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No tax target for Wellesley at this point

Wellesley council didn’t give much direction to township staff on Tuesday night when discussing the 2016 budget, except to say don’t decrease services and keep expenses to a minimum.

“What we’re looking for this year is a target. We’ve been seeing a lot of stuff in the paper lately about where other councils are going. I have a few scenarios. I’m not really sure where you’re looking to go to on this,” treasurer Theresa Bisch said.

She explained some of the numbers are already set, such as unionized workers’ wages. In previous years, they used the October Consumer Price Index as a benchmark. Seeing as it isn’t available yet, Bisch used the Consumer Price Index for Ontario for August, which was sitting at 1.2 per cent.

“If we did that it would just cover the cost of living. If we went with 1.2 per cent, and I’m basing this on a [current value assessment] of $331,500, which is your value on a house, the residential taxes would increase, our portion only would be $13.98 for an average house,” Bisch said.

If council were to approve a 2.5 per cent increase to the budget, close to last year’s, the increase per household of the same value would be $26.84 per year, generating an additional $102,349 for the township.

“If we went with a cost of living increase on wages alone and tried to stay the course on everything else, which is really difficult, it would be an additional $21.89 a household. That would bring in an additional $81,877.48,” Bisch said.

She advised staff to keep in mind that the maintenance budget for public works is going to be over budget this year. They have more machinery than last year and they’ve had some major breakdowns.

“Tying into that, with the value of our dollar right now, anything we go to buy that has parts coming from the States it’s really, really impacting our costs. They’re really going up,” Bisch said.

Coun. Herb Neher asked staff to let council know of any capital expenses or increase in staffing before they make a decision on the 2016 budget. He said in previous years the budget’s been presented with sudden expenses council didn’t expect, like requests for new hires and equipment.

“What I’d like to see is those kinds of things come to us ahead of time so we have time to assess them, debate them, discuss them. It also makes it easier for the staff then because they don’t waste time putting stuff in the budget, just for us to say ‘well, no I don’t think we’re going to go along with that,’” Neher said.

He noted staff should be careful when drafting the budget to look for “one-shot deals,” things like training that only needed to be done once, in order to save money.

“You can’t just go ‘we approved it last year so let’s just ditto it on that basis,’” Coun. Neher said.

Coun. Shelley Wagner suggested recommending up to a three per cent increase, but no higher, to maintain service levels while also giving some room for the what-ifs.

But Neher wasn’t happy with that idea.

“I would say not even two per cent. Three per cent, to me, is way out of line, considering what the index is. The cities, they’re not even going that high, they’re only going halfway and we’re going to do three per cent but no additional services? What is the other 1.5 per cent we’re giving in here?” he said.

Mayor Joe Nowak replied that those are the issues council will deal with when they go through the budget line by line.

“I think it’s safe to say we don’t want a 10 per cent increase. We’re going to at least keep it down to the cost of living or geared to inflation,” Mayor Nowak said.

Coun. Carl Smit said he didn’t see a point in pinning down a number now, when council will be going through it all anyways and making any necessary changes before approving it.

Bisch said council’s input just gives them a target to work toward. They always start with a larger budget than council requests and pare it down before bringing it to council to discuss. She noted what other municipalities are doing.

“Waterloo approved a 2.2 per cent hike for 2016, but what you need to realize there is they have extra fees that we don’t have on certain things. So some of these things may look like a lower percentage, but there are other things you don’t see. Woolwich eyes a 2.1 per cent, but then you look, there’s a 1.5 per cent infrastructure levy,” Bisch said.

Wellesley’s fees will be done all in one shot. After discussions, township staff agreed they had a feel for what council was looking for to get working on the budget, aiming for between 1.5 and three per cent.

“If you stayed at just the 1.2 per cent you may look at cutting some services in order to keep going,” Bisch said.

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