Budget season is never simple, there are many pressures, many needs, and never enough money to make everyone happy. Such is the nature of municipal budget season.
On Friday of last week, members of council gathered for their first full day of budget deliberations. The focus of the first day of budget talks was the operating budget, with the capital budget to be discussed by council during their second full day of budget talks held on Tuesday of this week.
As presented earlier this month, the draft budgets for 2024 require a 5.57 percent levy increase, and a projected tax rate increase of 3.47 percent on the municipal portion of property tax bills for Meaford ratepayers this year.
The draft budgets presented to council by staff in the middle of January included no frills or enhancements, though a list of proposed enhancements was included for council’s consideration. Those enhancements, all of which were provisionally approved by council at their January 26 budget session (council could opt to eliminate any or all of them before the budgets are ultimately approved), included benefits for firefighters, funding for public opinion polling, security software, along with some additions to staff including an Asset Management Coordinator, two seasonal Cultural Services positions, as well as a Project Manager for the future expansion of the wastewater treatment plant.
Should those enhancements remain in the final budget (without any cuts or other adjustments – I am writing this editorial on Tuesday morning as members of council are about to begin their second day of budget deliberations) which is scheduled to be approved by council on March 11, the required tax rate increase would be 4.88 percent, still lower than most of our neighbouring councils are facing, but high enough that many are bound to express frustration.
Every year at municipal budget time, the number of municipal staff members is always a concern expressed by residents as well as members of council.
In 2014, the Municipality of Meaford had a full time equivalent (FTE) of 80.4 staff, while today, a decade later, Meaford has 95 full-time employees with a FTE of 109.32, according to acting CAO Matt Smith, an increase in staffing of nearly 40 percent in a decade.
While some will point to the increase in staff as evidence of wasteful spending by this and previous councils, it is helpful to understand how this municipality has seen its staff complement increase by roughly 30 full time employees over the past ten years.
During a discussion with friends on social media on this very topic, I noted some of the staff additions over the past decade that came to mind included the addition of two staff members in 2017, when council approved a proposal to have the municipality assume control of operations of the facility which had previously been operated by a third party, the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), a change that was estimated to save the municipality $25,000 per year.
Another service that had been previously contracted to a third party was IT services, however a few years ago council brought that in house as well, ultimately adding three members of staff. Similarly HR services were brought in house, adding two staff members to the municipal roster, and two mechanics were also added so that service to Meaford’s large vehicles like snow plows and graders could be done in house.
So nine of the 30 (FTE) staff additions immediately came to mind. I contacted Meaford’s Clerk/Acting CAO Matt Smith after Friday’s budget meeting seeking some more information, and he responded to my request on Sunday morning with a detailed 1,000 word email offering some additional information.
Smith reminded me that over the past decade two full-time staff members have been added in each of the Planning, Building, and Enforcement departments, accounting for six more full-time employees included in the current FTE. In 2014 Meaford had just one Bylaw Enforcement Officer, Meaford’s first, who had only been hired a couple of years prior. Today that department has expanded, primarily with seasonal staff to help enforce bylaws in our parks including Memorial Park, and to help with the significant number of calls for service from residents with bylaw concerns.
Smith noted that staff have also been added over the years for project management of capital projects, customer service and communications, and an increase to winter road maintenance standards resulting in the addition of three employees in the transportation department.
While Meaford’s FTE might have increased by nearly 40 percent over the past decade, the operating tax supported levy has not increased by the same rate, as many of the staff added have replaced previously contracted services.
As the Acting CAO noted in his Sunday morning email response to me, “the 2014 draft operating tax supported levy was $9,859,308. The 2024 draft operating tax supported levy (before Friday’s minor additions) was $13,034,640. That is not an exact comparison as I think some costs that were seen as operating previously are now being classed as capital, and vice-versa. That’s a 32% increase over 10 years, compared to a Canadian CPI change of 27.15% (Bank of Canada calculator). As you know, we have increased services significantly over that period, and had additional requirements provided from the provincial government.”
Whether Meaford is adequately and appropriately staffed is a question that I’m not so certain that any one of us has a definitive answer, but it is certainly a topic that could be debated in many ways, from many angles, which is why it is so important for members of council to hear from as many ratepayers as possible at budget time, as it helps them to make the most informed decisions that include the opinions of those they are elected to represent.
There is still time for you to weigh in and share your thoughts with council:
1. Submit your budget questions: The municipality will post budget questions and answers to their website weekly. You can ask your questions by emailing email@example.com, calling 519-538-1060 ext. 1746, or by dropping by the Administration Office, located at 21 Trowbridge Street West, during regular hours of operation.
2. Participate in the budget public meetings: meetings are held at 157859 7th Line, Meaford, and are open to the public. You can attend in person or watch on the YouTube channel at www.meaford.ca/YouTube. To register to speak in person or virtually at a meeting, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-538-1060 ext. 1100.
- Monday, February 12, 6:30 p.m. – Statutory Public Meeting (Special Meeting of Council)
- Monday, March 11, (anticipated in Council at 1 p.m.) – Final Approval of the 2024 Budgets
3. Provide your feedback to Council: Email all members of Council directly using email@example.com.
For all budget related information, visit www.meaford.ca/Budgets. Paper copies of the budget are available upon request.