Today was the first of our two full day budget deliberations. It was a busy day as we covered the entire General Fund Operating Budget and the General Fund Capital Budget. This year we have encountered some new circumstances, in that we are facing a significant reduction in the assessment base from the province. Each year revenues come to the town from an increase in property assessment values. We were expecting this amount to be less of an increase than in previous years, coming in at 3.25% lower than we might be used to. Staff met with the province and we are actually looking at an increase of only 1%, which is a hit we weren’t planning on. However, this number may still change. Another unexpected item was an increase of nearly $300,000 in RCMP costs. We are expecting a decrease in the unconditional grant from the province as well.
Today was the first day of deliberations so we reviewed many items. We have one more day of deliberations and depending on how that goes, subsequent meetings may be needed. The budget is not voted on and approved until December 14, so we are still debating and reviewing up until that point.
We have before us a very solid budget, albeit tight on funds. I’m happy with this budget so far as it has some big investment in street reconstruction and maintenance, new things like micro-grants for sustainable projects under Economic Development, the much needed Operations Center housing our growing Public Works dept and Parks and Rec Maintenance, grants for the RAC, Capitol Theatre, 3+, Library and Boys & Girls Club (I left chambers for that discussion as there is a C.O.I), $250,000 transferred to the reserve for a Wellness Center and many other things! Keep in mind, with so much time left, any of these things can be adjusted before the budget comes for approval in December.
Staff were given a mandate to hold the tax rate steady and to keep the debt ratio at or below 16%. Well, we’re planning on accomplishing both of those things, with the tax rate holding at 1.5626 and the debt ratio coming in at 15.92%. We are making a balloon payment on the debt which causes the debt ratio to go up for 2016 but will drop quite a bit the following year because of it. We are trying to pay down the debt as much as possible so that we are in a position to be able to borrow the necessary funds for future projects like Bridgedale blvd and the Wellness Center.
I see this budget as being responsible, given the financial constraints we are facing, while investing in infrastructure, sustainable development in all departments and great services through Parks and Recreation, Fire and Rescue and community grants. Of course, with financial constraints comes some cutbacks. It’s looking like we may not be able to invest in new routes for Codiac Transpo in the coming year, though we are still debating this. We would be looking at an increase of about $80,000 for 2016 and the money just doesn’t seem to be there. We had to defer the purchase of a new bus to 2017 as well as the investment into phase one of the Lion’s Park revitalization plans (benefit here is that we have all of 2016 to recruit external support funding for this project to reduce the direct cost to the town).
Council regroups on Saturday at 9:00am to review the Utility Fund Operating Budget, Utility Fund Capital Budget and items tabled from today’s session that require more conversation. Of course, once the budget is approved, more information will be available. No decisions were made today, simply debates, discussion and consensus votes.
In summary, we’ll have less money than we expected but it didn’t stop us from making some great investments in services and our community, sustainable development, maintaining and rebuilding infrastructure, all while holding the tax rate and keeping a stable debt ratio.
We welcome you to join us on Saturday. As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, give me a shout!