Budget still a little too rich

2

by Shaun McLaughlin

First published in Shaun on Council  

The 2013 Town budget is close to being finalized. There will be a public meeting on January 8 at 6 PM in the Council Chambers. I am not happy with the numbers at present. Below I explain why. I urge others to come forward with their ideas and opinions. Keep in mind, every $66,000 we cut from the budget represents a 1% cut in local property taxes.

This fall, the majority of Council voted to increase revenues by 7% annually for the next 18 years to erase our infrastructure deficit (lots of bridges are nearing replacement time, for example) and to build healthy reserves. This does not mean a steady 7% tax increase because not all revenues come from property taxes and we have residential growth, which translates into more money even if we do not raise taxes.
I estimate that the real town tax increase this year will be 5%  and the complete three-part increase  (with the county and school board) less than that. Still, I feel our tax rate is too high.
I did not agree with the 7% annual revenue increase because Council did not critically examine how it currently spends money in order to find places to cut costs.Here are three areas where I believe we over-spend:

 Non-union staff salaries are competitive and their benefits generous. When we hire staff, they are placed into a pay grid and given an automatic raise each year until they reach the top of their grid. The majority of staff will gets raises this year due to changing from from a 5-step grid to a 7-step grid. Traditionally, all non-unionized staff also get a 2% cost-of-living (COL) raise. I object to giving a COL raise to anyone also getting a grid step-up raise, because that makes the average raise over 4%. The COL should be limited only to those not entitled to a grid raise. If we did that, we’d save over $40,000 in 2013 and more in following years because of the compounding effect of annual raises.
Almonte Daycare receives tax dollars annually for capital costs for the town-owned building it uses rent-free, plus a grant to cover an operational shortfall (mostly salaries). In 2007, daycare asked for just $3,200. Each year, the request has grown: this year, the daycare budget asks for nearly $129,000, 2% of town taxes. Daycare is an important service for young families (159 children from 106 families use it), but I firmly believe too much is being asked of the taxpayer. (In contrast, the Linda Lowe daycare in Pakenham receives no taxpayer subsidy.)
We will pay $43,800 to Carleton Place (CP) in 2013 so our residents can use the CP library, plus $71,700 more so our residents can use the CP pool and arena. The problem is that CP does not pay us for the use of our arena by CP residents. The agreement lacks reciprocity. It should be renegotiated to achieve some savings.