Meaford's council has given final approval for the 2014 municipal budget, and ratepayers will see an overall blended rate increase on their property tax bills of 1.28 percent.
The municipal portion of property tax bills is increasing by 1.99 percent in 2014, however with Grey County announcing a 1.14 percent increase for 2014, and no change in school board levies, an overall increase of 1.28 percent is anticipated, which Treasurer Darcy Chapman says will mean an increase of approximately $32 for the average single family dwelling in the municipality.
Leading up to the final budget approval, the municipality hosted three public input sessions in Woodford, Bognor, and at the Meaford & St. Vincent Community centre. None of the three meetings drew large crowds in spite of recent public calls for tax reductions rather than another increase.
2014 should have been the final year of the much debated five-year plan implemented in 2010 as a means of recovering from an accumulated deficit of more than $3 million which had crippled the municipality, however Mayor Francis Richardson requested earlier this year that the plan be abandoned a year early. That request was supported by council ending the policy of five percent blended rate increases that had been adhered to for four years.
During the four years of the five-year plan the municipal portion of Meaford property tax bills had increased by 16.6 percent in the first year followed by increases of 15.9 percent, 11.4 percent, and 9.7 percent in 2013.
While some residents – including the chair of the museum board and former curator of the Meaford Museum, Paul Cornfield – expressed concern about a 20 percent cut to the museum budget, that cut remained unchanged in spite of the efforts of Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield to convince his fellow councillors to reconsider the cut.
Meaford's senior staff have suggested that in the long run, the museum will be better off due to a plan to increase raise the profile and increase visits to the facility.
“We are committed to improving services, and this includes a more strategic resourcing of our staff and their time,” said municipal staff in a document distributed prior to the meeting which addressed several questions raised by the public during the public input sessions. “With a change in how museum services will be provided, there will be better utilization and integration of cultural and other staff as well as volunteer resources within the community services department to work with the museum to increase the overall use and type of uses as well as increasing the profile of the museum.”
Treasurer Darcy Chapman was pleased that the first municipal budget under his direction had been adopted by council with little change.
“I'm glad that we were able to bring something forward that council was pleased with, and that maintains the level of service without an increase that's extremely high,” Chapman told The Independent after the meeting in which the budget was approved on December 9. “We recognize that ensuring that we provide openness, accountability and transparency to the public is first and foremost. And making sure we get information out to the public is something we will work even more on next year.”
Chapman says that the toughest part of preparing a municipal budget is the need to walk a fine line between maintaining service levels while attempting to avoid undue burden on ratepayers.
“We try to and balance the needs and desires of seven members of council, senior management team, and still trying to recognize that at the end of the day it's the taxpayer that has to shell out additional monies,” explained the Treasurer.