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Kawartha Lakes budget holds tax increase to 2.85 per cent

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The 4.5 per cent tax levy increase forecast in the City’s Long Range Financial Plan for 2019 was whittled down to 2.85 per cent, largely the result of decisions not to fund purchase of an aerial ladder fire truck and to reduce contribution to the capital reserve.  

A budget process that began last September with the presentation of a draft to the previous council wound up yesterday being approved unanimously.

As Jennifer Stover, director of corporate services, pointed out with some satisfaction, the overall reduction in tax levy was accomplished without any reduction in service levels and while supporting the City’s largest capital program to date.

Final deliberations took place over two days. Last Wednesday the directors of the nine city departments briefed council on the roles their departments played, their staffing, 2018 achievements, 2019 goals, and the budget asks to accomplishment those goals. Yesterday council discussed and voted on several items extracted from the budget and a set of “decision units” — items not part of the budget package, but brought forward for council consideration.

Staff Presentations

The presentations began with an overview from CAO Ron Taylor, who  pointed out that the largest portion of the operating budget goes to wages. This is understandable since, as he noted, City departments “are a service provider/ industry currently delivering over 200 programs and services locally.” (It’s worth noting that although fully a third of the budget goes to wages, that still puts us at the bottom of a list of comparable communities — for Clarington the figure is close to 45 per cent).

Some take-aways from the departmental presentations:

*Mayor and Council, CAO: The budget ask for Mayor and Council decreased by $100,411 from 2018, owing to the reduction of council from 17 to 9 and a staff realignment. The CAO’s department, largely comprised of the Clerks Division (under which comes Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing) and Legal, requested an increase of $477,814. A portion of that was to fund two new positions, an additional By-Law Enforcement Officer and a Supervisor for Records Management and Archival Services.

*Development Services, comprised of 47 staff spread across five divisions requested an increase of $361,480. A portion of it is to go to establishing three new positions, including a new Heritage Planner for Economic Development.

*Human Services oversees Victoria Manor and is responsible for delivery of programs such as Children’s Services, Ontario Works, and Housing Help in the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County. Their 2019 budget called for an overall increase of $757,386. Pay equity for Victoria Manor workers (who make up 136 of the 209 in this department) accounted for a significant portion of the increase.

*Since 2011 Paramedic Services has seen a 44 per cent increase in total calls. They requested $471,761 to fund the hire of four additional paramedics.

*Fire Services include 370 firefighters but only 20 of them are staff; the other 350 are volunteers.  For 2019 the department requested the hiring of a training officer to oversee development and coordinate delivery of firefighter training and development programs and to promote consistency and effectiveness of training practices throughout the department.

*The Public Works Department is responsible for water and wastewater, solid waste, fleet, transit and roads and has 165 employees. The request was for an increase of just under $1.6 million. Winter maintenance and waste management are increasing by approximately $1.2 million because of program changes and contractual obligations.

*Engineering and Corporate Assets have broad responsibilities that include design and construction of capital infrastructure projects, transportation planning and management of corporate assets. Their 2019 budget ask was $40,493 less than their 2018 budget.

Extractions and Decision Units

The final step in the budget process was consideration of several extractions and a series of decision units. Unless extracted, everything from the departmental presentations became part of the finalized budget.

Mayor Letham extracted Communication Department’s proposed branding project (which had seemed to have been enthusiastically embraced by council when initially presented). The project was budgeted for $80,000. Letham’s concern was the timing. “We’re working to improve our product, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “Let’s get the product where we want it to be, then work on selling it.” Councillors Doug Elmslie and Emmett Yeo agreed that it should be deferred, suggesting holding off for another four or five years and on a council vote the project was removed from the budget.

Councillor Dunn proposed deferring to the 2020 budget three of the 13 new hires recommended: a supervisor for Records Management and Archival Services, a GIS specialist, and a coach and truck technician.

In each case staff (including Clerk Cathie Ritchie, CAO Taylor and Director of Public Works Bryan Robinson) convincingly explained the need for the additional staff and a number of councillors attested to the value of the services that  would be provided. Among the points made: the records management work is a legislated requirement and the archival work also supports “external partners,” such as the library; there is significant demand from the public and city staff for the spatial and visual work of the GIS specialist; not hiring the coach and truck technician would mean a $40,000 net increase for contracted services. All three motions to defer were defeated and the hires were retained in the budget.

The deliberations on decision units resulted in four additions to the budget:

*The Community Improvement Plan received an infusion of $100,000. Some of the funding for this program has been available only to the four communities that have completed Downtown Revitalization programs (Coboconk-Norland, Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, and Omemee). And in approving the additional funding the stipulation was made that the money be for City-wide use and not restricted to the four communities.

*A grant of $36,000 for development and delivery of a Family Physician Professional Development program Grant Programs for Medical Services was approved, with the money taken from the contingency reserve. Director of Human Services Rod Sutherland explained that this was a useful service to physicians, who would otherwise need to travel to Toronto or elsewhere and that the professional development would “build capacity.”

*A three-month pilot project to have paramedics provide support for particularly vulnerable seniors returning home from hospital received $25,000. Paramedic Services had pitched the idea to the Central East LHIN and been turned down.  (For context and details on the project, read this Advocate story).  

*It was Yeo who had one final matter to tidy up. He requested, and council gave approval for, $12,000 for the purchase of garbage cans to be strategically placed to help eliminate litter.

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Jamie is a retired teacher and Chair of the Kawartha Lakes Library Board. For The Lindsay Advocate he is reviving the 'Friends & Neighbours' column he wrote for the Lindsay Post, as well as writing a column on the library’s contributions to the community.

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