Council members have their work cut out for them. Although budget deliberations are in the early stages, with a second meeting on Monday, it looks as though it might be difficult to continue the trend of the past few years in which there has not been an increase in the municipal tax rate. The draft analysis budget showed a tax increase of 4.7 per cent for 2015, $13.38 per $100,000 property, not including the MPAC assessment increase, county or school levies.
Less government funding is available and more money is needed to run Thames Centre at the current service level. Mayor Jim Maudsley said council wants to avoid compromising the high service level residents enjoy. Acting CAO Stewart Findlater added that the only way to lower the tax rate is to reduce services and possibly one-time projects from the capital budget.
It’s a tough task for council, which includes three new councillors.
“I was impressed with the questions they asked and the thoughtfulness they [the new councillors] put in the process so far,” said treasurer Mary Ellen Weatherhead after the first session. Findlater said they were well prepared and participated well.
Council and staff were about a third of the way through the budget process following the first meeting and Weatherhead said it is going smoothly, much more so than last year, when she was new to the position and working on making positive changes to the system.
A decrease in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund in the amount of $170,000, means 2.5 per cent more money is needed, according to Maudsley.
“Every municipality in the province is arguing with the province so far about it.”
So far, council has discussed whether or not to maintain the current level of service, protective services, the operating and capital budgets, the effect that proposed capital projects would have on reserves, and recreation.
The next meeting is Wednesday, February 18 at 9 a.m. Maudsley said he would like to have discussions wrapped up by the end of the month.