GLEN TAY - Tay Valley Township residents face the prospect of a 6.1 per cent municipal tax hike because of cutbacks in grant programs from the province.
“This is a difficult year for us,” said Peter Tranter, the township’s treasurer, during a special committee-of-the-whole budget presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 12. “We have been advised by the province that we have taken a big hit,” with $51,000 being cut in grants that Tay Valley had been hoping for.
The township had also been banking any year-end surpluses into a fund, which was “used as a very valuable fiscal tool, to decrease the tax requests,” with about $75,000 in the fund.
“We don’t have large tax revenues any more,” said Tranter, so the rate at which the township had been able to shovel money into the account “is not sustainable. We have to start decreasing our reliance on that.”
There have also been changes in how provincial parks are being funded.
“There are big winners and losers in this assessment,” said Tranter. “We are one of the big losers.”
Another new financial reality that has come knocking on council’s door is staff overtime.
“We have never budgeted overtime before,” said Tranter. “Now, we absolutely must start doing it.”
While overtime costs come in at about $15,000, Tranter pointed out that staff took a further $14,000 time-in-lieu of payment as well, so the bill could have been higher. Administrative staff alone clocked in $6,000 worth of overtime.
“Staff are allowed to accumulate overtime, not at time-and-a-half,” Tranter pointed out.
Another staff change is that, now, all public works employees are on call, all weekend, which adds to costs.
Another new cost that council is looking at is $5,000 which Tranter advised be added to the budget for “zoning non-compliance enforcement,” essentially, a fund to pay for any legal costs that may arise from the town enforcing its bylaws on illegal trailers.
Old Man Winter has also sent his bill to the township, with
winter salt costing $8,000 for the area, and development of the McVeigh sand pit set to cost about $10,000.
The township’s four-legged friends are also running up some bills, with the township’s share of the new inter-municipal dog pound set to cost Tay Valley $20,000.
“Our contract with LAWS (Lanark Animal Welfare Service) is not doable any more,” said Tranter. “We have worked out short-term service with a provider.”
He added that the Perth splash pad, for which the town is asking Tay Valley to contribute to, is not included in budget deliberations, because he has no firm numbers of what their contribution would need to be, though he noted that Drummond/North Elmsley is reported to be looking at a $25,000 contribution.
However, there was a silver lining for council when Tranter reported that the township was likely to see $37,000 in tax growth.
“I have a real problem with the overtime costs and standby costs,” said Deputy Reeve Susan Freeman. “Are we being efficient?”
She questioned why all roads employees, for example, had to be on call.
“To me, it’s the work-life balance,” said Freeman. “You can’t go away (if you are on call.) You can’t have a drink if you might be called in to drive a truck.”
Tranter explained that “most of this is generated by the winter.”
The town’s chief administrative officer, Malcolm Morris added that, on Friday, Feb. 8, for example, about 20 cm of snow accumulated in the space of 24 hours.
“That is not the standard any more,” said Morris. “We are seeing more freezing rain. We put down sand, it rains, and it gets washed away. (Then) we deploy again.”
Morris added that many years ago, “you could count on 20 winter events in a season. Now, it is up to 30 events.”
In terms of the rising overtime costs, Morris surmised that “the staffing levels are now where they should be. Do we have the right number of staff?”
Morris also pointed out that the township has a lot of senior staff who, through their seniority, are now entitled to up to six weeks vacation time per year.
Coun. Wayne Jordan wondered why there was such a cost associated with the McVeigh sand pit.
“Why would we pay for our own sand?” Jordan asked. “Do we not own that?”
Morris replied that it would cost $10,000 to screen the sand to remove course particles before the sand is hauled away by truck. In time, though, the town could save up to $80,000 in sand costs by opening the pit, but that was tempered by an anticipated $30,000 in grading costs that would need to be done.
“If we use all of our sand, which it seems like we are going to, we will need to open that (site) up,” said Tranter. “If we get it this way, we won’t have to buy it elsewhere… The major savings will show up in 2014.”
After council ors had had their say, resident Gordon Hill presented council with 19 questions about the budget, based on what he had already read in the documents that had been circulated before the meeting.
“ATM doesn’t stand for all-taxpayers money,” said Hill. “Taxpayers don’t get paid overtime.”
Hill also wondered what the tendering process was for town-owned vehicles that needed to be serviced.
“We do hear horror stories of municipal governments getting hosed,” said Hill.
“We take them to wherever they get best maintained,” said Tranter. “We don’t contract out that service…They (town staff) get that fixed at the best place and they are well versed in the world of mechanics. We won’t pay for it unless it is working properly.”
Coun. Greg Hallam added that maintenance is “scrutinized to make sure that they are getting the most bang for their buck.”
Coun. Mark Burnham added that there are advantages to municipal workers living in such a close-knit area like Tay Valley.
“I’d be surprised if any garage was ripping us off,” said Burnham. “Everyone knows everyone else… We were getting shoddy service from one garage, so we stopped using them. They jumped up and down and we said ‘Do a better job.’”
Hill also wondered if there was a way to tell if recreational programs were being used to their fullest.
“I’m not suggesting we abandon any of these programs,” Hill hastened to add.
Freeman said that the township’s seasonal residents, like cottagers, tend to use the library and soccer and basketball programs quite a bit.
“I don’t mean to distinguish between seasonal and regular residents,” said Hill.
“There is a great value in those services and we can’t separate those out with our agreements with Perth,” said Freeman.