WL anxiety high over MURS costs

Town of West Lincoln

Draft budget calls for 4.68%

increase on township portion

 

By Joanne McDonald

For NewsNow

Taxpayers may have a new West Lincoln Community Centre (formerly MURS project) but they’ll be absorbing the shock felt by council Monday night.

Council was informed that operating and
capital costs for the recreational facility will account for the lion’s share of tax increases proposed for this year’s budget.

Overall, residents can expect an estimated increase of 4.68 per cent or $56 more than last year for the township’s portion of the tax bill on an average residential property assessed at $363,877.

Taking a first look at the draft budget for 2019, council expected the $307,000 third and final capital allocation towards the new recreation centre project. It followed the first two installments of $283,500 in 2017 and $297,950 in 2018 for a total over $888,000.

What wasn’t anticipated was nearly a $100,000 increase in operating costs to run the new facility whichhas been included in the base budget.

“Why couldn’t we have had this information
earlier?” asked Mayor Dave Bylsma.

“I asked the (previous) mayor, the director of public works and the committee for answers to how the operational cost would increase.”

“It would have been very appropriate to have this information before we went down the road with the community centre,” Bylsma said, noting the information was not delivered as part of the construction plan to build the facility.

“I really feel that somehow taxpayers were robbed of this information that we’re getting tonight,” said Bylsma.

He suggested funding the increased costs for staff and services should be supported in tandem with growth assessment.

The draft budget notes that every $64,000 of additional expenditure added to the budget equates to a one per cent on the general tax levy adjustment or approximately $12 for an average assessed home.

For the 2019 budget assessment growth is estimated at $153,000 (2.39 per cent). This means that of the $460,670 increase in the required tax levy, the first $153,000 of that increase does not increase

the taxes paid by property owners.

Director of finance Donna DeFilippis said in the report that the financing plan included funding for some increased operation costs at the new recreational centre. However, a detailed operating plan is just now being developed and will evolve over the course of the year.

The financing of the project is through a combination of debt, donations, development charges, reserves and the Wind Turbine Community Fund.

Council fears the community centre costs will squeeze out other priorities for funding, such as road or bridge work.

“I canvassed hard on resurfacing some roads in the country,” said Coun. Jason Trombetta, adding he wants to see some of them get done.

“We understand there are service needs (at the WL centre) but do they all have to be filled now?”

He suggested waiting until the three years of capital payments are done and then “some of the positions can get pushed to full time.”

Coun. Mike Rehner said it’s time to focus money on road work and bridges.

“My concern determining the massive costs of this $31 million project was that we haven’t discussed the costs of operation for this facility above and beyond the $31 million back in 2015. I wanted to have at least 50 per cent fundraising and that has disappeared.”

As he has often outlined in the past, Rehner referred to the tyranny of compounding costs over time. The capital and operation costs are not a one-off and  compounded over the base tax will leave little to look after the rest of the Township.

“So the number gets larger and larger, compounded each year until the year 2048. Conceivably the cost could be more than $700 per taxpayer per year on top of regular taxes just to pay for the MURS. And that number is low because it does not include the annual MPAC assessments.”

Council members went round the horseshoe with funding suggestions from raising user fees to having volunteers working at the centre.

Coun. William Reilly said it would be hard to ask constituents to not only pay for the new facility but also work there.

“It’s not a direction we should go,” said Reilly.

Reilly said raising user fees could have the reverse effect on the brand new investment. He suggested finding more programs and events or a name sponsor for the building.

“We haven’t had a chance to see it get used to full potential,” Reilly added.

Coun. Harold Jonker agreed with the idea to give it a year to test revenues.

“The idea is the building should pay for itself when it comes to operations,” Jonker said.

“We need to put faith in the staff.”

Coun. Chris Coady said raising user fees would be a dangerous path and could make the building less accessible to the people who use it. If people don’t use the building it will increase costs even more.

“To be separating the municipality like that is not doing any good,” Coady said.

“Increasing user costs will cost us even more in the long run.”

Rehner said he doesn’t see a way around, “if it takes one or two per cent of the three or four per cent budget to keep this running. We’ve got to free up and not tie money in the building as an anchor,” Rehner said.

“People aren’t coming to the table for fundraising.”

Council will be reviewing eight service level requests which, if all approved, would increase the operating budget by $135,500 in 2019 resulting in a general tax levy of $7,010,670.

This would result in an $80.29 or 6.74 per cent increase to the Township portion of taxes to an average homeowner.

The 2019 budget is proposing a 5 per cent increase to water and wastewater rates. The rate change would be effective July 1, 2019 and would impact the September 2019 and December 2019 billings.

A gallery of six sat through Monday’s budget talks, four stayed until the end.

A budget open house will be held Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

The final budget report will go to council on Monday, March 18.  Approval is scheduled for Monday, March 25 and if necessary, Tuesday, March 26.

 

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