Smiths Falls asset management plan still controversial

Posted on: October 26, 2016

By Howida Sorour-Roberts

At the Sept. 12 Committee of the Whole meeting held in Smiths Falls, Watson & Associates representative Dan Wilson, presented council with an updated asset management plan.

“The [asset management plan] will be instrumental in informing the budget, so we need this plan to be approved and in place,” said Malcolm Morris, Smiths Falls CAO.

The update presented by Wilson reflected changes to the financial strategy, which had previously (April 2016) met with strong opposition from council members concerned over accepting the recommended 4.03 percent tax increases every year until 2021.

In an effort to reduce the tax impact, Watson & Associates applied recent changes to the  Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OSIF) to the plan.  Under the new OSIF, municipalities now receive set amounts of funding for infrastructure investment, that ramp up to $613,764 by 2019.  Watson & Associates extended that timeline to 2022 in their update.

“We’ve made assumptions that the funding will continue at the $613,000 level from 2019 going forward,” said Wilson.

By applying the OCIF funding to the Financial Strategy, Watson & Associates were able to reduce the recommended 4.03 per cent annual increase to 3.38 percent up to 2026.

“This is a worst case scenario, so if you generate more revenue, or realized more cost savings or received more grants that would reduce the 3.38 percent,” explained Watson.

According to Janet Koziel, interim town treasurer, 3.38 percent represents $600,000.

Following the presentation, each councilor expressed their opinion on the update and finally a straw vote was taken.  Shawn Pankow, Smiths Falls mayor and Councillors, Chris Cummings, Lorraine Allen, and John Maloney all voted to accept the updated plan.

“We are essentially saying we need a 3.38 percent increase in revenue not necessarily through taxes, so if we have another year like this year and receive a number of grants or manage to complete a couple of condominiums that increase our tax base, we wouldn’t need to raise taxes,” said Pankow echoing the opinions of the other yay sayers.

On the other hand Councilors Jay Brennan, Dawn Quinn and Joe Gallipeau voted against the update.

“I’m struggling with this,” said Quinn, “I just get the feeling that once we accept this update we’re locked into that tax increase, and I don’t think the people of Smiths Falls can pay more than they’re already paying.”

Aside from informing the municipal budget, the province has mandated that every municipality have an asset management plan in place in order to apply for provincial grants. It’s also a requirement of the federal gas tax and as such it is unavoidable.

“This is living document, the plan only recommends a 3.38 percent tax increase but it’s up to council discussion, it is not committing you to that increase at all,” said Wilson.

Photo by Howaida Sorour-Roberts: Dan Wilson presented Smiths Falls council with an updated Asset Management Plan that calls for a 3.38 percent revenue increase.