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Woolwich finds efficiencies in budget, but no real cuts coming

A mixture of cuts and fee hikes helped Woolwich staff find the five per cent in efficiencies requested by councillors, but taxpayers shouldn’t expect a break this year.
Some $400,000 – much of it the result of new fees, including an expected increase in parking tickets –will go into general revenues, to augment a planned 2.5-per-cent tax hike for 2012. Residents may also be digging even deeper into their pockets if council approves an additional levy to pay for infrastructure projects – no figures have been discussed at this point, but the further tax hike will be on the table during deliberations this month.

As a result, there will be no austerity measures at town hall, despite the lingering malaise in the economy, including rising unemployment. Instead, the township plans to increase spending on wages and salaries – the biggest part of its operating budget – including hiring a new engineering technician ($55,000-$66,000 a year) and expanding some part-time jobs to full-time.

The six-digit increase in salaries more than offsets planned decreases in staff hours at the Woolwich Memorial Centre as the recreation and facilities department looks to bring its budget under control.

The combination of cuts and fee increases in the rec. department amounting to $177,000 leads the way in some $395,000 in efficiencies identified by staff as councillors this week discussed the 2012 budget.

New director of recreation and facilities Karen Makela expects reduction in staffing levels and hours of work to pay big dividends this year, countering recent budget-overruns in the department. Eliminating staff from the fitness centre during the day, Mondays through Fridays, will save $41,000, while reducing aquatic staff hours adds $47,000 to the bottom-line. A further $16,000 is forecast due to cuts to arena maintenance staff.

Engineering and planning services is the second-largest contributor at $171,600, largely the result of plans to reduce works projects by at least $88,000 by going to tender earlier in the year in order to get lower bids from construction companies.

Department director Dan Kennaley said making a push to get the engineering portion of the projects done upfront would allow the tendering process to take place when contractors are “hungry for work,” estimating the savings at three per cent.

In other measures, shifting the installation of water meters to builders rather than keeping it a township responsibility will save some $20,700 a year, while raising fees and charges is expected to bring in an additional $29,000 in 2012.

The rest of the budget efficiencies identified by staff amount to much smaller amounts in other departments, including a plan to see bylaw enforcement officers work more evening and weekend hours, bringing in perhaps another $2,500 in parking ticket revenue.

A great reliance on technology, including electronic billing, is also in the works.

“We want to make sure we get the best value for our customers,” said director of finance Richard Petherick.

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