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Wellesley closer to passing budget with 2.5% tax hike

With a tax levy increase of 2.5 per cent and total operating and capital expenditures pegged near $9 million, Wellesley staff and councillors edged closer to finalizing the township’s 2015 budget. The current draft will be up for consideration at the February 2 council meeting.
The proposal, scrutinized during a pair of consultation meetings at the municipal offices January 6 and 9, reflects the priorities and concerns of the public, particularly fresh following last October’s election that saw 13 candidates vie for Wellesley’s five elected positions, Mayor Joe Nowak said.
“During the election last fall we had the opportunity to listen to the people,” Nowak explained. “We had the chance to listen to our partners out there and to hear from them about how they felt the township was spending money.”
Several themes emerged as candidates knocked on doors and met with constituents, Nowak said.
“I heard concerns about the fire department. There was a lot of misunderstanding out there about where money is spent and how it is spent. … There had been some discussion about whether there was a need for a new fire station in St. Clements or whether the facility needed to be upgraded. Some people thought it was a good idea and others did not. So what we did, in order to alleviate those concerns, is call for a third-party review.”
The result is a proposed fire master plan, which would be undertaken by a private consultant at a budgeted cost of $35,000.
“I think that is a big step forward for us,” Nowak said, of the plan. “We were able to afford it and it will set the stage for the next 10 years or maybe longer on exactly how we make decisions with respect to purchasing new equipment, with regards to whether we need one fire department or ten, it will lay all that out and so our partners out there will get a better understanding on how this process works. And it will give council an opportunity to work within the 10-year capital forecasts as well.”
The public also asked for more of a focus on recreation in the township.
“Some people expressed that they would like to see more money spent on recreation,” Nowak said. “They were concerned that things were happening too slowly; when there were problems, it took too long for them to be resolved. We heard that not only from our partners out there but also from some of the chairs of the community centre boards as well. They all wanted to see a difficult approach.”
In response, the budget proposed a new full-time staff position in the recreation department in the form of a lead hand.
The hire doesn’t come cheap, with a projected annual wage of $61,963 plus benefits totaling just under $20,000 for 2015.
But it’ll improve service, Nowak said.
“That does a lot of things. First of all it would make the recreation department more responsive to the issues that are happening out there on a daily basis. It would also give us the ability to have someone there when people go on holidays. And apart from that, it would also give our director of recreation the opportunity to tackle some of the bigger issues.”
Overall, capital spending makes up $1,896,203 while operating costs total $7,140,542.
The 2.5 per cent increase to the tax levy represents a $36.54 increase for a house with an assessed value of $288,000 (from $842.71 in 2014 to $879.25 this year).
The draft sees the addition of two full-time staffers –the aforementioned recreation department lead hand and an administrator – as well as a paid co-op student for the planning department.
The net cost for recreation is set at $639,860.

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