Every year the mayor, council and senior staff spend hundreds of hours carefully crafting a budget that aims to address the most pressing needs of citizens. This year’s budget has passed but not without some vigorous debate as the mayor, councillors, and staff broke down key decisions.
What follows is a breakdown of key budget items.
Special Decision Units proposed for 2021
- $231,000 for construction at the Kawartha Lakes Police Service building in Lindsay, the first part of a two part project that will be completed in 2022. Approved
- $10,000 for downtown beautification in Lindsay. Councillor Pat Dunn said that funding would “redress a current cost-sharing imbalance between the downtown BIA and the city that is supposed to be 50-50 for beautification but over the years has slipped to a 60-40 cost sharing with the BIA paying the lion’s share.” Approved
- $90,200 to complete a lake study plan for Lake Dalrymple, the city’s fifth biggest lake and an important watershed for the northwest quadrant of the city. The city also agreed to sign on to the multi-year funding that would allow for the plan to reach fruition. Mayor Andy Letham said the Lake Dalrymple study is “an important plan that needs to be done.” Approved
- $126,000 in seed money for the Coboconk Wellness Centre to hopefully encourage provincial and federal participation and to start the preparation for getting the project shovel-ready. Councillor Emmett Yeo told council that this money would not be in addition to the $1.5 million the city has already committed to this project, rather a first installment to show other funding sources that this is a serious project with municipal support. Approved
- $300,000 to fund seven information technology upgrades for city hardware and software. This entire project will be paid for with what remains of an earlier provincial grant that needs to be spent. Chief Administrative Officer Ron Taylor said paying for these IT expenditures with grant money would reduced the proposed tax levy ¼ per cent. Approved
Council then spent two hours going line by line through the operating budget, stopping whenever a councillor had a question or concern. Mayor Andy Letham called the operating budget the city’s “meat and potatoes.”
Councillor Doug Elmslie was the first to question the proposed operating budget wondering why office supplies/postage remains so high despite being shut down for two months. He wondered if an additional saving could be found on that budget line.
Director of Corporate Services Jennifer Stover responded, “We could reduce that line further but we expect things to get back to normal in 2021 so we chose not to do that.”
No change to the budget line was made.
Leaving 12 Peel Street
When the budget analysis moved to the city realty division, Councillor Ron Ashmore asked, “Have there been savings for the city moving the division from 12 Peel Street to City Hall?”
CAO Ron Taylor answered, “There were net savings for the city in that move.”
Letham added, “We will be out of 12 Peel St. by the end of August and there will be substantial savings on leasing costs because of it.”
Additional management position at the library
The library board’s request to turn an employee position into a much better paying management position came under intense scrutiny.
Taylor told council the plan has been in the works since 2019, and would be paid for out of the library reserve fund established a few years ago.
Dunn was not convinced. “We haven’t hired this person yet. This position was approved pre-COVID. COVID is still here. Can we not postpone this hiring?”
Library CEO Jamie Anderson reminded Dunn and council as a whole that “the library has been open for business and that this position should be filled by springtime.”
“We need to be careful what we add back after the problems we had last time restructuring the library,” Dunn said.
Letham asked Anderson what this person would do “besides help you.”
“We want someone to do programming for the public on a full time basis,” Anderson said, “both in-person and virtually.”
Ashmore interjected, “The Dunsford library branch is still closed. This will be more people being hired at the same time the taxpayers are getting fewer services. It doesn’t work for me and the public is getting turned off by it. Is there an alternative to curbside pick up for seniors and shut-ins?”
“We would like to open up all the branches as soon as we can,” Anderson said. “The problem we have is some of our buildings are very small and to engage in social distancing there can really only be one person at a time allowed into these branches. We are looking at a delivery service for seniors and that is on my to-do list to investigate this year.”
Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan joined in the discussion asking Anderson if there is someone on staff already doing the jobs the new person is being hired for.
As the community comes out of the pandemic the position is even more important as both the library and the community recover, Anderson said. “The six full-time librarians are currently doing these jobs on top of their regular duties.”
The position remained in the budget.
WSIB cost increases
Ashmore wanted to know why the budget line for WSIB costs was up almost $240,000 over last year.
“We have to pay in based on our claims,” Stover said, “and we have increased PTSD claims for 2020 that impact what we pay in 2021. We plan to establish a WSIB reserve to manage the ebbs and flows of this program.”
Ashmore asked who was responsible for the claims, unionized or non-unionized staff and in what ratio.
