Wellesley working on priorities ahead of budget process

A preliminary budget discussion was very much that Tuesday night as Wellesley councillors met Tuesday night, not even coming up with a tax-rate target for the upcoming 2020 budget yet.

The township needs more time to assess the needs and wants of the community before setting even a preliminary tax increase, councillors agreed this week.

“I’m not happy with setting an arbitrary number, that’s just a stab in the dark. We have to know what’s needed and then we can determine what the best response is and the best use of taxpayer money,” said Coun. Peter van der Maas.

Councillors did discuss some of the big-budget items that may be included in the 2020 budget, including the addition of new staff, something the township has typically shied away from.

“I am receiving feedback from the residents that the community is not as well cared for as in the past. And I can see it myself. I don’t fault staff we have, I think we’re understaffed. I think we seriously have to look at providing the community with the care they expect,” van der Maas said.

Townships such as Woolwich and Wilmot have more than double the staff contingent found in Wellesley, said chief administrative officer, Rik Louwagie.

“We have over half their population. We haven’t increased our staffing level in quite a few years, but yet we keep adding more amenities and more kilometers of trail.  We have more kilometers of paved roads. We keep adding and adding but we haven’t added to the staff,” Louwagie stressed.

Aside from staffing, council also discussed having a social media operator for the township who would help represent the community and get news out quicker. Communications is one of five items on the list as the region’s four rural townships undertake a joint service delivery review, said Louwagie.

Adding these items into the budget can cause an increase in the tax rate, but there are other solutions, suggested Mayor Joe Nowak.

“Over the last four years since I’ve been here, we’ve put significant investment in our roads, we’ve paved an awful a lot of roads,” he said.“Should our priorities maybe shift?”

An area that was deficient this year was recreation, Nowak pointed out, noting that maybe more money should be put into that sector.

To ensure an accurate budget, the council will be reviewing what is needed in the township and then move to on to wants.

“We also sometimes have to look at what services we can do without,” said Coun. Herb Neher, who noted that while not ideal to cut services, there is an opportunity to fine-tune what is really necessary.

With no set number from any council member, Nowak suggests that the township should try to maintain the numbers from the past few years – around 2.5 to 3 per cent has been the average.

The 2020 budget deliberations are just in the early stage, with staff still working to create an accurate document that reflects a range of demands. The first public meeting to discuss budget matters will take place on December 16 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Wellesley council chambers in Crosshill.

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