Barring any changes between now and the final passage of the 2024 budget Feb. 12, Amherstburg taxpayers face a 6.44 per cent increase in 2024.
Town council held budget deliberations last Monday night (Jan. 15) and all-day last Tuesday and arrived at that number, with items being added and subtracted throughout the two days. The end result late in the day last Tuesday was the 6.44 per cent, which translates into a $171.79 increase on a home assessed at $250,000.
“It’s the best council could do given the circumstances,” Mayor Michael Prue said at the close of budget deliberations. “We had a lot of things put onto us by other levels of government we have to pay for.”
According to the mayor, there has been a decrease in Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund grant of over $300,000, they have to have an asset management plan that costs $453,000, and said the province reduced the town’s ability to collect development charges, something that cost Amherstburg $378,000 last year.
“We’re four per cent behind before we even start,” said Prue. “This is a difficult year. I’ve spent many years on budgets in two other municipalities and now this one, and this is one of the most difficult ones I’ve come across. We’re starting off with so much additional expense and not that much additional revenue.”
Inflation was another factor the town had to face this year, he added.
Prue believed Amherstburg’s tax increase is in the same neighbourhood as surrounding municipalities. He said “we are not alone” and that others are getting increases of four to eight percent.
“This is just the way it is,” he said.
Cities like Toronto and Guelph were cited by Prue as he noted they face double-digit increases.
“We did the best we could,” he said.
There were some agreements and disagreements during the budget process, the latter causing tempers to flare on occasion. Prue said that is par for the course when it comes to discussions of that nature.
“I’ve been in more heated meetings than this,” the mayor stated.
Prue praised members of council and administration for their efforts during the process.
CAO Valerie Critchley told town council and the public at the start of deliberations the town faces a number of budget pressures this year, one of which was the inflation factor. Critchley said since 2018, the town has not kept pace with the rate of inflation except for 2020.
In-year MPAC adjustments are ending as Critchley said the town has been advised MPAC is now caught up from the backlog accumulated through the pandemic. Another pressure is a number of future projects that require funding.
Critchley compared the town to be like running 15-20 separate businesses under the umbrella of a municipality.
The budget was originally tabled with a proposed 7.13 per cent increase but additional revenues and reductions made through deliberations brought it down to 6.85 per cent when talks started last Monday. It eventually was brought down to the final number.
Local resident and former mayoral candidate Frank Cerasa addressed town council at the Jan. 15 session and didn’t believe the increase was necessary.
“Raising taxes is not a good idea,” said Cerasa.
Cerasa told council the average rate of inflation is four per cent and believed the town’s revenue went up eight percent, making a tax increase “counterproductive.”
“Spending is the only problem,” said Cerasa.
A part-time human resources administrator was approved during deliberations, as was a full-time IT security and systems administrator. Council approved a full-time executive assistant in the parks and recreation department via a 5-2 vote, with Councillor Diane Pouget and Councillor Peter Courtney opposing. The position had been a one-year contract and part of the duties was helping to secure grants for programming, something which helped sway Councillor Molly Allaire’s vote with Deputy Mayor Chris Gibb said the department is busy and taking the director off of what she is working on to focus on something else ruins her productivity.
A part-time recreation co-ordinator for one year only, with funding coming from reserves, was approved in a 4-3 vote. A part-time special events co-ordinator was approved as was a second full-time mechanic, the latter in a 5-2 vote with Pouget and Courtney opposed. The mechanic was approved largely because of projected savings administration believed could be realized by not having to have vehicles serviced by a third party but Prue noted he received a letter from a business owner who could be impacted and that the town would be spending more on a mechanic than what is necessary. Courtney asked if the town could realize savings by hiring an apprentice. Councillor Don McArthur said if salaries are going up in the public sector, they also rise in the private sector and would be passed on to the consumer in this case.
“When they see municipalities coming, they are probably not going to give us the best rate,” said McArthur, adding the town could see “significant savings if we bite the bullet and approve the recommendation.”
By Ron Giofu