A tax increase of two or three per cent was the starting point as Wellesley councillors this week got the ball rolling on the township’s 2021 budget.
Staff has been working on the first draft of next year’s budget since late-summer, with Tuesday night’s videoconference meeting a chance for council to set targets and make suggestions for what the document should or shouldn’t include.
The usual battle between providing services and a lower tax rate has a different complexion this year, however, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of closures, recreation revenue, for instance, has dropped dramatically, while the township has taken on increased costs for cleaning, sanitization procedures and personal protective equipment.
Such costs are being offset in other areas wherever possible, councillors heard, but ongoing uncertainties make it difficult to determine what the situation will look like in 2021. Still, there will be lost revenues and perhaps increased costs as management looks to add another staff person, said chief administrative officer Rik Louwagie in a report to council.
The suggestion of an increase to the payroll had Ward 2 Coun. Herb Neher requesting a business-case analysis of the move, with Ward 1 Coun. Shelley Wagner noting staff usually provides a justification for such additions.
As deliberations continued, councillors started building a wishlist of items they’d like to see in the budget.
Ward 3 Coun. Peter van der Maas said what he would like to see addressed is the geese problem at Albert Park. He said the problem was worse this year than ever before, recommending access be restricted so more people could use the park without problem. He suggested a two-foot fence to keep the animals at bay, an option that’s worked well in other jurisdictions.
Noting that would be an inexpensive project, Mayor Joe Nowak added it to the list. He then followed up with his own list that included building repairs and trail work, adding that improving communications to residents is something that should also be on the list.
The idea of adding to the budget prompted Neher to suggest council be mindful of tax increases that would have an impact on residents who are already feeling the economic pinch of the pandemic. The township should focus on needs rather than wants, he said.
In that vein, van der Maas said the budget increases should stay as close to zero as possible because of the uncertain times ahead, noting that any target of four to six per cent would be unreasonable.
Neher agreed with van der Maas and then proposed a 2.5 per cent increase. Ward 4 Coun. Carl Smit proposed an increase between two and four per cent, while Wagner said an increase of two to three per cent seemed reasonable.
The draft budget is expected to be presented to council on December 14.