Huntsville could see a tax increase of 5.73 per cent and depleted reserves by 2022, if all new initatives get council approval

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Councillors were given a glimpse of what lies ahead as 2019 budget deliberations are set to begin.

Huntsville Manager of Finance/Treasurer, Julia McKenzie, walked council through two scenarios in December. The first was a draft 2019 status quo budget, compiled by a working group made up of municipal department heads.

McKenzie told councillors that the definition of the proposed status quo budget was essentially providing the same service levels as in 2018, at 2019 costs.

The draft was presented to council at their December 12 meeting, and would see the levy increase by 2.67 per cent or by $381,285 from 2018 for a total status quo budget of $14,685,359. Once assessment growth is applied, the tax rate would decrease by about 1.12 per cent from 2018. The status quo budget would represent an annual tax of about $1,098 on a house assessed at $300,000. That is just the Huntsville portion of the property tax, which represents about 45 per cent of the overall property tax and does not include District (find their draft budget at this link) and school board levies.

But the status quo budget would not include new initiatives (you can find a list of those below), or major capital projects. If all of those were included, as recommended by the budget working group, the levy increase would be 9.78 per cent or $1,398,697 for a total budget of $15,702,772. That would mean the tax rate would increase by approximately 5.73 per cent. Huntsville taxpayers would be looking at an additional $64 from 2018 for a house assessed at $300,000 for an annual total of $1,174 on the Huntsville portion of the property tax.

Increases affecting the 2019 status quo budget include:

  • Fireworks for Canada Day ($10,000).
  • Cost of Living adjustment and union cost adjustments ($150,000 of which about $125,000 is for non-union staff).
  • Removal of the 1/3 tax free allowance for councillors by the Federal government, which will now fall to the municipality for an increase of $20,000.
  • Credit and debit charges ($8,650). The municipality incurs the charges through its online programs and all of its facilities.
  • Statutory payroll deductions, i.e. CPP ($25,000).
  • Full year for a Sustainability Coordinator/Policy & Projects Coordinator ($13,000). The position appeared in the 2018 budget for less than a year.
  • Legal expenses ($22,500).
  • Civic Centre: various maintenance projects including painting and Main St. entrance repair ($32,000).
  • Canada Summit Centre: Jack Bionda lighting brackets, Active Living Centre drywall repair and painting ($24,500).
  • Port Sydney and Stephenson halls painting, flooring and building automation ($20,000).
  • Minor hockey annual ice cancellations resulting in revenue reduction ($14,641).
  • Reduction in soccer rental revenue ($8,291).
  • Increase in contracted transit service ($7,000).
  • Contract with Barrie Fire for dispatch, increase ($9,208).
  • Insurance premium ($15,340).
  • Increase in insurance deductibles ($25,000).
  • General increases in software maintenance & support (General IT: $13,892, Community Services: $8,000).
  • Changes to Website hosting fees ($15,902).
  • Cell phone replacements for the Corporation amounting to about 70 cell phones ($31,840).

Three positions were also included in the status quo budget presented to council. The first is expected to ease pressures on the Human Resources Department at a cost of about $89,000, which includes a one-time set up fee.

“This is due to the fact that there’s been a lot of changes in regulations governing human resources, greater focus on accountability and the rights of employees—it’s also becoming more regulated a profession and the scope of work and the volume is just becoming a lot more complex,” said McKenzie, noting to that a full analysis and rationale was provided in the agenda package (see link at bottom).

The proposed status quo draft budget also adds a position to the Finance Department, which would also include the realignment of duties to keep up with the demands that have been put on that department, according to McKenzie. “The town has grown over 10 years and we haven’t added any resources to that department, however a lot of duties have been added to that department over the past ten years.” That position would mean an increase of $116,000, including a one-time setup fee of $5,000.

Another position would be added to Leisure Services in order to keep up with demand. That position would cost $58,000. “If this position wasn’t there, then we’d be looking at declining revenue,” said McKenzie.

Other significant changes compared to 2018 include:

  • Roads and Winter Control Pilot Project: Resulting in a reduction in the operating costs of the roads and fleet departments (approximately $100,000 in levy reduction); increased salary, wages and benefits (+$157,800); reduction in contracted services (-$264,800).
  • Increase in brushing costs (+$8,000).
  • Increase in guidepost maintenance (+$8,800).
  • Bridge needs study not required in 2019, scheduled for 2020 (-$30,000).
  • Redirecting the rental surcharge revenue (aquatics, Jack Bionda and Don Lough arena) to fund capital projects (+$34,079 levy impact).
  • Funding of fees on behalf of the developer for 25 affordable housing units as per the Development Charges Bylaw (+$62,400 levy impact).

Reductions highlighted include:

  • Hydro: Civic Centre ($16,494), Canada Summit Centre ($106,070), street lights ($13,000)—all based on light replacement programs.
  • Waterloo Summit Centre for the Environment, no operating costs due to sale of building (net savings $17,707).
  • Increase in revenue for community halls ($22,577).
  • Increase in budgeted supplementary taxes received during the year ($74,000).
  • Reduction in the amount of property tax write-offs expected for the year ($60,000).
  • One-time items removed: Webcasting ($6,106), to be put back in as a new initiative for council approval; swipe card and gate for Civic Centre completed in 2018 ($20,000).
  • Increase in planning revenue ($15,000).
  • Increase in theatre revenues ($23,855).

