Latest budget session brings town tax hike back to 2.2%

January 27, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Orangeville Council’s budget session Monday night rapidly turned into a sense of deja-vu from last year’s meeting.

Much like last year, after getting the budget a little lower than the original proposal, the required tax-rate increase spiked back up to the original proposal, with council finishing the meeting back at a 2.2% hike.

Unlike last year’s process, which many observers deemed a circus, it has taken only two meetings to get through much of the budget. The biggest culprits for the increase at this meeting were infrastructure needs, and items brought back after failing approval at the first meeting, where Councillor Gail Campbell had been absent.

The early part of the evening was spent going over the Parks and Recreation portion of the Operating Budget, with many items being approved with little discussion. Such items included $35,000 in additional funds to Credit Valley Conservation for maintenance of the final portion of the Island Lake perimeter trail, $13, 435 for a Project Manager position for Public Works, $25,000 for a Corporate Strategic plan, and several other items.

One of the first requests to elicit a discussion amidst Council members was an additional $22,000 for the Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan.

Public Works Director Doug Jones said staff gave Council a report a few years ago which identified a 10-year program to remove and replace the ash trees in Town.

“The plan outlined a cost of $48,800 for replacement on an annual basis,” said Mr. Jones. “During 2014, Council saw fit to fund half of that annual amount, and last year increased to three-quarters of the annual amount. That left an additional $22,000 of operating to get back to the original amount to complete.”

If Council approved the request for the additional $22,000 this year, the budget for the plan would be caught up, meaning no increases on the annual amount should be sought in 2017.

Councillor Nick Garisto, chair of the Finance Committee, proposed cutting the amount to $11,000 for 2016, adding that he didn’t see the need for the funds to be spent this year. However, Councillor Sylvia Bradley felt it would be prudent to follow the original plan which had been approved, and provide the funds necessary for the project.

“We came up with a 10-year plan a couple of years ago so that we could even out the costs of removing the trees and replacing them,” she said. “We shorted the project the first two years, and now it’s catching up to us. We shorted the work, and now the work is catching up to us.”

She added that dying ash trees are dangerous both to the public and those removing them, and part of the purpose behind the plan is to keep the community and the contractors safe.

“I’ve seen a number of trees in the fall which should have been taken out, but there was no budget for them,” she said. “This is putting our community and contractors at risk. This is another thing we might have to escalate or else we are going to put our town in jeopardy.”

Mayor Jeremy Williams explained he wasn’t in favour of the additional funds because he felt the threat posed by the emerald ash borer was not quite as extreme as discussion was suggesting.

“The ash trees’ days are numbered, but I have a real problem with cutting down trees that are not dead yet,” he said. “From what I have seen, the emerald ash borer seems to have slowed down. I’ve seen trees cut down that are a long way from dead and feel that the danger is an issue that has been over-stated, at least in my mind.”

However, the motion for additional funds was approved, and the project will move forward.

One item responsible for the budget increasing was a revisiting of the hiring of two firefighters to deal with short-staffing at the Orangeville Fire Department. The motion to approve the hiring had failed at the previous meeting, a tie vote resulting from Councillor Campbell’s absence. The issue was re-introduced during the New Items portion of the agenda by Councillor Scott Wilson.

“I really appreciate this being brought back for reconsideration,” said Councillor Campbell. “We were originally presented with the Fire Department’s budget, which included two firefighters. Over $120,000 in overtime was paid to our current firefighters because of the staffing issue, and it’s difficult for volunteers to get away from their jobs. This overtime is going to affect the firefighters’ health.”

The two additional firefighters were requirements of the Fire Marshall, and were also identified in the requirements of the fire study which was presented in 2015.

Councillor Garisto had originally proposed hiring just one firefighter, and brought the idea up again, suggesting that at this time, two firefighters weren’t necessary.

“I am aware that the Fire Master Plan calls for more firefighters, but my question is, did we even encounter any issue in the past year that has jeopardized firefighters and residents?” he asked.

Acting Chief Ron Morden explained that while they were fortunate no incidents occurred, there were several potential incidents, and one particular day in which firefighters were required to wait to respond to incidents because volunteer firefighters were not able to arrive at the station immediately.

In order to send out a truck, there must be at least four firefighters to accompany it. In several instances throughout the past year, because firefighters had exceeded allowable overtime, there were days with only three per shift, meaning they had to wait on volunteers to arrive before deploying. On seven of the days, they were fortunate a volunteer was able to arrive quickly.

“On one particular day, we received a total of five calls, and three had to be paged out to wait for the fourth officer to be called in,” said Chief Morden. “One was a motor vehicle accident, there was an alarm, and also a vehicle fire. In those instances there was a potential for a higher risk.”

He added that the additional officers would help relieve the potential circumstances they could encounter, as well as relieve the demand on overtime from firefighters.

“We run on a two-platoon system, with two shifts,” he explained, answering why only one firefighter wouldn’t be enough. “We never know when the days come that we are going to be short-staffed, or which shift will require overtime. Given the potential for short-term disability and other things like that, we could not control these risks with just one firefighter.”

The motion to approve both firefighters carried.

Another addition to the budget before the end of the meeting was the approval for the resurfacing of Dawson Road under the Capital Tax Levy portion.

The meeting ended at 11 p.m. following a discussion on whether increasing infrastructure spending for the year would be appropriate. The current budget calls for a tax increase of 2.2 percent, or $62.89 increase for a median home assessment.

Council’s next budget session as its finance committee will be Monday, February 8, at 7 p.m. in the Council chambers.

By Tabitha Wells

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