipeau, advocated deferring some major projects if provincial grants don’t materialize. The provincial ministers, said Brennan, “understand that they have to be partners with municipalities,” and that major capital projects are unaffordable without their support.