West Lincoln: Fire reserve sparks debate

By Tristan Marks

Printers ran dry with motion after motion as West Lincoln council debated the 2020 capital and administrative budget at its Monday meeting, Feb. 24.

After some raised voices and admitted confusion, council passed an amended budget with a total levy of just over $7.5 million, a 6.69 per cent hike on the municipal portion, or $76 on an average assessed home of $382,000.

The township’s Administration/Finance/Fire Committee had previously recommended a 7.79 per cent increase, but debate got that lowered slightly.

Coun. William Reilly, who had voted in favour of the initial premotion, asked council to pull that specific item for the Council to consider, as he had come across new information which led him to reconsider.

Among his concerns, Reilly highlighted a $76,000 fire reserve item, which he noted seemed to go “by many names” in the budget report including “fire truck reserve, fire equipment reserve” and so on. He said this would be “confusing for council”.

Reilly also said that he wanted another opportunity to consider lowering the tax levy. “Can more be done?” he asked.

Coun. Mike Rehner voiced his support for Reilly’s suggestion, saying the proposed levy increase was “by far the highest I’ve ever seen.”

He said such a large increase comes at a time where residents, especially those on fixed incomes, are concerned about paying for the community centre.

“We’ve been taxing them pretty heavily over these past few years,” said Rehner. “We need to slow down and smell the roses.”

“There’s $250,000 in the budget for MURS staff, but not an inch for tar and chipping roads,” he added.

Coun. Jason Trombetta picked up on Rehner’s point on the road maintenance. He pointed out that road upgrades were in the Township’s strategic plan, but not in the budget.

“This just shows that the strategic plan isn’t working,” said Trombetta, who called for a council to either work the strategic plan or change it to something which would get support.

After debate, council considered deferring the $76,000 fire reserve item and a part-time administrative fire department position to 2021.

Mayor Dave Bylsma warned against this option, saying that deferring these items would already set West Lincoln for a five per cent levy tax increase next year due to other deferrals already in place.

Bylsma also made the argument that West Lincoln’s taxes are not only the lowest in the Region, but are actually decreasing relative to other municipalities. He specifically named Grimsby, and noted their council is considering a tax hike of more than 16 per cent.

Coun. Chris Coady echoed the mayor’s concerns, adding council has done too much deferring in the past.

“We might have closer to 18 per cent when we go up for re-election at the end of this term,” warned Coady.

Coun. Cheryl Ganann was skeptical of this line of reasoning.

“The five per cent is not five percent, it’s actually closer to three per cent,” said Ganann. “Three per cent going forward is not a good thing, but it’s better than five per cent.”

“We also need to deal with this year,” she added.

Coun. Reilly introduced a motion to amend the budget to remove the fire reserve item and the part-time position from the budget and defer it for next year.

A recorded vote of 4-3 carried the motion with Ganann, Rehner, Reilly and Trombetta voting for, and Coady, Jonker and Bylsma against.

Council then voted on the amended budget with a tax levy increase of 6.18 per cent compared to 7.79. However, this budget was rejected in a recorded vote of 4-3. Ganann, Reilly and Bylsma voted for the motion, but Coady, Jonker, Rehner and Trombetta voted against.

Mayor Bylsma said he was confused why councillors “flip-flopped” their vote after passing the amendment.

Coun. Trombetta defended his decision by saying he wanted the money freed up through the amendment put into paving roads. He also accused the mayor of pushing the motion through without allowing any discussion or questions.

Coun. Coady interrupted him out of turn saying that the mayor actually did allow comment, which prompted a back-and-forth between the councillors and the mayor. As debate returned to order, Jonker corroborated Coady’s point that Bylsma did allow for discussion.

Coady also defended his decision to vote against the budget.

“What we passed here tonight is not what we passed the other night,” he said.

Jonker was able to solve the confusion on how to proceed after council voted down its budget by introducing a motion to reconsider it. He said that he had an amendment to Reilly’s amendment that he wanted to introduce.

The amendment involved bringing the part-time fire administrator position back into the budget, leaving the $76,000 reserve item deferred to 2021.

It was during the process of printing off this series of motions that the council chamber’s printer ran out of ink.

Jonker’s amendment passed, leaving council to reconsider a final tax increase of 6.69 per cent. The final recorded vote passed this amended budget 5-2. Only Rehner and Trombetta voted against the motion.

Later, during council remarks, Bylsma thanked and commended the councillors for coming together in the end.

“I know things got a little hairy, but we pulled together and pulled this off,” said Bylsma.

Trombetta also returned his regards to the mayor for leading the council through the confusion, noting, “You did a good job keeping things going,” said Trombetta to the mayor.

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