In spite of its length — a mind and rear-end numbing four-and-a-half hours — the demeanor observed throughout Monday’s budget deliberations was surprisingly amicable and focused.
Faced with a property tax hike hovering around six per cent, by dipping into reserves and cutting back on contributions to those same funds, council was able to approve a 3.8% municipal tax levy.
All the while approving more than $300,000 in community grants to more than a dozen groups and organizations.
The real financial picture of the city lies not in dozens of pages of line items, but instead in the notes, advisories and warnings from treasurer Bill Day.
Tidbits like the fact the city has projected a 2013 operating surplus of $176,000. A figure much less than in previous years and chump change when dealing with a $110 million corporation.
The city has not budgeted for a dividend from Ascent (St. Thomas Energy) even though the company is expected to return to profitability after several years of bleeding. A cautionary note for those promoting sale of Ascent.
The fire department budget requires a three per cent increase ($216,000) over 2013, a year in which the service exceeded its budget by $242,000, largely due to overtime costs.
Over at the police department, court security requirements established by the province forced a 10% hike in their budget (just shy of $1 million).
Here’s a noteworthy entry from Day.
“Environmental Services programs are budgeted to decrease by $121,488 (two per cent) from 2013 largely due to the changes in solid waste management program this year.”
In other words, the city saved $300,000 in the short haul by switching to Green for Life as the new waste contractor.
However the very next paragraph carries this warning.
“We note the budget is expected to change in 2015 when the operating costs associated with the proposed recycling depot are included.”
Operating costs projected to be in the $200,000 range.
So why is the city insistent on shelling out $1.5 million to play waste transfer station operator?
If council truly wanted to shave points off the property tax rate it would have shelved plans to build the proposed new waste transfer facility when the fully functional Bush Line transfer station sits idle.
AN INVITE WORTH ACCEPTING
A letter to the editor in Wednesday’s Times-Journal has prompted heated — and often colourful — debate on both our website and the T-J Facebook page.
Written by Bob McCaig, he argues plans by the city to proceed with construction of a new police station adjacent to the Timken Centre defy belief.
“The current police station, with more than ample room on the now-vacated second floor, can provide all the expansion space required for years to come.”
McCaig continues, “The stakeholders of the City of St. Thomas currently have more than enough onerous financial obligations, including addressing a crumbling road and sewer infrastructure as well as meeting its multi-million dollar obligation to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, to take on even greater debt.”
Those comments have struck a raw nerve with more than a few T-J readers.
“I believe we need to stand together on this issue,” writes Heather Vance. “St. Thomas needs a lot more care for their roads, not the officers driving on them.”
“What nobody seems to get, regardless of the level of government, is that we are broke,” adds Phil Goodwin. “No spending should take place unless it is urgent. This is the mentality that got us into the mess that Ontario is mired in.”
Dave Delgado warns, “A new police station is out of the question. City council and the mayor need to be taken to task over this. St. Thomas has to change, the new economy is forcing all of us to, every person. We need to look at how we can make better changes for St. Thomas.”
Not all are in agreement with McCaig.
“I think they deserve a new station and I think we all deserve a nice parking lot for the library,” urges Julie Karathanassis. “My hopes are to see the old police station knocked down and a FREE parking lot in its place! I appreciate the work our St. Thomas Police do for us on a daily basis.”
‘Concerned Customer 1’ concurs.
“I truly think and believe that after all this time our police officers also deserve a safe and healthy place to work and having a new building built is a benefit to the whole community. I for one am glad as I am proud of our police department and all they do for us just as much as our EMS and fire department.”
Police Chief Darryl Pinnell checked in on Twitter with the following invitation to all city residents.
“I would invite the public to attend our next building committee meeting April 24th at 11 a.m. at city hall to get the facts.”
How many ratepayers are willing to take up that offer?
And that includes members of council.
WHO HAS DECLARED
It’s been more than three months since opening day for filing nomination papers for the 2014 municipal vote and a half-dozen individuals have declared their intentions.
In the mayoral race, Heather Jackson set the tone early with at least one other challenger awaiting Cliff Barwick’s determination as to which office he will pursue.
On the aldermanic side, five hopefuls have announced their intention to run.
Linda Stevenson is set for her third aldermanic race and Rose Gibson is chasing office for the fifth time.
Joan Rymal, meantime, is taking a second stab at success. Independent contractor Ron Fugard and Jacqueline De Leebeck are also in the running.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“This bill represents some common sense that most parents would think occurs already in our schools.”
MPP Jeff Yurek commenting on Ryan’s Law, his private member’s bill that would let asthmatic children carry inhalers at school with a doctor’s approval. Public hearings are scheduled for next week at Queen’s Park.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope