Heading into the final stretch of the 2017 budget deliberations, Wellesley council was still looking to get the tax hike below three per cent, which they managed to do on Wednesday with a tax levy increase of 2.985 per cent.
This represents an average household impact increase of $3.05 per month based on an average residential property with an assessed value of $325,107.
Prior to Wednesdays’ final discussion, the increase was at 3.5 per cent, based on an operating budget of $7,493,895 and capital spending of $2,573,309.
“The budget was extremely well done – very well thought out – so there wasn’t a lot of hanging fruit that we could pick and move out of there. We still want to get it down,” said Mayor Joe Nowak going into the meeting.
Despite that, there were some budget line items that caught the councillors’ attention.
“We talked at length about the donations that we hand out. Our requests this year was virtually double from what we had last year and there was some discussion on whether we can afford that again this year. Staff is going to have a closer look at it,” Nowak said.
They have $13,000 budgeted for donations in 2017, up from $10,450 in 2016. Nowak noted there was some discussion on whether council should even be funding some of the requests.
Another issue they talked about at length is the possibility of looking at reviewing the wage schedule for council and senior staff and whether they should actually go ahead with hiring a consultant to do that work.
“I think we have to be a little bit cautious. I’m always more comfortable the lower we can get it. Under three would be a good goal to look for. We have some challenges coming up and I think we need to look long term on a number of these issues,” Nowak said.
For example, in 2018 they’re looking at major construction of the fire station in St. Clements, which will be a significant chunk of change.
The bridge on Nafziger Road by the Wellesley Apple Cider Mill also has to be replaced at a cost in the $1-million-range.
“I think we have to be a little bit careful, make sure that our reserves are as adequately provided for that would help us mitigate the need to borrow or bring down the amount that we’re going to have to borrow or debenture in 2018,” Nowak said.
The cost of the construction is so high because they can’t just tear it down and rebuild it. They have to put some sort of a temporary structure in place to keep the road open for the mill and residents who live on the road, which adds significantly to the cost.
They’ve budgeted $93,151 for multi-use trails this year, which will be funded through the trails reserve and development charges.
“There’s always been a fairly big push for additional trails in the community. That’s not just the village, that’s township-wide. We’ve addressed that. We have put additional money into a reserve,” Nowak said.
They’ve also put $20,000 toward their community improvement plan which essentially will aim to attract and maintain businesses in the township and allow them to apply for financial support for facade improvements and the like.
The township will have to dig a little deeper into its pockets this year to cover wages and benefits. Administration wages alone jumped from $227,445 last year up to $256,289. Benefits for administration staff followed suit from $70,777 to $79,608.
“We got hit rather hard unfortunately this year with the cost of benefits, almost adding one point to the tax base just to get caught up on the extra cost with the benefits,” Nowak said.
Full-time recreation staff wages are budgeted for over $500,000, plus the cost of benefits.
Nowak notes there’s almost close to a $1 million in road work to be done, including roads and significant sidewalk improvement.
Councillors meeting Monday questioned how wise the township’s four-year investment into the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation has been, which comes at a cost of $20,000 this year. Nowak noted the benefit of it is difficult to quantify, but it’s an area to keep a close eye on and talk to the WREDC’s president and CEO Tony La Mantia about.