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.
Kawartha Lakes council unanimously approved applying a portion of the Safe Restart pandemic funding provided by the province to reduce the tax increase for 2021 to 1.5 per cent.
Over the past eight weeks of budget deliberations, Mayor Andy Letham and council have been staring at a much larger 3.84 per cent increase in the tax levy for 2021. Council went through the budget with a fine-toothed comb in multiple February meetings and reduced the proposed levy to a 3.77 per cent increase.
With less money available from the province because of cutbacks, Kawartha Lakes Police Service is looking for a hand from the municipality.
Chair of the Kawartha Lakes Police Services Board Don Thomas presented the 2021 budget estimate to Kawartha Lakes council for their consideration, asking for a 1.49 per cent increase in funding. This would amount to an additional $123,294 allocated to the municipal police force whose responsibilities include Lindsay and part of the old Ops Township.
Retired civil servant David Webb made a deputation to council recently regarding the ongoing service level review the city is preparing for release later this year. By using the Freedom of Information Act, Webb discovered the following data about the current city complaint system:
- The city received 6000 complaints last year requesting action
- 60 per cent of the complaints involved road conditions and potholes
- The average complaint took 54 days to remedy
- Some complaints were not remedied for well over a year
“Citizens and businesses should have a direct input into any city changes (regarding customer service),” Webb said. “We need to make services better and I am willing to volunteer to help if desired. There must be citizen input into any customer service review.”
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.
At their meeting of the whole, senior staff shared with council the largely negative impact of the COVID pandemic on both the 2020 and 2021 budget.
While some of the numbers presented rely on Kawartha Lakes remaining at Stage 3 in the province’s re-opening plan, it is clear that projects from 2020 that have been rolled over into 2021 will impact the city’s ability to take on many new capital projects in the upcoming budget year.
In 2019 the city collected a little over $139 million in taxation from the citizens of Kawartha Lakes, with $5.57 remaining in unpaid taxes from 2019 currently sitting on the city’s books.
“The ratio of taxes not paid is 4.01 per cent,” Carolyn Daynes, the treasurer for Kawartha Lakes, told council at their September meeting.
“And any delinquency under 10 per cent is deemed okay by the province. The average of uncollected taxes across the province sits at 5.6 per cent so the city is generally doing a good job.”
At a recent council meeting Councillor Doug Elmslie expressed worry that the province and federal government will soon start downloading more responsibilities on the backs of municipalities.
He recommended that “all surpluses be put in reserve for a rainy day because I fully expect that the feds and the province are going to start downloading services because of the debt loads they are carrying.”
At the Special Council meeting on December 3, Council approved the 2020 Operating Budget. There will be a 3.5% increase to the tax levy, slightly below the forecasted increase in the long term financial plan.
Council received a presentation from Jennifer Stover, Director of Corporate Services. Stover noted that the Operating Budget is $205 million of a total municipal budget of $305 million. The Capital, Water and Wastewater and Special Project Budgets were adopted by Council on November 26 totalling $100 million.
Council met on September 17 and 18 to hear from staff across all departments about the driving forces shaping the 2020 budget. The main themes will be prioritizing the timing of capital projects and remaining resilient in the wake of known and potential funding cuts and reorganization of service delivery by the province.
Ron Taylor, CAO, summed up the discussions by noting, “We have a 2020 capital budget that is very ambitious at almost $50 million. It includes a number of new and significant projects that invest in our roads, downtowns and parks. Council has acknowledged the need to prioritize projects in light of many unknowns at the provincial level. The timing of capital projects will be critical to ensure we stay on course with our financial plan in order to keep services affordable for residents.”