After listening to ratepayer concerns expressed at the recent public engagement budget sessions, Meaford's councillors had their turn to ask questions and offer opinions on the 2015 municipal budget at a special meeting held on Monday February 2.
During the council deliberation of the 2015 budget, councillors did not appear to have a desire to make major changes to the draft budget prepared by staff and presented to council and the public over the last month, though they did ask for a few adjustments including limiting the municipal staff cost of living pay increase to 1.5 percent rather than the two percent increase requested in the proposed budget documents.
Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield proposed the adjustment to the staff pay increase, and his fellow members of council agreed that the increase should be less than requested in the draft budget. Capping the staff pay increase at 1.5 percent would save roughly $25,500 in the 2015 budget according the CAO Denyse Morrisey. Greenfield argued that a 1.5 percent increase would better reflect the actual increase in the cost of living, and would still be more of a pay increase than many in the municipality will see in 2015.
“We have an excellent staff. They're super-educated, super-qualified, super-helpful. However as an elected member of council I have to think of our citizen's ability to afford what items are in the budget, and that is why I'm suggesting a lower salary increase,” explained Greenfield.
Greenfield found enough support around the council table to recommend that staff make the adjustment to the budget. Other requests for adjustments were not as successful including a bid by Councillor Tony Bell to avoid increasing the cost of garbage bag tags from $2 to $2.50 in 2015.
Bell told council that he had heard from several residents concerned with the financial impact such an increase would have on their families. Bell asked that council consider directing staff to find another way to generate the $35,000 that the bag tag increase is expected realize. Councillor Mike Poetker agreed that the proposed increase might not be popular with residents, and suggested a 25 cent increase this year, and in each of the following three years, bringing the bag tag cost to $3 by 2019.
“I believe that's less than the projected cost of Tim Horton's coffee,” suggested Poetker.
Council however decided against making changes to the proposed bag tag increase.
Other changes council have requested from staff for the next draft of the budget focused on minor changes to the time-line for some capital projects.
In December, Meaford's council directed staff to prepare a budget for 2015 with a tax levy increase that would not exceed the October 2014 Canadian consumer price index (CPI) of 2.4 percent. The budget presented to council and the public for consideration would increase the municipal portion of property tax bills by 1.8 percent, along with a 50 cent increase in the price of garbage disposal tags.
In real dollars, Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman and CAO Denyse Morrisey told those in attendance that the proposed budget increase would mean the owner of an average family home in Meaford with an assessment of $254,000 will pay an additional $34.46 on the municipal portion of their tax bill in 2015 – an additional $2.87 per month, while the average waterfront property with an assessed value of $565,800 would see an increase of $76.49 in 2015 ($6.37 per month).
The adjustments to the budget requested by council at the February 2 meeting aren't expected to have a significant impact on the rate increase in 2015, which CAO Denyse Morrisey indicated would likely be 1.75 – 1.8 percent.
Staff will prepare a revised draft of the budget for council's next meeting on February 9.
A mandatory public meeting will follow on the evening of February 9 at Meaford Hall.
According to the schedule posted on the municipal website, the budget is expected to be completed and approved by council by March 2.
All 2015 budget documents are available on the municipal website.