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Woolwich posts another surplus in 2016, with council opting to beef up reserve funds

Woolwich posted a surplus of $425,000 in 2016, with most of the money destined for a variety of reserve funds kept by the township.

The books having been audited, the township also had surpluses in its water ($321,247) and wastewater ($290,260) operations, director of finance Richard Petherick told councillors meeting May 30.

The operating budget saw a surplus of $420,281, but that was offset by cost overruns in winter control ($138,741) and legal costs ($20,124) to finish up at $261,416. That was joined by a $163,788 capital surplus.

Most of the final surplus was allocated to the infrastructure reserve fund, with some set aside from operating and capital contingencies. New this year, council approved the creation of a reserve fund for the maintenance and replacement of equipment at the WMC fitness centre, putting in some $39,000 to get things rolling.

Previously rolled-back spending – eliminated during the 2017 budget deliberations – were added back into the mix given the surplus situation, including $38,000 from the infrastructure reserve fund for a new sidewalk installation along the south side of Blue Jay Road in Elmira and $18,600 for a signage program in St. Jacobs.

Noting council had pushed back plans for a new playground structure in Breslau, Coun. Larry Shantz suggested some of the surplus be earmarked for that project.

But director of recreation Ann McArthur explained there’s been no consensus among members of a community group in Breslau on a plan to replace the toddlers’ playground, which was removed due to safety concerns. That being the case, moving ahead this year looks unlikely, and plans are already in place to address a new structure in 2018.

She estimated the cost of the project at $30,000.

While agreeing “we need a made-in-Breslau solution,” Coun. Mark Bauman suggested letting the group know they’ve got $30,000 to work with in developing the project – “It’s ready to go when there’s a plan in place.”

He maintained that the process should be embraced by the community, not driven strictly by the township, an opinion shared around the table.

“It has to have the support of the community to fly.”

Pointing out the 2016 surplus – representing money equivalent to a 4.5 per cent tax hike – is the latest in a string of surpluses, Coun. Patrick Merlihan suggested the township look at budgeting with a sharper pencil, or work at rolling back tax increases.

“At what point do we call it a surplus or do we call it over-taxation?” he asked.

“It might surprise Coun. Merlihan to hear it, but I had the same thoughts,” said Bauman, asking if the surpluses were the result of staff being frugal, not spending all the allocated money, or perhaps work not getting done.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it over-taxation,” said Petherick, noting a number of factors have contributed to surpluses in recent years, including higher revenues and lower-than-expected bids on work such as paving sent to tender.

However the surpluses are arrived at, Merlihan suggested making them work to the taxpayers’ advantage.

“How can we benefit the residents at budget time, keeping the levy down or steady?” he said of a situation where surpluses appear to be the norm.

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