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"In February we will bring plans forward for potential savings in the operating budget," said Jennifer Stover, director of corporate services.

City director to bring plan forward to try and avoid large property tax increase

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"In February we will bring plans forward for potential savings in the operating budget," said Jennifer Stover, director of corporate services.

It is budget season at Kawartha Lakes. At a rare evening session on Jan. 26 council heard director of corporate services Jennifer Stover lay out a proposed 2021 operating budget of $275.6 million dollars that, without trimming, could lead to a tax rate increase in the range of 3.84 per cent for each household in the city.

Stover presented to council a detailed power point presentation that laid the numbers bare for all to see.  The $275.6 million dollar budget is split into three independent chunks: a $210.7 million operating budget, a $30.6 million capital budget and a $2.5 million special projects budget.

The capital budget, which details new city projects for 2021, was approved at a previous council meeting. Typically the budget is between $45 and $50 million, but was significantly trimmed this year because of the impact the pandemic has had on city finances and operations.

The already approved $30.6 million will be spent on the following projects:

  • $21.4 million for roads, bridges, sidewalks and streetlights
  • $3.6 million for city fleet purchases
  • $2 million for landfill upgrades
  • $1.8 million for emergency services
  • $600,000 for cemeteries
  • $300,000 for building upgrades
  • $200,000 for libraries and recreation
  • $100,000 for the Lindsay Airport

“By allocating 70 per cent of the capital budget to roads,” Stover said, “we will be able to repair and upgrade 122 kilometers of local roadways.”

The $210.7 million operating budget, which covers costs of the day to day running of the city and has yet to be approved, was broken down by Stover as follows:

  • $71.2 million in salaries and benefits
  • $40.7 million in contracted services like Victoria Manor, waste pick-up and winter control
  • $45.5 million in transfers to external clients like conservation authorities, the OPP and the HKPR health unit
  • $17.7 million to reserves
  • $16.1 million in materials/supplies/services that include sand, salt, fuel and utilities
  • $10 million to cover the principle and interest on the city debt
  • $9.5 million other costs where the single biggest expenditure is $2.6 million for city insurance

“$125.2 million of the operating budget will be covered by property tax,” Stover said, “with provincial and federal grants of $52.7 million, user fees of $26.7 million and $5.1 million in additional funds covering the rest of the costs.”

The $125.2 million gained through the local tax levy will be split in the following manner:

  • 34 per cent for roads, waste and transit
  • 29 per cent for police, fire and paramedics
  • 12 per cent for parks, recreation and libraries
  • 11 per cent for housing, child services, long term care and Ontario Works
  • 9 per cent contributions to capital and special projects
  • 5 per cent for building/planning and economic development

Stover said the drivers in the budget responsible for spending increases include salaries, increased cost of waste management, Victoria Manor, winter control and transfers to the health unit.

“We are hoping if this is a good winter we might be able to bank some of that winter control increase for another year,” Stover said, “and at the same time we face reduced revenues from city investments, arena/hall revenues, transit and landfill tipping fees that are likely pandemic driven.”

Stover suggested that if the operating budget as presented is approved in February, the average home owner could be looking at a tax increase as high as 3.84 per cent.

“I don’t believe this is a prudent number given the current climate,” Stover said, “and in February we will bring plans forward for potential savings in the operating budget.”

Stover continued her in-depth presentation explaining to council what the $2.5 million special projects budget contains. This money is to be prioritized to plans, studies, IT improvements and maintenance and repair to various city assets. The key initiative is the city’s financial commitment to improved rural broadband through the Eastern Ontario Regional Network consortium.

The final costs covered are water and waste water. The costs of water and waste water are funded through money collected from municipal users. Those fees are then re-invested in the system to the tune of $23.3 million. The municipal water system for 2021 will cost $13.5 million while the waste water system requires $9.8 million to operate safely and efficiently.

Mayor Andy Letham thanked Stover for her update and reminded councillors of an all-day budget meeting on Feb. 2, with deliberations and approval of the operating budget likely occurring at a council meeting on Feb. 16.

Letham also encouraged virtual public participation in the budgeting process, suggesting individuals become involved in helping set the city spending priorities by going here to leave comments and suggestions. Many of the questions already received will be integrated into the budget deliberations on Feb. 2.

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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