Meaford council held a mandatory public meeting on January 15 to allow public input on the 2018 municipal budget before final approval, which is expected to take place at council's January 29 meeting.
Meaford's Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that the municipal levy will increase by three percent, but thanks to a reduction in the education rate along with a small 0.36 percentage increase in the county rate, the blended rate increase for Meaford property owners in 2018 will be approximately 1.25 percent. The increase will add roughly $45 to the property tax bill of an average home in the municipality.
In September council directed staff to prepare a draft budget that included a maximum overall tax levy increase of four percent, including allocations of one percent dedicated to roads capital funding, one percent for capital funding of bridges, and 0.5 percent for capital funding of municipal facilities. Additionally council directed staff to “budget any tax levy increases resulting from real assessment growth due to new development and building construction assessment into the General Infrastructure Reserve Fund for future capital projects.”
Staff had prepared a budget for next year complying with council's wishes, and a rate increase of 3.893 was proposed, however some good fortune allowed staff to arrive at the December 11 meeting with a similar budget package though with a required rate increase of only 1.603 percent.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council in December that the municipality will receive $171,200 in additional OMPF funding for 2018, and that unexpected news combined with some smaller savings found within the budget allowed staff to bring the rate increase down to 1.603 percent.
Council welcomed the good news, and asked the treasurer to prepare a final budget document reflecting a 3.0 percent rate increase, with the additional $185,000 that would be realized by bumping the increase from 1.603 percent to 3.0 percent to be dedicated to infrastructure needs.
While roughly 20 residents attended the public meeting, virtually all who attended were members of the Meaford Rotary Club, who protested a 125 percent increase in the fees they pay for renting the Terrace Room at Meaford Hall for their weekly meetings.
“There is an issue in the budget that is of some importance to the Rotary Club,” Meaford Rotary Club President Bill Beatty told council. “As you may be aware we meet weekly at Meaford Hall, and have done for a number of years. We are now being faced with a facility rental increase of 125 percent year over year, which to be honest is unreasonable.”
Beatty said that Rotarians understand the need for rate increases but he argued that the increase was excessive.
“We had anticipated having to pay a higher rent, and we were willing to pay a higher rent, and we're still willing to pay a higher rent, but this is beyond the pale,” Beatty said.
Beatty said that the increased rates would cause financial hardship for the club which already has difficulty attracting new members.
“We try hard to increase membership and attract new members, and those ongoing efforts have told us that cost of membership is critical,” Beatty told council. “We are, as you know, an old club, and we're getting older. We're trying hard to get younger, and to get more energetic, and we think that for the Rotary to continue contributing to the Meaford community in the manner in which it has done over the last number of years, we must get younger, we must get more energetic, so attracting new members is critically important to us, and this type of rental increase will make it all that much more difficult.”
During discussion with council it was noted that under the new fee structure the Rotary Club will be asked to pay a $30 fee for use of a microphone during their meetings, a fee they haven't had to pay in the past. Some Rotarians found the request for the fee ironic given that they say the Rotary Club donated the first microphone to Meaford Hall.
Members of council expressed a desire to find a solution for the club, though not by reducing the increase to the rates which staff say are necessary in order to assure cost recovery, but rather through the community grant program should the club not be able to negotiate a suitable rate with Meaford Hall management.
No other members of the public expressed concerns about the 2018 budget during the mandatory public meeting. Council will give final approval to the budget at their Janaury 29 meeting.
All budget documents and presentations are available on the municipal website (meaford.ca/budgets).