Monday, April 22, 2024

Council Will Soon Approve a ‘Good News’ Budget

Meaford’s municipal budgets for 2024 will soon be approved, and this year residents of the Municipality of Meaford will see one of the lowest tax rate increases in all of Grey County.

Described from the outset as a ‘lean’ budget, barring any last minute changes prior to final council approval, Meaford ratepayers will see a 2.8 percent increase on the municipal portion of property tax bills in 2024, an increase that will cost the average homeowner in the municipality approximately $75 more in 2024 than they paid in 2023.

The municipal budgets were the focus of a statutory public meeting held on Monday evening (February 12) in the council chamber. Though the meeting only attracted three residents attending (with another seven watching live on Youtube), one of those attendees, a frequent critic of municipal spending conceded that this is the ‘best budget in years.’

Councillor Steve Bartley noted that while Meaford has managed to prepare an operating and capital budget that will see a rate increase of 2.8 percent for Meaford’s ratepayers, many of our neighbouring communities have not been so fortunate.

Bartley pointed to Grey Highlands’ 2024 budgets, which require a rate increase of 8.85 percent, while in Georgian Bluffs there will be a tax rate increase of 9.19 percent. Bartley noted that Chatsworth’s increase in 2024 will be 7.52, and Southgate, with the assistance from the sale of some land, will have a rate increase of 6.5 percent. Owen Sound’s, rate increase will be 3.2 percent. Only the Town of the Blue Mountains, with a rate increase of 2.5 percent, will have lower tax rate increase in 2024, though Bartley noted that the Town of the Blue Mountains used $1.3 million from their 2023 surplus in order to drastically reduce their required tax rate increase in 2024, a move that many question, as traditionally surpluses are best used to replenish reserves or fund one-off projects, but by using surplus funds to stabilize the tax rate in a given year simply pushes the problems off into the future.

While Meaford ratepayers will see a 2.8 percent rate increase on the municipal portion of their property tax bills in 2024, the blended rate, which includes the county and education increases, will be higher thanks to Grey County’s budgets which will require a 6.3 percent rate increase in 2024. The education rate will remain unchanged in 2024, so the blended rate increase for Meaford ratepayers will be approximately 3.2 percent.

While Meaford residents will experience one of the lowest tax rate increases in the county in 2024, Meaford’s water and wastewater user rates will increase by 8 percent once again this year. The cost of bag tags will not change in 2024, remaining at $4 per tag.

A number of projects are included in the capital budget for 2024, including several road resurfacing and reconstruction projects, a new condenser at the arena, air conditioning upgrades at the museum, and a condenser replacement at Meaford Hall, along with the replacement of Meaford’s accessible public transit bus, which will be largely covered by Meaford’s gas tax reserve, to name a few.

The budgets also include a 2.75 percent cost of living increase for municipal staff, which is in line with the increases included in other municipal budgets in the region, which have averaged between 2.5 and 3.0 percent this year.

During their two days of budget deliberations in January, council approved some enhancements to the base draft budgets, including public opinion polling at a cost of $13,000, software with a cost of $42,500, firefighter benefits for $27,000, along with four proposed staff positions, namely an asset management coordinator, a project manager for the wastewater treatment plant expansion project, and two seasonal Cultural Services positions.

On the whole, I think Meaford residents should be pleased with this year’s budgets, particularly given the struggles we have seen in other municipalities in the county, which are experiencing significantly higher tax rate increases, but many of whom are also struggling to fund infrastructure needs. I think we can take some pride in the fact that a few terms of council back, Meaford began consistently adding 2.5 percent each budget year for infrastructure funding, one percent each for roads and bridges, and 0.5 percent for municipal facilities. As it is automatically included in the draft budgets each and every year, Meaford has seen its infrastructure funding compound year over year, allowing this municipality to tackle more infrastructure projects each year than most of our neighbours.

This year’s budget process has gone so well, that it might even be approved by council earlier than planned.

Interim CAO Matt Smith told council on Monday that, barring any major changes requested after the statutory public budget meeting, the final budgets could be brought before council for approval at their February 26 meeting rather than the March 11 meeting as has been the plan since the beginning of the budget process.

Having covered Meaford council for the past 15 years, I must say that I can’t recall a more streamlined, easy to understand budget process, and the relatively low rate increase will no doubt be embraced by ratepayers. Fifteen years ago, this municipality was in dire straits with reserve funds almost completely depleted in order to cover off years of accumulated deficits, sky-high tax rate increases that outraged most everyone, an enormous debt-load, and very little funding available to maintain and repair our infrastructure. Today the Municipality of Meaford can boast healthy reserves, significant capital project funding, and a tax rate increase that is palatable even by the most ardent municipal spending critics.

How far we have come.

Popular this week

Latest news