Some minor changes aside, Woolwich councillors this week ended the budget process pretty much where it started, with most of them satisfied with a quick once-over.
Township residents will see a 3.39% tax rate increase this year. Based on the average Woolwich residential assessment ($379,266), that will increase an additional $28.97 on the township portion of their property tax bills.
Broken out, the tax hike combines a 1.39 per cent jump in the base rate with a 1.5 per cent special infrastructure levy and a 0.5 per cent special levy for greening projects.
The only councillor expressing disappointment with the process was Ward 1’s Patrick Merlihan, who had pressed for a range of savings in the budget, though the final document incorporated just $15,000 in adjustments he had suggested.
Merlihan added that playing with small decreases across the board was the course of action given his colleague’s reluctance to find real savings in an operating budget that has bloated by some 90 per cent in the last decade, reaching $17.1 million for 2019.
“There are big numbers to look at, but council seems to have no appetite for that … so just the small numbers – they do add up to real money,” he said.
Some of the bigger items that could have brought real savings for taxpayers, he suggested, include not filling the position when the economic development officer departs on maternity leave.
“It’s a lost opportunity to save some money.”
In the hiring vein, Merlihan noted that management is quick to suggest hiring more employees when times are good – a building boom had other councillors quickly agreeing to bring on a new building inspector – but never opts to reduce staff when things slow down or times are tougher.
“That isn’t lost on the community,” said Merlihan, suggesting the municipality is somewhat detached from the reality of those whose money it takes.
Other councillors, however, offered praise for the job staff is doing.
Coun. Murray Martin, for instance, argued the budget was just fine as originally introduced.
“I think we were prepared to pass the budget the first night,” he said of special budget deliberations that got underway in January.
“I have implicit trust in staff,” added Coun. Fred Redekop.
Pointing out that the budget process was already underway when he joined council following last fall’s election, Coun. Scott McMillan said next year’s budget would allow him to take part in setting clear guidance at the outset of the process.
As approved this week, the budget calls for $17.1 million in operating expenses and $16.8 million in capital projects, led by $2.3 million and $1.9 million for the reconstruction of William Street and Listowel Road in Elmira, respectively. Bridge work, including environmental assessments involving the old street structures on Glasgow Street and Middlebrook Road, is slated to cost $1.7 million, while paving projects will take up $1.6 million.
This week’s decision also formalized budgets for the township’s water and wastewater services.
The water rate rises slightly to $1.73 per cubic metre from $1.72. The rate adjustment will $2.04 per year or $0.34 per bimonthly billing period to the average user’s bill, based on 204 cubic meters annually.
The comes after a 0.85 per cent increase in 2018.
Wastewater charges are on the rise by 6.12 per cent, to $2.85 per cubic meter from $2.69, reflecting a regional price increase of 6.9 per cent. Last year, the rate increased 7.61 per cent. The rate hike will add about $32.64 a year – $5.44 per bimonthly billing period.