“Frontline personnel; fire, paramedics, police and health care workers are making the claims,” Stover said.
Councillor Tracy Richardson, who runs her own family business, told council that in her 17 years of dealing with WSIB premiums, “they are a necessary evil, you have to have it and they are always going up in cost.”
Councillor Dunn made a point of complimenting the communications department when he said, “Because of COVID and our inability to interact with people, the communications department has done an excellent job keeping citizens up to date on what is going on.”
Yeo wanted to know what the contracted services budget line was and why it seems to be increasing so rapidly.
Stover responded that IT contracted services involve mandatory software updates for critical city platforms, and those costs were agreed to with the vendor when the operating systems were purchased.
Ashmore asked, “Can we start doing some of this software in house? We have the people.”
“It is cheaper to buy the software than create it ourselves,” Stover said. “We would have to hire additional full-time staff and that would be expensive.”
There was no change to the budget line.
Development Services hire
Development Services requested that a third administrative assistant’s job, which is currently a contract position, be made full time in the 2021 budget year.
Dunn said he had initially been concerned about the hire until discussing it with Director of Development Services Chris Marshall. Dunn asked Marshall to share with council why the position is important.
“We have had this position as a contract position since 2019,” Marshall explained. “This person has worked out well and they have become an integral part of the department. We have an ever increasing volume of building approvals to work through and a number of studies we must do that are required by the province. If this administrative assistant isn’t there, planners would be tasked with this work and that would be counter-productive for the city.”
Dunn was pleased with the level of detail provided and was prepared to leave the position funded for 2021.
The position remained in the budget.
Elmslie asked why after the retirement of Chief Andrew Rafton and an agreement with Peterborough County to share their chief Randy Mellow, the budget has not been reduced by a half person for the 2021 year.
Taylor said, “We have kept the chief a full-time position in the budget despite the shared personnel agreement with Peterborough in case anything should change.”
The position remained in the budget.
Kawartha Lakes Police Service staffing
Elmslie also asked for explanation regarding police staffing, particularly in light of the province cancelling funding to support KLPS staff at the Central East Correctional Centre.
Letham, who sits on the police board, told Elmslie, “The three KLPS officers assigned to the jail were all special constables paid for with special funding from the province. When the funding disappeared, two of the constables were laid off and the third was absorbed in the police service. We are now struggling to keep up with call volume at the jail. KLPS is obligated to respond to calls at the jail and now coverage for the jail is funded completely locally.”
No more mailing waste calendars
A lengthy discussion was had about whether to spend $45,000 to mail out waste calendars in 2021.
“I am not sure this is necessary,” Letham said to begin discussion.
“I agree,” said Richardson. “Many people have the waste app on their phones now.”
“Businesses use the waste calendars as a way to bring people into their stores,” Elmslie shared. “I have never had complaints about people not getting them if they want them.”
“I think the $45,000 for the mailings is money well spent,” Ashmore countered. “People should get a copy of this. It is helpful and educational. I sit on the Waste Management Committee and there is support for mailing the calendars out.”
Yeo agreed with Ashmore sharing, “We don’t have a library or many stores in the northwest corner of Ward 1 to act as distribution points. It is hard for people to get the calendar.”
“We should let people know in the tax bill where they can get a calendar and save the mailing costs,” Letham proposed.
A vote to mail out the calendar was defeated 7-2.
Park and public space upgrades for 2021
A final budget discussion was about council spending $200,000 to better maintain public spaces and downtowns across Kawartha Lakes this summer.
Councillor Seymour-Fagan was fully behind the idea saying, “We don’t maintain our downtowns well enough and it is a poor decision. Councillors who are knowledgeable about downtowns would like input on how the money is allocated.”
“We are a tourist area,” Elmslie said. “Trash is a huge turnoff. Disneyland is pristine and spotless. It would sure be nice that people see an effort being made.”
Yeo added,” I think this is a great idea…is it enough? With all the downtowns and parks there are lots of places to spend that money.”
“We think $200,000 is a good cost estimate on top of the money we are already going to spend,” Taylor responded.
Letham reminded council that during pandemic recovery meetings, the public has made this request for garbage pickup and downtown beautification “loud and clear.”
“I hope all the little villages get some TLC,” Councillor Richardson said.
The expenditure passed unanimously, as did the 2021 budget overall. Councillors Pat O’Reilly and Andrew Veale said little throughout the budget discussion.