Janet Koziel, Smiths Falls treasurer, delivered the first draft of the 2019 budget to a Special Committee of the Whole Monday night. “This preliminary budget reflects the vision within the Strategic Plan,” she said, while at the same time is “preparing to meet the challenges of the Town’s future financial stability.”
On its books, in this first draft, Smiths Falls is moving to fund $10.1 million of capital projects calling for a 7 percent water rate hike, an 8 percent wastewater hike as well as a 2.6 percent tax increase. Property assessment is also expected to rise about 1.5 percent.
Koziel’s PowerPoint presentation showed: average water and wastewater billing based on 200 cubic metres of consumption will rise by $93. Average residential tax billing based on $165,000 assessment will rise by $70.
With a change in the capital budget philosophy — to invest in reserves for future capital — comes slowly increasing the amount of transfer to capital reserves and “hoping the transfer in is higher than the transfer out,” Koziel said.
In her report she wrote: “Our reality is clear and undeniable. We know that in order to maintain our current level of services and address our capital needs, we will require a significant financial investment.” She offered nine options to attain this and further stated that to be fair and responsible to residents now and in the future, the path is to reduce costs. The Town is already following that path through the service sustainability review; over the past four years, operational cost savings have been about $475,000 and capital cost savings have been around $755,000.
Koziel asked for direction from council on community donations ($130,000), hospital donation ($174,000), Eastern Ontario cellular gap project ($5,500 to $15,000) as well as the water and wastewater rate increases, and the proposed long term capital loan of $300,000.
Councillor Jay Brennan was not comfortable with the 8 percent and 7 percent water and wastewater rate increase. “I’m thinking about affordability for people, especially those on fixed incomes.”
Councillor Dwyer questioned the 2.6 percent tax increase given the boom year the Town has just experienced. Mayor Pankow was also not comfortable with the 2.6 percent number.
Those attending the preliminary budget session also heard of the need for two new staff positions in planning and building as the work in those departments has skyrocketed. A pumper and grader are on the town list as well as funding for the library, Beckwith Street redevelopment and Phase II of Town Hall.
Town staff was directed to look at reduction of the water and wastewater increases to 3 and 4 percent or even 2 and 3 percent.
The second draft budget will be presented to Committee of the Whole January 21.