New initiatives:

Not included in the draft budget are recommended items such us a special glassware initiative for the Algonquin Theatre at $2,500; recognition and celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day at $8,500 (a grant is expected to offset the cost); Wi-Fi at all community halls for an estimated cost of $3,600; air conditioning at the Port Sydney Hall for $1,500; a roof over the ramp at Aspdin Hall for $14,800 (funds are to come from reserves and $5,000 from Aspdin community); a records management and privacy consultant at $50,000 to come from reserves; bringing back webcasting as an ongoing item at $6,100; the replacement of the video surveillance system for the municipality at $121,000 to be pulled out of a capital reserve; LED retrofits for the Active Living Centre and the exterior of the Canada Summit Centre, to be funded from Federal Gas Tax.

Other new initiatives include $50,000 to be put into a reserve for “upcoming” software requirements; and extending the Employee Assistance Program to part-time employees and volunteer firefighters at $6,600—some of the cost is expected to be offset by the fire operating budget.

New initiatives also recommended by the budget working group include $75,000 to update the municipality’s zoning bylaws (funds to come from reserves); $25,000 to update the downtown Community Improvement Plan (also to come from reserves); $11,000 for drainage at the skate park at McCulley-Robertson; two seasonal staff members (one for McCulley and another for high traffic areas) at approximately $26,000; and contracted services for guide rail replacement program at about $50,000 as well as a winter sand covered structure at $220,000, with the majority coming out of reserves. Another project included as a new initiative is a pay increase for non-union positions, which would be phased in and impact the budget by $205,149 this year.

Capital initiatives recommended by the working group include spending approximately $4.5 million on roads and bridges (minus any grants), $2.2 million at McCulley-Robertson this year and another $300,000 for the Hunters Bay floating trail in 2019. Other projects would be planned for in future, such as the retaining wall at the Brunel Locks for $1.1 million which would be scheduled from 2020, the pool well at the Canada Summit Centre scheduled for 2021 at a cost of $4 million, and the Conroy Park track to be done in 2022 at $1.2 million. The plan brought forward would also increase the funding for capital replacement reserves by 20 per cent from 2019 to 2022 and 15 per cent for all other capital replacement projects.

All in, if these projects are approved by council, it would mean depleting reserves, including the money for the sale of the Waterloo building by the end of this term of council. That did not seem to sit well with Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano, who expressed concern with depleting all of the municipality’s reserves by 2022.

“You would’ve put $18 million into your roads system, you would’ve put two and half million into your facilities at the ball diamonds, your fleet would be in decent shape. So you’re taking money from the bank and investing it into the capital stock,” argued Huntsville Director of Operations and Protective Services, Steve Hernen. “You could put all your money in the bank and put nothing into roads if you want…,” he added.

Terziano responded that she’d prefer “a bit more of a happy medium.”

Huntsville Council is scheduled to meet on January 17 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the budget. You can find Huntsville’s draft budget information at this link.

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5 Comments

  1. Henk Rietveld on

    Hey, folks. You know what? This council has done a terrific job for the last four years, with minimal tax increases. This current package shows foresight, attention to detail, and deserves serious positive consideration. I personally like the increased transparency and obvious effort to keep us all much better informed. I think that we’re pretty lucky to have a council and municipal staff that are ready to give us truly “public service”.

  2. Thank you, Ms. McKenzie: we have never had a detailed, understandable justification for a tax increase like this before. And for all the items which are included, it would indeed be a bargain at approximately $5/month for a $300K home. I fear, however, that when the insatiable District and the TSB increases are included; the picture won’t be so rosy. And although few would quibble with the non-union staff salary increases plus COLA, the similar non-union increases of approximately $330K may raise a few eyebrows.
    .
    Just a few more queries: how can the Town fund a Sustainability Coordinator for $13,000 per annum?; as non-glare lighting is indicated in the OP, why have the new lights at the pool required some to wear sunglasses?; and finally, will our micro-reserves at year end 2002 support our AAA rating?

  3. I agree that our representatives on council seem to be making wise decisions from what I read. My concern is that I pay very high property taxes yet receive only one benefit – garbage collection and only during the summer months. We have a home on the river. No access to municipal water or sewage. Is there not any thought to reduce taxes for folks that do not have access to what normally is available to most residents of Huntsville?
    Even Police patrols in the summer months on the water ways are few and far between to slow down the folks zipping down the river destroying shoreline.

  4. I agree, Council has done a very good job holding the increases to what was necessary and that the details provided by Ms. McKenzie are clear and helpful. Thank you.
    No one likes taxes and especially an increase to same, but… We have lived in several communities over the years and Huntsville’s rates are not out of line and even much lower than one smaller community in particular.
    Touching people’s wallet is always met with challenges.
    Moving the community forward always has a cost.

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